HUNKPAPA TERRITORY—John Eagle Shield Sr. of Standing Rock, one of several traditionally appointed camp leaders, estimated on Sunday August 21 that about 2,500 people were peacefully gathered amongst what has grown into three separate prayer camps. The mission of those gathered is to protect Standing Rock’s water from the environmentally disastrous Dakota Access Pipeline. The campsites are clustered on the west side of the Cannonball River just north of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, along the Standing Rock reservation’s northern border, where the pipeline is slated to cross.
Alayna Eagle Shield, 26, daughter of John Eagle Shield, is a language and cultural teacher. She has been active at the camp since its inception.
“We are very prayerful, we are peaceful, and we just want to protect our water and land,” Alayna said. “You can’t come to this gathering and not feel the love, the prayer, the spirit of our ancestors, the amazing feelings of all the tribes coming together.”
Activities at the campsites over the weekend included a mix of cultural and educational opportunities for those gathered, including canoeing, horseback riding, welcoming youth runners from Cheyenne River, women’s circle teachings led by community elders, traditional meetings of the appointed leaders from the Seven Council Fires of the Sioux Nation, songs, dances, feasting, and many, many prayers.
There are a few rules, posted publicly near the camp entrance, which are strictly enforced by volunteer Akicita Society (warrior society) delegates from the Hunkpapa Band of Sioux. Leaders say they’ve had no trouble convincing folks to follow the rules, which include no weapons, no alcohol, no drugs and no violence.
Considering the peaceful and frankly wholesome nature of the gathering, the roadblocks and detours leading to the reservation guarded by heavily armed law enforcement officers called in from around the state of North Dakota due to Governor Jack Darlymple’s recently issued declaration of emergency seem baffling.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s official position regarding the roadblocks leading to the reservation mirrors public opinion expressed by those supporting the Cannonball River camps. Both the Tribe and the water protectors have expressed concern that the roadblocks are unfortunate, unnecessary, and heighten tension rather than improve public safety.
North Dakota taxpayers—including those from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe—are wondering why they, and not the billion-dollar oil companies, are footing the bill to protect public safety, especially because the gathering has been entirely peaceful and nonviolent.
“With all due respect, the Governor’s declaration of emergency was unfortunate. I wish he had consulted with the tribe,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II in a statement.
“We are just as conscious of the need for public safety as the Governor,” the Chairman continued. “Everyone needs to keep in mind that our families are the ones most affected by the Governor’s decision to close parks, blockade roads, and use the language of confrontation rather than cooperation.”
Allison Renville of the Sisseting-Wahpeton Oyate, who has been active in the water protection efforts, drew parallels between Governor Darlymple’s emergency proclamation and an 1890 incident in which the Bismarck Tribune caused hysteria by publishing a false statement issued by Major James McLaughlin—an Indian agent—to the effect that the “pagan” and “hostile” Sioux Indians posed a threat by practicing their prayer and culture in defense of their land.
In her post on Facebook, Renville stated that Governor Darlymple’s state of emergency is “an unjust and blasphemous claim that only perpetuates division amongst races and communities.”
As of Monday morning August 22, the concrete roadblocks between Mandan, North Dakota and Standing Rock remained on Highway 1806. Visitors entering Standing Rock from the north are forced to take a long detour in order to get to the campsite, or even just to go home.
“Now more than ever, we want people to come to Standing Rock and visit,” said Archambault. “Our Tribal Council voted unanimously that the roadblocks should be taken down. I look forward to working with the Governor to remove the roadblocks, reopen the parks, and ensure the public safety.”