FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

On the Ground at Standing Rock

Beyond the protests, police crackdowns, and pipeline drama, what’s it really like at Standing Rock, North Dakota? This October, I went to see for myself.

Like many other Native and non-Native visitors, I went to support the Standing Rock Sioux’s effort to keep the Dakota Access oil pipeline away from the Missouri River, which supplies water to an estimated 18 million people.

The tribe wasn’t meaningfully consulted before the pipeline slashed through its sacred lands. And even though pipelines are notoriously accident-prone, a full environmental impact study was never conducted.

Finally, on December 4, the Obama administration halted the construction of the pipeline and called for that assessment.

But in the preceding months, as the Sioux tried to protect their water, they faced surveillance, tear gas, arrests, water hoses, and attack dogs. Police were acting as the company’s protectors rather than the people’s.

Outrage and solidarity motivated my trip, but I also was eager to see the incredible multi-tribe community beside the river — Oceti Sakowin, the largest of the encampments created to sustain this difficult struggle.

After driving in from Bismarck, I stopped first at the security booth, a small shed overlooking the terrain filled with tents, tepees, RVs, trailers, repurposed school buses, and yurts. A young man directed me to the media tent atop “Facebook Hill,” the only place you could get decent phone reception — at least when law enforcement wasn’t scrambling the signal.

The media tent was a hive of activity powered by portable solar and wind generators. Someone checked my ID and issued a media pass, along with strict guidelines for respectful and secure photography and recording.

Along the main avenue to my campsite, I walked under hundreds of tribal flags waving in the breeze. Everywhere people were chatting, sorting clothes, bustling around the collective kitchens, and chopping wood. Children were roaming about, with adults or on their own.

Before I got far, a Peruvian woman named Claudia called me over to help her husk the mountain of corn somebody had just dropped off. As we chatted, she roped in new helpers with cheerful cajoling.

In the days I was there, I ran errands for the children’s school and kitchen, drove people to actions and from jail, helped build a wigwam, and assisted a disabled elder. I attended meetings, made friends, and got my hurt foot treated at the medic tent and my migraine at the herbalist tent. No money, no appointments — just a pervasive spirit of mutual aid.

It was the same story with food. Besides the main kitchen, with its large army-style tents, tribes set up other kitchens. Each had its own specialties and personality lent by the cooks, who created fabulous meals on wood stoves and campfires with whatever donations came in.

Many recommended “Grandma’s Kitchen,” where Grandma Diane, a Paiute from California, starts each meal by honoring the ancestors and always adds abundant servings of love. No need to call for volunteers, she said. Folks “jump up to help.” Hundreds of hungry folks came in for elk stew, quinoa casserole, cabbage salad, sweet potato fritters, and fried bread — a favorite at every kitchen.

Despite the risk, Diane moved her kitchen a mile north to the front-line camp set up across the path of the pipeline. A few days later, police destroyed it.

I worried about Diane, until I heard she was okay and still calling for supplies to keep cooking for the folks in the struggle, who were then hunkering down to resist the ferocious winter — and the even more ferocious repression.

I didn’t just find a protest camp at Standing Rock — I found a model community. As Natives there celebrate their recent victory, how can anyone not celebrate with them?

Juliana Barnet is an activist and anthropologist who studies communities that arise out of social movements. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

More articles by:

March 20, 2019
T.J. Coles
Countdown to “Full Spectrum Dominance”
W. T. Whitney
Re-Targeting Cuba: Why Title III of U.S. Helms-Burton Act will be a Horror Show
Kenneth Surin
Ukania’s Great Privatization Heist
Howard Lisnoff
“Say It Ain’t So, Joe:” the Latest Neoliberal from the War and Wall Street Party
Walter Clemens
Jailed Birds of a Feather May Sing Together
George Ochenski
Failing Students on Climate Change
Cesar Chelala
The Sweet Smell of Madeleine
Binoy Kampmark
Global Kids Strike
Nicky Reid
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: Requiem for a Fictional Party
Elliot Sperber
Empedocles and You and Me 
March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail