Standing Rock: Portraits from the pipeline protest

Mobile medical bus heading to Standing Rock

CANNONBALL, N.D. -- The Oceti Sakowin protest camp near Cannonball, N.D., has drawn demonstrators from around the world in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The resistance started with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe but most of residents now come from out of state, and a large proportion of them have no tribal affiliation.

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Here are some of the people who have made the camp a temporary home in recent weeks.

Alphonse LeRoy, 34, Lake Andes, S.D.

Alphonse LeRoy, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, tries to focus on the spiritual side of the pipeline resistance. As a pipe carrier, he assists with ceremonies and cares for the sacred pipe used to transmit prayers to the creator.

“Some people are here with anger on the front lines. Sometimes, I want to be angry, too, but I try to focus on the songs,” said LeRoy. “My songs are the ceremony songs, the scared songs, the healing songs.”

That focus has been difficult to maintain over the years. He began singing in Lakota at age seven, and the songs have carried him through difficult times.

 

His first tussle with law enforcement came at age 14, when he and a group of friends asked a Charles Mix County Sheriff’s deputy for help with a flat tire.

“We had no tire iron or spare or anything, so we went to his house for help,” LeRoy recalls. “That deputy came to the door and pointed a 12-gauge at us.”

His trips outside Oceti Sakowin to sing during the protests have called that scene to mind more than once.

He’s been shot three times in the chest with rubber bullets since his arrival at camp four months ago, He’s also been hit in the leg with a bean bag projectile.

He was ready to be arrested on one of those occasions, but an elder grabbed him by the arm and told him that his voice was needed.

“She got arrested, and it hurt me, but I don’t question elders,” LeRoy said.

Since that day, he’s referred to her as “auntie.”

LeRoy sees the fight against the pipeline as a fight for families, for women and children.

On Nov. 12, he was mourning a family loss. His nephew would have turned four the day before. He’d planned to hitchhike to Standing Rock near the end of August, but the boy was run over and killed at a pow wow in Fort Thompson.

The loss was painful and nearly shook LeRoy’s resolve. After 11 days of mourning, however, he chose to give up his job and apartment to move to Standing Rock.

“During those 11 days, I wiped my tears. On the 11th day, I was here,” LeRoy said.

LeRoy’s commitment has only grown.

“If I have to die to do this, I will.”

Joe Kirby, 31, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Joe Kirby of Pennsylvania was drawn to activism through Occupy Philadelphia, an outgrowth of a 2011 progressive movement that began in New York City as “Occupy Wall Street.”

In Philadelphia, he was part of an group called “Operation Vacant Lots,” turning squalid patches of urban ground into something called the “Philly Forest.”

“That set up the next couple years of my life,” Kirby said.

After Occupy ended, Kirby bounced from place to place. He'd been working in Oregon and watching the Standing Rock movement unfold on social media.

He mentioned to a friend in early November that he wanted to come to the North Dakota camp, and the next day, someone called offering a ride.

A few hours into his visit to North Dakota, he felt ready devote all his energy to the effort. It seemed like a place to make a difference he last felt in Philadelphia.

“I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m doing and why," Kirby said.

Standing Rock differs from his last major activist experience: With Occupy, there was no end goal, very little in the way of organization or common purpose.

“The only thing people had in common was that they were mad,” Kirby said.

Kirby's personal motivation to come to Standing Rock came from multiple places: Anger over corporate greed, environmental destruction and a desire to come to terms with the damage done to Native culture.

“I feel like my ancestry really has a lot of making up to do,” Kirby.

Connor Manson, 16

Connor Manson had lived at the camp for seven weeks by Nov. 11.

In between shots at a portable basketball hoop near Oceti Sakowin’s southern edge, Manson stopped to talk about his family's free-roaming lifestyle.

“I travel full time,” Manson said.

The family moves about the country in a camper fueled by used vegetable oil, teaching and volunteering through their own non-profit, Eco Womb. They focus on the environment, sustainability, genetically-modified food and renewable fuels during their tour stops.

Manson and his siblings are schooled in their traveling home.

Standing Rock was another place to help, he said.

“We came here to share what we know and help out however we can,” Manson said.

Manson’s been a lot of places with his family and attended plenty of festivals, but he says Oceti Sakowin is something different, in tone and feeling: It’s a consistently peaceful, helpful and welcoming atmosphere and remains one in spite of what’s happening with front-line demonstrators.

“The direct actions have escalated, but at the camp, it’s always peaceful,” Manson said.

Marcella LeBeau, 97, Eagle Butte, S.D.

Marcella LeBeau served in the Army Nurse Corps in World War II, patching up soldiers in Wales, France and Belgium.

She returned home, to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, and continued to see her people’s struggle play out. Her family lost land to the Pick-Sloan Plan, which created a series of dams along the Missouri River and flooded out tribal communities.

She saw more friends and family stripped of their culture and abused within the same boarding school system where she was educated. She sees what’s happening at Cannonball as a way to bring forth the ugly history her people have lived with to light.

“We were supposed to be stupid, dumb, unable to learn,” LeBeau said. “We were psychologically and physically traumatized there. I look at this as a reawakening.”

LeBeau isn’t staying at Oceti Sakowin, but she’s a frequent visitor. LeBeau’s concerned about the waters of the Missouri, which supplies drinking water for communities downstream.

She struggles to understand why the pipeline opponents have met so much resistance.

"Why are we fighting for water? Water is life. Why do we have to stand up for it? Why should we have to fight?" LeBeau said. "All the people down the river should all be here. Even the Governor of South Dakota.”

The elder is proud that message has carried beyond the borders of any one community and seeped into the global consciousness. LeBeau says she’s never seen anything like it.

“I think this is a great movement. I don’t know where it’s going to lead us, but we need our water safe,” LeBeau said.

Sonny Iron Cloud, 25, Standing Rock

Sonny Iron Cloud left Sioux Falls to come home to the Standing Rock reservation a few months ago to support the camp.

Iron Cloud is learning how to care for horses, caring for about eight of them at a tipi beneath a Crow Creek Reservation flag. He and a handful of other young men are working under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Other young people are learning carpentry, cooking or multimedia skills.

“You have a lot of people here, homey people, people who will take you in as family,” Iron Cloud said.

He doesn’t spend much time reading the news or follow trending topics on social media – but for a space on “media hill,” cell reception is spotty or non-existent – or worry about the problems he faced in Sioux Falls.

His focus is on the pipeline fight and what happens around it. A helicopter flew over the camp as he spoke on Friday afternoon.

“That’s DAPL,” Iron Cloud said casually, shorthand for Dakota Access Pipeline.

Tami DeCouteau, Bismarck, N.D. and Tami Jollie-Trottier, Belcourt, N.D.

Tami DeCoteau owns DeCoteau Psychology of Bismarck, N.D. She led a group of professional counselors to the camp on Veteran’s Day.

Most have Native American heritage and had visited the camp “for personal reasons” before the outreach visit, which was meant to assess the mental health needs of those living there.

Support groups for stress and anxiety take place daily at the camp, and there are signs offering tips for self-care posted near the medical tents. There’s also an expectation of a substance-free environment, with a sign at the camp entrance saying “no alcohol or drugs – on you or in you.”

The precautions and social support are important, but there are other needs, DeCouteau said.

“There seems to be a number of people with serious mental health needs that have experienced trauma because of the stress of being at the camp or through being out on the front lines,” DeCouteau said.

Face-offs with officers in riot gear or time spent in temporary holding cages can shake loose trauma for Native Americans, said Tami Jollie-Trottier said, particularly those whose families have felt the effects of generations of poverty and substance on reservations

“For a lot of the Natives, there’s historical trauma,” Jollie-Trottier said.

Both counselors hope to be able to connect visitors to services outside the camp when the time comes. There’s an atmosphere of support at Oceti Sakowin, she said, but the feeling of unity, positivity and prayer stands in stark contrast to the lives many Natives will return to.

“I’m really concerned with the transition for people going back into our communities,” said Jollie-Trottier, who runs a clinic in Belcourt. “You hope people take that positivity and momentum back with them, regardless of what happens.”

Ryan Neily, 54, Pueblo West, Colorado

It took two days for Ryan Neily to ride his converted motorcycle to North Dakota.

The stainless steel of his 1100 Honda Magnum, modified with the front end of a 1971 Volkswagen, is hard to miss as it rolls through camp.

The unique vehicle is difficult to miss, its stainless steel siding adorned with Grateful Dead stickers and clover.

“I brought it to make people smile,” Neily said.

He brought himself a month ago to meet friends and to take part in the camp’s activism. Neily cut his activist teeth with Earth First!, working in California in the mid-1990s on the group’s “Redwood Summer” action.

“We saved 60,000 acres of redwoods,” Neily said.

The Dakota Access Pipeline represents another gash in the earth, Neily believes, a dangerous and unnecessary nod to fossil fuels.

“I’m hoping this is the stand it takes to finally stop this madness,” Neily said.

 

 


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