Story written for The Hawk Eye, which was published in their Thanksgiving 2016 newspaper with a selection of my photographs:
“What people don’t realize is this is about more than just water; it’s a spiritual movement. It’s about fighting capitalism and standing up to the government,” Georgia Andre said as she takes a sip of her ginger tea. The Burlington native has lived in her deceased mother’s home at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Bullhead, S.D. for the past 15 years with her four pet horses. During her leave of absence as a special education teacher for middle school students on the reservation, Andre served as my guide in the camps where “water protectors” (the terminology protestors prefer) were staying. Every day, Georgia and I would make the 50-minute drive from her home to the Sacred Stone Camp in Fort Yates, N.D. After passing through security which monitors the camp’s entrance 24/7, the second thing that greets all visitors are more than 300 flags posted along the sides of the camp’s main road. Each flag represents a different indigenous nation that have visited Sacred Stone from all over the world. So far, it is estimated more than 100,000 people have visited the camp since it officially opened on April 1st, 2016.
A wide variety of caravans, teepees, and generic camping tents are scattered throughout the hilly terrain of Sacred Stone. The camp has a communal kitchen and dining area, which are supplied by donations and operated by volunteers. Deborah Roussee, a Native American woman who lives at the Cheyenne River Reservation, has cooked food at home with her mother since the beginning of August to feed Sacred Stone campers. “My mother and I started baking bread at home and bringing it up to the camp once a week because they hardly ever have bread up there. As more people started coming to the camp, my cousin, who works in the kitchen, asked us to help make frybread (a flat dough bread that is deep-fried in oil or lard) on an open flame.” Despite the popularity of the camp kitchen, some campers opt to use their own makeshift kitchens instead. Sacred Stone also features medic stations for minor to serious health ailments, an education tent for the youngest campers to learn about Native American culture and even animal pens for campers who bring along their horses. The camp also boasts a very strict ban on drugs, alcohol and weapons of any kind, although that rule didn't seem to be an issue for most campers. As I walk around the camp, I hear a gentleman echo a phrase heard in passing conversations from numerous people: “When people who have substance abuse problems come here, they say they no longer have the urge to drink or use drugs. This land is sacred, and it is a place for people to come and heal their souls.” It seems that one of the greatest challenges campers face is the upcoming winter. Alex Good Cane Milk, who is an International Indigenous Youth Council Organizer from South Dakota, wants to unite the youth and elders for winter survival. He believes having younger generations learn traditional survival skills from elders, such as learning how to harvest vegetables that are in season and building teepees that will withstand harsh winder conditions will keep younger generations more connected to their culture and learn how to become self-sufficient. Since Sacred Stone is prone to flooding, campers have begun to settle into the new winter camp, Oceti Sakowin Treaty Camp, which is about a mile from the Sacred Stone Camp. Water protestors and campers will continue to stand in solidarity with one another as Dakota Access Pipeline construction progresses towards completion. Native Americans and non-natives alike have settled into their newly established camp communities and have proved they’re in this battle for the long haul.
The protestors said the pipeline violates numerous federal laws and treaties, such as the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which guarantees the Sioux will "enjoy the undisturbed use and occupation of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation."