Thursday, September 8, 2016

Notes from Standing Rock

We got to camp yesterday afternoon after driving hours through torrential rain storms. We drove in from the north (Bismarck), easily avoiding any roadblocks by taking Rte. 6 off of 94, to 24 and then east into camp.

By the time we arrived, the sky had broken and we got our first clear look at this stunning Missouri River valley rich in colors.  Clearly a land worth fighting for and keeping out of the clutches of oil-profiteers and polluters.

The dirt road into camp had turned to a river of mud. But that didn't seem to slow hundreds of new arrivals, now lined up along the side of 24 in cars, SUVs, pick-ups, and campers with license plates from seemingly every state, waiting to be guided past security and into the main camp. From up on the hill, the first sight of the main encampment is awesome. Thousands of supporters in tents, tipis, or just sleeping in sleeping bags on the ground or in cars. It's a beautiful collage of beloved, well-organized and self-run community and refugee camp. Tribes who, I'm told, haven't joined together in a hundred years or more now coming together with delegations of supporters.

Donated goods stack up at the food tent.
We parked and unloaded our food, warm clothing and feminine products at the donations center. We had stopped at a market in Jamestown to pick up more big cans of beans, diced tomatoes, pineapple chunks and whatever else they had on their shelves. No Costco in this part of N.D.

Teams of cooks and kitchen volunteers were serving meals 24/7. A free store offered clothing, toys and donated goods to whoever needed them. Tanker trucks brought in water for bathing and drinking. Horse corrals and lots and lots of of kids,

The first campers we met, a small group of Onondaga tribe members, had driven here non-stop from N.Y. One woman had a thick Brooklyn accent. They asked us for advice on avoiding Chicago loop traffic and tolls on their return trip to Buffalo.

I stopped by the camp school and met a couple of the volunteer teachers. Class begins at 9 this morning. I asked if they needed help and they said, "all the help we can get." So I'll be back there at 8:30.


From Susan's Notebook

All the senses are engaged in Cannonball. I tracked around the sprawling campground like a big old dog today, sniffing the air and taking in the scene.

Waiting to enter the main camp.
You should see and smell what the cooks are making to feed several thousand people a day at the NO DAPL camp.  I saw folks unloading a pick-up truck full of 30-lb. bags of potatoes. A local farmer dropped off mountains of squashes. There's a refrigerator trailer for the perishables and meat including a couple of head of cattle donated for the cause. They have built a cooker the size of a smallish school bus and a team works steadily splitting wood for the fires so they can keep up with the cooks.  It's fun and impressive to watch. And the sweet smell and taste of wood smoke and grilling foods is hard to beat.

Visually it's remarkable. There are three camps. I've seen only two of them.  One is relatively compact and has a couple of small wind power generators humming away on a hilltop. The hum harmonizes well with the buzz of a million crickets and whoever else is chirping away in the grasses. Waves of nylon tents in every shade of blue line the hillsides, vying with the tribal flags which line the main road into camp. Each of the flags is impressive  for its own vivid color and unique symbols. But massed on tall white poles lining the road into camp are ALL the tribal flags and it's hard to take it all in, harder still to realize -- again -- how little I know of these histories and who these flags stand for. Among all the bright little nylon tents and tarps there are also lots of white tipis, made the old-fashioned way--no fiberglass poles. Most of the ones here are made of a marine cover material which is highly waterproof and the construction allows them to stand up to wind and rain.

It has rained like mad here. Today alone the area got .75 inch of rain in a couple of hours. There are blankets and jackets and jeans spread out to dry on the roofs of the cars and vans, on makeshift clotheslines and lawn chairs. Everything had something drying on it after the rains moved through. The temperature began to plunge as the sun dropped. Donated blankets and sleeping bags were being distributed to folks whose stuff had gotten soaked today. On top of having wet outerwear and wet bedding--there is mud. M.U.D. The sucking, strong, sticky kind of mud in a supersaturated cow pasture that is now home to so many families. Our car got stuck in the mud on the steep road out of camp, and a couple of young guys just got behind us, put their shoulders into it, and gave us enough of a shove to regain traction.

There has never been a gathering of all these tribes and on this scale. People keep saying unprecedented. It's no exaggeration. Even longtime rivals have come together on this one, and there is teasing and humor about historic feuds but in the camp they say there is a sense that something precious,  delicate and wonderful--and powerful--has come together--something about which participants clearly feel highly protective.


School tent
Forget about the reported lack of press coverage of the pipeline struggle. The media, both mainstream and social, is all over the encampment, taking pictures and interviewing anyone who will talk to them. Check out yesterday's Washington Post article.

I hear a New York Times reporter, cameras hanging from her neck, speaking with camp leaders about the rules of engagement. As you might expects, there are lots of restrictions on picture-taking and some of the camps don't want it, period, either for religious or security reasons, or both. But pictures and interviews are possible if done with care and respect for people's dignity and right to privacy.

Last night I talked briefly with former Chicagoan Jeff Haas, one of this country's great civil rights lawyers and author of The Assassination of Fred Hampton. He's working on the Standing Rock Sioux's pending lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I'll try to get back with him this morning to learn more about the battle on the legal front. Yesterday, a federal judge issued a partial restraining order. But the real ruling on the suit is expected tomorrow. No matter how the judge rules, the battle to stop the Black Snake continues. These folks are dug in for the long haul.

I'm hearing that there will be some kind of action this morning but not sure what. So off I go.


  1. Wonderful account. Loved reading every word. Keep the fires burning. Take some more pics. And keep offering links to good reporting.


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