Friday, September 9, 2016

Standoff at Standing Rock as we await court ruling

With Defenders of Water School principal Elena and teacher Theresa.
I finally found my calling after all these years. I want to come back here and be the basketball coach at the Defenders of Water School at the Standing Rock Sioux encampment. Susan and I showed up early at the school yesterday, to see if we could help out. Susan spent the morning trying to salvage school supplies that were washed out in Wednesday's downpour, putting remaining usable materials in plastic bins.

I played hoops -- a no-rules 3-on-3 pick-up game with 9-year-olds with players shuffling in an out. An Australian photog took pictures (with permission) and promised to send me some as soon as he could find some a wi-fi connection. I'm still waiting.

Early yesterday morning, a group of activists out on the front line set out to block the Dakota Access bulldozers. But the confrontation never materialized because the 'dozers were inoperable. The torrential rainstorm the day before had left them in a sea of mud. The rest of the day turned into an eerie peace. A standoff with company spotters up on the ridge watching the protesters and taking pictures while activists watched back. "We watch them watching us," said a guy camping at the front line. He had come from Arkansas to be part of this. "They watch us watching them watch us." There's a song lyric in there somewhere.

Approaching the roadblock on 1806.
Today, a federal judge is scheduled to rule on the Standing Rock Sioux lawsuit, a ruling that could stop the pipeline in its tracks or give a green light to DAPL The tribe’s lawsuit contends that the Dakota Access pipeline violates several federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, and threatens the region’s water supply and sacred ancient sites outside of the 2.3 million-acre reservation.

Yesterday came word that Gov. Dalrymple had activated the National Guard in anticipation of the ruling. Dalrymple is avid Trump supporter, solidly behind Dakota Access and the pipeline project. The 100 guardsmen will man the roadblocks out on Hwy. 1806 leading into the encampment, freeing state police for  other duties. Rumors abound that several hundred police from around the state have been training in the nearby town of Mandan for action against protestors.

Tribal chiefs have been meeting to plan a response to the court ruling and the governor's actions. So have the activists.


There is a  reservation school district at Standing Rock. A public elementary school and a high school. I didn't visit them. But I looked on the school district's Facebook page and there is a letter from the school superintendent denying rumors that the school bus had been stopped at a roadblock and that some of those on board were questioned by police.  I wonder how attendance at the "regular" schools is doing. The encampment has opened an elementary school. Mni Wichoni Na KIciziy Owayawa or Defenders of Water School. (I can't type in the Sioux diacritical marks so this is not spelled properly).

MK can spot a hoop anywhere. Between the main tipi and the row of portable toilets, there's a basketball hoop. By no means regulation or even half-sized court, and the "floor" is trampled grass. But it suited its purpose. MK was soon playing with 9-year-olds who were waiting for school to begin. He  can still dominate the boards (or mud) against 4th-graders. He asks a skinny little boy, "Can you dunk?" The kid is happy to have somebody to play with so he puts up with the teasing. Then a little girl joins in. First it's MK versus these two little  ones, then as more kids join, it's 2 on 2, and soon, 3 on 3. And the 9-year-old psych artist shows some attitude,  calling MK "Old Man" and trying to outfox him. The old man will be okay once his wounded pride heals.

The school consists, so far, of a large tipi as the main classroom plus separate tents for math and reading. School is supposed to run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. followed by after-school activities; however, things got off to a late start this morning as we worked to salvage materials which had been hit by yesterday's frog-choker of a rainstorm. The supply tent is piled high with cartons of paper, notebooks, and school supplies. I was with a couple of volunteers sorting and organizing the stuff and transferring the undamaged materials into plastic bins. Many tribal delegations arrived with school supplies to contribute to the pool, so there is quite an abundance. The problem is keeping everything organized and dry. And unlike a conventional school building, computers are not in the picture.  Small white plastic writing practice boards -- the kind you can wipe off and reuse --are augmented by white masonite tiles, intended for ceilings, which are easy to clean off. We had to throw away some paper, notebooks and other paper goods that got soaked but most everything else was still in plastic wrappings and so survived.

Aside from conventional school supplies and art supplies, the school has several huge containers of beads and beading materials. Native American bead work has many genres, styles and techniques. I wished I could stay to see how the class would be taught.

We met the school's principal, who is a teacher at the Standing Rock elementary school. She was preparing to teach a morning opener on Lakota values. She was joined by a young teacher from the Chicago suburbs who has come as a volunteer. A mom came over to drop off her kids for school. The mom stuck around to help sort materials. "We got in last night from Arizona," she told me, " and luckily my kids got a full night's sleep in the car, so they're ready for today." There was no official or informal census of how many people are at the encampment nor how many children. And not all the children are signed up for the school yet.  Here in the liberated zone that is this little valley, a new school is being born.

1 comment:

  1. Great reporting from the front lines. Thank you for being there and representing Chicago. We are having a demonstration today after work in support of the fight against the access pipeline. Sending solidarity.
    Marja Stoll


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