Today the Oceti Sakowin camp lies in ruins, but there have been many victories along the way.
Ever been to a game where it appears the two teams have been given separate rules of engagement? That what it’s like trying to follow what has been going on at Standing Rock over the last year.
Both sides—the water protectors and law enforcement—witness the other preparing for battle. On one side, the police deploy military weaponry and an ever-expanding ground force; they advance every chance they get, and use arrests and legal tactics, spend huge amounts of money, and create chaos as a game plan.
The water protectors respond with prayer. They also engage social media to increase awareness, raise money, and gather petition signatures; they appeal to treaty rights to stop the Black Snake.
Wednesday, February 22, was point water protectors. It was a David and Goliath moment. The police had the water protectors surrounded and had delivered the final ultimatum from Governor Burgum to evacuate.
But something held them back.
Was it the fires ignited early in the morning by the water protectors? Was it the mainstream media, corralled into a separate area, that distracted the police?
Perhaps it was the groundswell of social media along with the local presence, including churches and others from nearby Mandan, declaring, “We are watching.” A contributing factor was certainly the indy journalists, who swarmed the area and still had enough battery power to get their messages out. Indeed, it seemed to be independent reporters who were targeted by police when they first began to march down highway 1806 toward the camp. The police ignored the north entrance into the camp entirely, instead chasing legal observers, ACLU witnesses, and journalists who felt “safe” on the road.
The police also delayed until two hours after the dreaded 2:00 p.m. deadline for the camp’s eviction. Maybe they slowed down after realizing that chasing and arresting nine people—and possibly breaking the hip of one—and harassing people while video cameras are rolling live is not the best PR for your team.
All of this surely played into the police decision to back off and allow the water protectors to remain in camp overnight. I have to think a final card played on Wednesday made the difference: As the women, children, and disabled people walked to the south gate, and to “safety” from arrest, those who remained blocked the entrance to the north gate with concertina wire. They hung signs stating that Oceti Sakowin camp is indigenous land, decreed by the Creator, and ratified by treaty.
When those of us who had moved out of arrest territory got word that the police had backed off, it hit me. The lawyers must have had time to consider the meaning of stepping through the boundary the water protectors had erected. Apparently police even asked water protectors to sign some kind of release in case of harm—which they declined. The word is that Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier will be negotiating more time for the water protectors to continue camp clean up.
One would think this would be seen as a welcome and dignified conclusion to this phase of the “game.” But logic does not seem to be the rule here, and certainly not for supporters of DAPL, who insist that putting fallible oil pipelines under precious water makes some kind of sense.
I do not know whether or not the DAPL pipeline will be completed through the headwater of the Missouri River. I am certain, however, that the Standing Rock water protectors and their supporters from around the world, have dealt fossil fuels a serious blow.
Editor’s note February 23, 2017: Today is a different phase of the fight. The National Guard, and law enforcement from North Dakota and Wisconsin have arrested dozens, and the camp lies in smoldering ruins. Water protectors set ceremonial fires on Wednesday to several wooden structures, and heavy equipment was at work Thursday demolishing buildings, tipis, and tents. The eviction of Oceti Sakowin, once home to at least a thousand water protectors is now complete. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is also at work clearing the Rosebud Camp, set up on reservation land across the Cannonball River from Oceti.