Protection Not Protest: The People of Standing Rock

Protection Not Protest: The People of Standing Rock.

On April 1, 2016, an elder member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and her grandchildren established the Sacred Stone Camp to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which they claim threatens the only water supply for the Standing Rock Reservation. Founded by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, the camp is on her private land, and is a center for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protests at the pipeline site in North Dakota began in the spring of 2016 and continue to grow drawing indigenous people, U.S. Veterans and demonstrators of every color and creed. Over the weekend, Tavis Smiley joined Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme to hear from demonstrators and "water protectors" about the current state of the protest in North Dakota.


Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.

Tonight, sights and sounds from my visit this weekend with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in North Dakota where demonstrators were gathered to protest construction of the Dakota Pipeline. I was joined this weekend by the Academy Award-winning director, Jonathan Demme, who filmed what you will see this evening.

As you likely know by now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on Sunday that they would in fact be rerouting the pipeline. So for the moment, a victory for the water protectors. I say for the moment because Energy Transfer, the company building the pipeline, has said they fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Ohae.

Nothing this administration has done changes, they say, that plan in any way. Our conversations with Standing Rock demonstrators starts right now.

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Tavis: Good evening from Standing Rock in North Dakota. I’m Tavis Smiley. As you can tell by my gear and the weather elements around me, it’s a bit frigid out here. But the fight over this Dakota Pipeline is heating up.

Tonight we’re going to bring you the sights and sounds from this camp on these sacred grounds here as the protectors–not protestors–but protectors of these sacred grounds and clean water and Mother Earth are here. The campground, I’m told, has grown over the past few weeks as this controversy has awakened the country.

This pipeline has been moved already once when the residents of Bismarck didn’t want the pipeline to come through their neighborhood. And now they’re determined to bring this pipeline through here. Not so if these protectors have their say.

I’m here tonight with my friend, the Academy Award-winning director, Jonathan Demme, who’s on this camera over here. Hello, Mr. Demme.

Jonathan Demme: Hi, Tavis.

Tavis: Good to have you with us. So Jonathan Demme and crew bringing us the sights and sounds tonight from Standing Rock in North Dakota. Our conversation starts in just a moment.

David Archambault: The Department of Justice or the Department of Army, the Department of the Interior, all have to look at what federal laws are intact. And if there’s a violation of them, then they have a [inaudible].

But the way the laws are written and the way the laws are produced in this nation are with politicians, with our Congressmen, our Senators, and they are entangled with the oil industry. So even thoughwe know pipelines break.

There’s a history. We go back to 2010 and take a look at the number of pipelines breaking transporting crude oil and it’s in the thousands. There are more pipelines coming and why are there pipelines coming? Because of our consumption. Each and every one of us consumes fossil fuel.

Troy Fairbanks: My name is Troy Fairbanks, Tatanka Opsipcha. This is who I am. My name is Jumping Buffalo. I’m the sixth generation grandson to Chief Sitting Bull. Where my name came from was Little [inaudible] from my grandfather. His name is Edwin Brown. He gave me Sitting Bull’s father’s name.

Tavis: What would your grandfather, your ancestors, say about the fightback taking place here now against this pipeline?

Fairbanks: The same thing he said over 100 years ago. “I will die fighting for my rights.”

Tavis: Will it take that? Will it come to that?

Fairbanks: Let’s hope it don’t. Never once have we ever shot a rubber bullet at Morton County or the National Guard. Never once have we ever put mace in their face. Never once have we ever shot a water cannon in sub degrees below zero.

We give prayers for them too. They’re cold? Let’s get some blankets to them. Let’s keep ’em warm. They’re cold? Let’s build a fire for them so they can stay warm. Because this is for their children too.

Protector: My name is Kathryn [inaudible], which means that I am from the shore of Lake Superior. I’m Lake Superior Anishinaabe-kwes [inaudible] and we are Water Warriors. Anishinaabe-kwes are keeper of the water. That means an Anishinaabe woman.

All women and all of our children, the source of life comes through women, through the waters of the womb, and we are beholding to her care. So that’s where our teaching starts. It is an inherent teaching.

I have never spent a day in my life where we were not under threat on the shore of Lake Superior protecting our water. And we have also set up a camp very much like this that we occupied for over four years until the mining company packed up and went home.

Allen Shriver: I’m Allen Shriver from Lincoln, Nebraska, a former Army Reserve Captain, and I’m up here because I’m coming back up to support my relatives. I was up here over Labor Day weekend when the dog attacks, pepper spray occurred.

I’m up here to support my [inaudible] and Oglala relatives because they stood by us at the [inaudible], Nebraska. They stood by us when they fought the Keystone XL and it’s a blood relative thing, you know. They stood by my side, I’m standing by their side in this fight and I’m here because I’m a veteran. I’m here because this is my relatives who are standing for clean water.

What you’re seeing here basically by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, the North Dakota State Patrol, North Dakota governor and the associated officers from agencies is a direct violation of First Amendment constitutional rights.

These people have the right to peacefully assemble, which they have done is peacefully assemble. There is no violence in this camp. There’s been no violence directed towards the law enforcement. All they want to do is pray and prevent this pipeline from going through and express themselves under the First Amendment constitution.

Veterans are here because, as myself as an officer, I swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, and I’m sorry. If you’re trying to take the rights away from my fellow citizens, that makes you a domestic enemy of our constitution.

Protector: My name is Noline Villibran, my English name. I was given a [inaudible] name, Yellowknives Woman in 2005 by the Dene International Gathering because I am a [inaudible[ Dene woman, tribal woman, from Canada, Northwest Territories.

I’m down here at Standing Rock to support not just the people, but the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the women of Standing Rock and the whole North and South Dakota. Right now, we know that the people are in a crisis. The water is in a crisis. The animals are in a crisis. The Unity Staff originated out of Peru and the flags represent all the countries that it’s been to.

As you can see, the condor, and Canada is known for its eagle, and this is why the Peruvians, the people, were so excited when it came to Canada this year because of the eagle and the condor. When the eagle and the condor meet, that’s when our prophesies and our histories will start coming alive. It’ll be fulfilled because we will become one. The staff has traveled to 11 countries.

This year, it was Canada’s turn to take the staff and share the unity stories, the struggles of our peoples, because we have all been taken over by corporations, autonomous governments that do not have a heart. In order to have a heart, you have to have compassion, empathy, for another human being, but for every living organism because that was our gift from the creator.

And that’s one of our values amongst all tribes is harmony and peace. Thank you to all the elders and the veterans that came here. Thank you very much. [inaudible] with my heart. Mercy.

Protector: Forward!

Protectors: Moving forward!

Protector: Okay? We’re here for a few days, maybe a few months! But there’s a place where we call home afterwards and there’s a way that we need to be moving on this sacred land here and continue to do so on our way home! These conversations about colonization, of white supremacy, of privilege, that many people will leave this state and you need to share what you learn with others that are not here.

So we live in a world of what we call power over. It is a world where we are taught to obey a commander, a priest, a teacher, that tells us who we are, what we should do, when we should do it. But what we’re building here is power with, where we look to one another in an equal way, to know how to move forward together.

There’s also power within. Every single one of you has the power to change the world and don’t ever let anyone know or say that we cannot. But where we also live is power under. It’s that world where we say we can’t. I can’t do this, I can’t do this. Well, let’s understand we don’t do it because we’re afraid of what will happen if we do.

But that power of oppression continues and why does it continue? Because we cooperate and let it and why? Because we are afraid of what will happen if we don’t. And if we know our history, we know that many people have lost their lives in the struggle for justice. This is not a joke. It is not a game, and you all know that.

If I tell you to go do something and you get really hurt, it’s on me. But if I say to you these are the risks involved and you decide you’re willing to take those risks, it’s clean and there’s nothing they can do to stop you because you are prepared.

So part of what we’re learning here is how do we work in responsive ways and not put anyone at risk that hasn’t chosen that and hasn’t been prepared.

And I want to offer one of the lessons we are taught here by the Lakota people, that forgiveness begins within and for yourself. I imagine some of you may also carry with you things from your past and I want to suggest and offer all of you to say a prayer for yourself.

We have been taught you pray for yourself first and then, if you have some to share, you pray for others. We are part individuals, as part of a large collective family, and we work together. And if we come in in a way that is not prepared, we can do harm, and we’re trying to do no harm.

We’re trying to do powerful actions to discuss the Black Snake and we need each and every one of you. So we need you to be spiritually prepared, physically prepared, emotionally prepared, and mentally prepared. And we know that it can change. It is already been changing the world and you are part of that historic changing of the world right now.


Jack McCord: My name is Jack McCord, M-c-C-O-R-D, and I’m from Kansas City, Missouri, served in the Marines and the U.S. Army. And I didn’t even know that the veterans were gathering here until just this past Tuesday and I thought what are you gonna do this weekend, Jack?

And I said, “I’m gonna sit around on the couch and watch football and drink some beer.” And I thought this is a much more worthwhile thing to do. There’s like one time in your life you got to do the right thing.

We all know what’s right. We know what’s wrong. I’m up here to support the protectors to find a peaceful solution, a peaceful resolution, to all of this, and I sure hope they do find it. Our future depends on it, our children’s future depends on it. They’ll thank you for it in the end.

Protector: Hello. I’m [inaudible]. I’m a Mohawk from upstate New York originally. I live in Kentucky. I’m here to support [inaudible] Awareness. They’re a group that is here to take and support the entire camp who try to be self-sustaining so that we’re not making an implant on the camp, but here to help, not a burden. This is Jerry, one of the leaders of the group, and I’m gonna back on out while Jerry takes over.

Protector: My name’s Jerry [inaudible]. I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m an indigenous activist who’s been working for the [inaudible] camp. It’s my third trip out here. We’ve been running supplies and people for a while back and forth since Labor Day.

Right now, what we do is we’re making sure that people have safe lodging for the winter, make sure people are safe, make sure that they got wood-burning stoves, that they got firewood, that they have propane, anything that’s needed. Blankets, extreme cold weather sleeping bags, all this that’s funded through donations that come from all over the country.

We’re a peaceful camp. We’re a prayerful camp. What we’ve done, I mean, even as recent as yesterday when Morton County Sheriff’s Department asked for donations, we took donations to Morton County Sheriff’s Department. We facilitated donating to them. The camp and the movement is entirely based on prayer.

We haven’t changed in the way that we’ve been doing our direct actions. We continue to do things in the same way. Every time we go to the front lines, the Morton County Sheriff and the National Guard and the governor, they continue to show how they violate human rights.

They continue to show how they have little regard for the safety of the water protectors and the safety of the media. There’s been a couple of media that have actually been shot with rubber bullets. There’s been media that has been singled out. They’ve been arrested.

Protector: With the permission of the guardians [inaudible]. With the permission of the ancestors of this land and with the permission of the ancestors of here and mind, my name is [inaudible]. I am Chicana, first generation from Oregon.

What’s happening in Oregon too right now with the excess use of pesticides on our forest land and where does that all end up? It ends up in our waterways, you know. It ends up in our rivers. It ends up affecting the fish. It ends up affecting the humans, you know, the people who are working out in the fields exposed to all these chemicals that end up in the land and seep into our aquifers.

It’s all connected. Water is not only a native issue. Water is a human rights issue. It’s not just a human rights issue either. It’s a life right, you know. We’re not the only ones who drink water. We have the critters, the two-legged, the four-legged. We have the relatively fly in the sky.

We got all kinds of life forms that rely on this, on this sacred element, this life-giving element. So it’s an honor to be here and see all of these people, all of these hearts, who are answering this call to stand and protect the sacred.

Michael Preston: [speaking Native American], my Indian name. My English name is Michael Preston and I’m from the [inaudible] tribe, Northern California. I’m a Cloud River and we’re here on behalf of the water. We’re always about saving that water and saving all of life, saving the sacredness of all life. That includes all of life, not just humans, everything, even down to microbials.

Protector: Protect [inaudible], run for salmon, no LNG, no DPL, [inaudible]. We’re all in this together!

Cody Two Bears: My name is Cody Two Bears. I’m on the tribal council for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and I represent the community of Cannonball, which today we see where the protests and the camps are located today. Our youth in Standing Rock stood up as they got out and started speaking about it. They got out to social media and started talking about it.

They went on a numerous amount of runs. Two in particular runs was they went all the way down to the Army Corps of Engineers’ office in Omaha, Nebraska, ran all the way from Cannonball, North Dakota all the way to Omaha to deliver a petition, over 150,000 signatures.

Also, they ran all the way from Cannonball, North Dakota to Washington, D.C. right in front of the White House to stand up for what was right, to tell the government that water is important to us. Water is sacred to our people, and we need water to live.

It’s not about the fossil fuel industry today. That’s a fight for another day. Right now, we’re just trying to protect and preserve what our native peoples here in Standing Rock have left to preserve for our future generations to come.

You know, we’re in high poverty. We have high poverty conditions in where we live on reservations. We were stuck on lands that necessarily weren’t the best lands, pristine lands, but now today they are because we preserved them for so, so long on what were given to us. We’re showing the world to move forward with peace and prayer and you can accomplish that without violence.

Jonathan Demme: So we had arrived at Standing Rock this afternoon. We had some stuff to record on the way over and then we got to Standing Rock this afternoon, and we brought a load of firewood down into the veterans’ village.

And as we were driving out, we saw that there were people starting to form up these lines, forming a chain, holding hands. That was very beautiful. It’s obviously some kind of prayer moment. Continued in the car heading to another part of the camp…

Protector: Pull over, guys! Join us!

Demme: And this line kept increasing and more and more segments of line coming together as we passed. And then while that was going on, at a certain point, you heard someone shouting…

Protector: “It was just announced and made fire that the Corps of Engineers has denied DPL’s permit!”


Protector: They just spread the news that the Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit, and we’re trying to wait for more information before freaking out.

Protector: But inside, we’re freaking out a little bit.

Demme: Surely, the veterans showing up like this has really stuck it to them in a way that they can’t ignore anymore, right?

Protector: When the marginalized come together, that’s when we change the world.

Protector: Been here since August 4 when there was only 50 people here. To stand here today and to hear that the Army Corps has denied the crossing, it’s really, really made–it has been so many miscommunications and until like it really happens, I’m really, really excited, but there’s just that edge. It seems really real and I’m really, really excited about it. It’s really well taken.

Protector: Kids are celebrating. There’s elders up there crying. People are in tears up there. It’s real emotional up at the sacred fire right now. My brain is always working 10 steps ahead, so I’m thinking like long-term cleanup. What is this going to take?

We’ve established a lot here. This structure is actually being donated to a family in need, so how do we get them out? How do we clean up? This is just the beginning of the divesting from fossil fuels, which is the important part. We have a whole city of 8,000 people here living off of solar energy and alternative fuels. We have winter [inaudible]. It’s viable to do this and to live this way.

Protector: I am [inaudible]. It means Rainbow Woman from the Ho Chunk Nation from Wausau, Wisconsin, and I’m here for the change. Change is coming now.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. We will, of course, continue to follow this issue as developments warrant. Until then, thanks for watching and, as always keep the faith.

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Last modified: December 7, 2016 at 3:45 pm