Activists who joined the Dakota Access Pipeline protests say they will take what they learned to their fights back home.
The movement, which won a big victory Dec. 4 when the Department of the Army announced it would not approve the easement under Lake Oahe, provides a new language and format for protests, some activists at the main Oceti Sakowin camp said Dec 5.
Since August, thousands of native and non-native people have camped near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and protested at construction sites throughout Morton County as a way of stopping the crude oil pipeline they fear may contaminate the water and disturb sacred sites. Now, with subzero highs and blizzard conditions, many are heading home.
Rob Lewis, a 56-year-old house painter from Bellingham, Wash., has been an environmentalist his whole life, he said. But Standing Rock is giving the movement "a new language."
"It's always been a scientific kind of approach, and I was drawn to the approach of the Native Americans, which is to treat nature as sacred," said Lewis, who was on his second visit to the camp.
"Water is sacred. That's enough," he said. "All that science turns people off. It makes people feel a kind of chill, detached or objectified."
Lewis also speculated that native people would increasingly take the lead, using this language in environmental protests around the country, including at an upcoming pipeline near him — the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline, which is opposed by native people and environmentalists.
"They can speak to everyone. They’re neither black nor white, right nor left. They come before all that," he said of Native Americans.
Christopher Francisco, a Navajo member, said other protests have fomented at the camp against natural gas pipelines, including the Trans-Pecos line in Big Bend, Texas, and the Sabal Trail line in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
"Out of this, other movements have been born," he said.
He also noted that many sustainable structures have cropped up at the Oceti Sakowin camp, including a small wooden house where he resides with two other men. He's hoping this will be a model for how people can live on fewer resources.
You don't need two cars and 10 rooms, he said.
“You can build a home like this," he said.
This protest also may have implications for completely unrelated issues, courtesy of the thousands of people who have come to North Dakota and been influenced by what they've seen.
Tara Cook, an African American woman from Charlotte, N.C., who served in the army in the First Gulf War, joined the veterans group who came to the main camp last weekend. But back home, she's involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, and she was struck by what her community might learn from Standing Rock.
Charlotte was the site of days of often violent protests after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in September. On the very first night of the protests, 16 police officers were reportedly injured by thrown rocks, and police threw tear gas canisters into the crowd. Later, video emerged of several black men dragging a white man through a parking lot and another man was shot in the head.
"You taint our own movement," she said of the men in the video. "People can't stand when you do things like that."
Though local law enforcement has criticized the North Dakota protests as violent and unlawful, Cook saw these protests as peaceful, prayerful and disciplined. People are given an orientation when they arrive, so they can do a better job conveying the message and be respectful of traditions. And they had stamina.
"We don’t know how to stick with it," she told a group gathered around the central fire of her community's protests.
She recognized that the idea of land was significant in this protest, which has centered around encampments near the reservation on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access, but which the protesters continue to claim as unceded treaty land.
Perhaps there is a way to bring that to Charlotte, as well, she noted, with the idea of a communal center for people to gather and organize around issues of officer-involved shootings and perceived racial discrimination by police.
"One of the things that I plan to take from you is to bring it home, to share it with the people there and be able to share it with my community," she said.
Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at firstname.lastname@example.org