A week before my friend, Lara, and her girlfriend’s much anticipated, two and a half day visit to Minneapolis/St. Paul, I received an email:
Subject: Re: Visit - Sept.
...So Tinora had an idea- she is interested in checking out the occupation for the Dakota access pipeline in North Dakota. She looked it up and it looks like it's about a five hour drive away. We are thinking of renting a car and driving out there [and camping overnight]. Would you be interested??Let me know! :) -Lara
Admittedly, my Minnesota bias made me conflicted about the idea for the first five minutes.
“But they won’t have time to see Minneapolis/St. Paul.”
“What if they never come back and they only spent time in North Dakota?! North. Dakota.”
“A five hour drive to North Dakota? That sounds kind of terrible.” (Spoiler alert: The drive was seven+ hours.)
Like many Americans who work full-time jobs, do some side hussles, and live in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and very entertaining Japanese cat videos, I’m not as well versed in social justice movements as I once was. I saw the headlines about the Dakota Access Pipeline, skimmed a few articles, but still didn’t know too much about what was really going on.
I knew a corporation wanted to build a pipeline over Native sacred lands and knew it could affect the area’s water supply. I also knew the situation sucked because in America the corporations pretty much always win.
So what’s going on? The Standing Rock Sioux tribe in Cannonball, North Dakota is hoping to halt an oil pipeline construction by Energy Transfer Projects that will disturb their sacred lands and could potentially pollute the Missouri River, which is the main source of drinking water for their tribe. Google it.
During the sixth minute of consideration, supporting the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their fight to protect their sacred lands and drinking water against a corporation’s massive oil pipeline won over my Minnesota bias.
Subject: Re: Visit - Sept.
I'd totally be interested in going to ND for the pipeline protest. If you want to camp, I can see if my work has extra tents I can use. (Thanks Wilderness Inquiry.) Cool.
After I mentioned the North Dakota plans to my husband, Tristin, he said, “Oh God bless you. Don’t get maced or attacked by dogs.”
With Lara and Tinora finally in Minnesota, the sleeping bags and tents packed in the rental car and the Target run completed, we set off on an early morning, scenic I94E cornfield drive through western Minnesota. After a few bathroom breaks and photos by corn, we made it to Fargo for a late lunch. In my mind, Cannonball, North Dakota was sort of close to Fargo.
Then, I thought it was close to Bismark.
With the weird detour to avoid the checkpoints.. It wasn’t.
After 9ish hours on the road (and off road) we made it a camp and pitched our tent overlooking the small river and the main camp sprinkled with tipis, tents and cars and horses.
At the camp, the three of us were continually met with kindness, gratitude and generosity from everyone we met. From the Veterans for Peace who helped us pitch our tent and gave us some tobacco to share with Native elders to the child who reached out and held our hands without reservation.
Almost everyone we passed walking through the Rosebud and Red Warrior Camps asked us where we were from, what our names were, if we were hungry, if we were warm enough and if we had everything we needed for the night. Questions answered, we were thanked for being there to support the cause.
We heard that people journeyed to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe from other tribes as far as New Mexico, Quebec, Ottawa and North Carolina.
We saw teenagers riding horses bareback and were offered free horse rides. We saw kids holding their puppies and were offered free puppy hugs.
We heard the rythmic beat of the drum accompanied by distinct native songs and powerful testimonies of why people were there while standing around a campfire.
We ate the heavenly fry bread and tried the moose meat from the “cafeterias” sprinkled through the camps.
We were invited to see the inside of a tipi where we sat and talked about the camp staying through the winter, how completely powerful corporations are with the U.S. government’s support, and how the media has portrayed the protesters in an unfavorable and untrue way.
When packing up our tent and heading on our journey back, we talked about how we get so focused in our lives and ways of life, we forget people live entirely different ways and have different fights to fight.
We experienced people of all backgrounds, tribes and races coming together to peacefully support water, the earth and the tribe. Defending a basic right to clean water, preserving your ancestry and your land against a corporation should not result in being attacked by dogs, getting maced or being arrested.
Yes this pipeline could mean thousands of jobs and something maybe good for our economy now, we can’t forget our future generations and the history of injustices these people have faced for generations before.
When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money. -Native American saying