Attendees shared their experiences of what is going on in North Dakota, regarding Standing Rock and the protests that are leading to arrests as well as people being injured in the process. These speakers shared their stories on Nov. 18 at North Idaho College’s meeting in the Edminster Student Union Building about the North Dakota Pipeline, called Water is Life.
Donell Barlow, a member of the Ottawa Tribe in Oklahoma was in attendance for the talk and spoke about her experience in Standing Rock when she was there over Labor Day weekend. She went there and served by cooking for the protesters who call themselves “water protectors.” She claimed that the problem is not with the law enforcement officers but with the GS4 security who are trying to make the construction continue.
They do not have the authority that real sworn in officers have, yet they dress official and are doing the most damage to people, mentally and more recently physically said Barlow. The GS4 security are now flying drones around, leaving on floodlights to prevent protesters from sleeping and they are also spraying something in the air. Although what is being sprayed is unknown, many believe it could be harmful to their health as well as the environment.
Barlow stated that the water protectors have their own security to assist them and to protect them by being on the front lines in every protest.
“It’s history repeating itself,” Barlow said. “Younger generations are getting a glimpse of the oppression felt by their ancestors. They are seeing that their voices are not being heard and it’s a whole new generation going through the same trauma again.”
Barlow says despite what’s going on, she is optimistic and it has become a spiritual movement. Powerful spiritual leaders are crossing paths that would not have united had none of this happened. She went on to say that there is hope because of the continual prayer and seeing people’s love for one another throughout the protests.
Barlows said that with the banks and construction pulling out due to the protests, there is a chance they can beat this. With no funding there can be no construction to finish the job and build a pipeline, nor the money to provide security and send in the National Guard.
When the pipeline was first proposed, it was routed near the water supply for Bismark, North Dakota. After residents of the city rejected and objected, it was moved farther south to the edge of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Members of the tribe have spoken out concerning the potential impacts on sacred burial sites, aquifers, and the Missouri River, which provides water for millions of people. But the construction began anyway.
In April of this year the protests began with the water protectors formed a “Spirit Camp” near where the pipeline would cross under the Missouri River. Numbers of up to 1,500 people were present. By August, over 30 water protectors had been arrested while trying to protect the pipeline.
Law enforcement officers and private security were sent, as well as the North Dakota National Guard to break up the peaceful demonstrations by using, in many cases excessive force in the form of rubber bullets, bean-bag rounds, tear gas, mace and even attack dogs on the water protectors. Their protector’s efforts were recognized, however, and the construction seized as the project is being challenged in court.
People have spent their time protecting the pipeline, playing drums, singing with thankfulness to the river and praying for it’s protection. Now there have been several hundreds of people arrested and many say they were treated like animals and even placed in dog kennels.
Nathan Piengkham, a member of the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, in Usk Washington is an associate planner for his tribe and currently serving his tribe in Standing Rock, along with other members of his tribe.
“I have a really big family on the reservation, so everything that happens here affects us,” he said.
Piengkham has been in North Dakota several times representing his tribe and other tribes during the protests. He said he feels like he has a responsibility to his community to fight for what is theirs. As an associate planner he has worked with the public which has taught him to be a good communicator, which has helped him in Standing Rock.
Piengkham and other members of his tribe are currently dealing with the severe weather conditions in North Dakota. Getting around has become a challenge with the high winds, freezing temperatures and snow.
Most recently, an estimated 2,000 veterans showed up to Standing Rock to show their support. They have said that they will be non-violent unless there is live fire on them. They intend to shield the protestors at the front lines. Many bought one-way tickets, not knowing the outcome or how long they would be there.
As of now updates are daily on what is going on in Standing Rock and none of the “Water Protectors” have any plans on backing down from their mission