Sev­eral lo­cal ac­tivists make the trip or send help from home

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Danika Wor­thing­ton

Ac­tivists from Colorado have been join­ing the cam­paign to halt the con­struc­tion of the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line.

Glenn Mor­ris tried to be brief, to quickly de­liver up­dates from Stand­ing Rock and take a few ques­tions, but ev­ery time he went to sit down, another hand shot in the air.

What kind of sup­plies are needed? Is the United Na­tions get­ting in­volved? Are cops re­ally stop­ping busi­nesses in Bis­marck, N.D., from sell­ing propane to peo­ple headed to camps an hour south of the city, where mem­bers of the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Tribe and their al­lies are gath­ered to stop the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line from pass­ing un­der the Mis­souri River?

More than 70 peo­ple packed into a for­mer church in Den­ver, now the Four Winds Amer­i­can In­dian Coun­cil head­quar­ters, for a weekly Wed­nes­day night meet­ing to hear up­dates on the Stand­ing Rock move­ment, pass on ad­vice and pre­pare to make trips to the camps to join peo­ple such as Thomas Lopez, who has been there since Septem­ber and plans to stay in­def­i­nitely.

“I had to stand next to my brother and sis­ters in stop­ping the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line and also stand­ing up to many in­juries our peo­ple had to face in the past 200-plus years,” said Den­ver-born Lopez, a core mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Indige­nous Youth Coun­cil.

Mor­ris, a leader in the Amer­i­can In­dian Move­ment of Colorado,

sought to ease peo­ple’s fears about a re­cent or­der to evac­u­ate and the ar­rest of a Den­ver woman ac­cused of shoot­ing at of­fi­cers dur­ing a protest.

Since April, the tribe and its al­lies have gath­ered at the Stand­ing Rock reser­va­tion to stop the pipe­line. Their move­ment gained in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion this fall, when video footage went out show­ing law en­force­ment fir­ing wa­ter can­nons and rub­ber bul­lets at protesters who de­scribe them­selves as “wa­ter pro­tec­tors.”

Masses of wa­ter pro­tec­tors have made the Stand­ing Rock reser­va­tion, lo­cated in both North Dakota and South Dakota, their tem­po­rary home. Although ru­mors and fears run through camps at times, the prayer­ful wa­ter pro­tec­tors re­main fo­cused on stop­ping con­struc­tion of the pipe­line and pro­tect­ing the wa­ter for the Dakota Sioux as well as the other 17 mil­lion peo­ple down­stream of the Mis­souri River who they say would be af­fected by a spill.

There is deep his­tor­i­cal con­text for the protest. The pipe­line doesn’t just rep­re­sent a po­ten­tial health and en­vi­ron­men­tal risk, said com­mu­nity leader Molly Ryan Kills En­emy af­ter Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing. It rep­re­sents a his­tory of dis­re­gard­ing na­tive sovereignty, tram­pling spir­i­tual be­liefs and slaugh­ter­ing na­tive peo­ple.

Dakota Sioux demon­stra­tors have put out a call for oth­ers to join their ef­forts, and it’s been an­swered by peo­ple from all over Colorado, in­clud­ing stu­dents from Du­rango’s Fort Lewis Col­lege and a con­tin­gent of vet­er­ans.

“This isn’t just an indige­nous prob­lem, this isn’t just a Na­tive Amer­i­can prob­lem,” Lopez said. “This is an is­sue that’s go­ing to af­fect all around the world.”

Texas-based En­ergy Trans­fer Part­ners, the par­ent com­pany of Dakota Ac­cess, is build­ing the $3.8 bil­lion pipe­line to carry oil from the Bakken and Three Forks oil fields in North Dakota to ter­mi­nal fa­cil­i­ties 1,172 miles away in Pa­toka, Ill.

The pipe­line’s orig­i­nal path was rerouted just north of the Stand­ing Rock reser­va­tion af­ter peo­ple in Bis­marck said they were wor­ried about an up­stream spill con­tam­i­nat­ing their wa­ter, said In­ter­tribal Coun­cil on Util­ity Pol­icy sec­re­tary Bob Gough.

The tribe ex­pressed con­cerns about the pipe­line’s risk to its wa­ter and sa­cred sites in a 2014 meet­ing with ETP rep­re­sen­ta­tives, but those were ig­nored, Gough said. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive from ETP de­clined to com­ment for this story.

Con­struc­tion of the pipe­line was stopped at the Mis­souri River on Nov. 14, af­ter the Army Corps of En­gi­neers an­nounced that ad­di­tional anal­y­sis was war­ranted. The corps has ju­ris­dic­tion over the shore­line of the river.

The Army Corps and North Dakota gov­er­nor is­sued sep­a­rate or­ders to evac­u­ate the camps on Army Corps land cit­ing safety con­cerns, but both later clar­i­fied that peo­ple will not be forcibly re­moved.

But wa­ter pro­tec­tors aren’t budg­ing.

Mor­ris, who helps ad­vise Stand­ing Rock chair­man Dave Ar­cham­bault II’s of­fice, said the land that now houses both the par­tially con­structed pipe­line and the camps was de­clared part of the Sioux Na­tion in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. He said nei­ther the Army Corps nor the state of North Dakota has the au­thor­ity to or­der the Dakota Sioux and their al­lies out.

Mor­ris stressed that the 371 treaties that were signed and rat­i­fied by the U.S. were in­ter­na­tional con­tracts be­tween two equal na­tions — “not the U.S. and some roving pack of dogs.”

“Of­ten tribal gov­ern­ments are not as strong or vis­i­ble in the de­fense of their self-de­ter­mi­na­tion,” Mor­ris said, adding that tribes of­ten ac­qui­esce to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment af­ter threats, such as a loss of funds.

But this time, the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Tribe is stand­ing strong on the au­thor­ity of its treaty.

“What has started at Stand­ing Rock is a model to the world,” Mor­ris said dur­ing the meet­ing. “That’s not go­ing to end at Stand­ing Rock.”

But even if the protesters did de­cide to heed the Army Corps and North Dakota or­ders or if a bl­iz­zard forces them to evac­u­ate, it would be a hefty en­deavor to pack up the camps and go.

“It’s ba­si­cally one of the larger cities in North Dakota at the mo­ment,” said Sam Mal­colm, a Broom­field en­ter­tainer who re­cently re­turned from Stand­ing Rock af­ter rep­re­sent­ing his tribe, the Paiute. “You have a lot of peo­ple. You have an en­tire so­ci­ety that is try­ing to thrive.”

Non-na­tive al­lies and tribes from across the coun­try and world — some say more than 300, while oth­ers con­tend more than 500 — have gone to Stand­ing Rock in sol­i­dar­ity. The camps’ pop­u­la­tions fluc­tu­ate, at times reach­ing more than 5,000 peo­ple, as some peo­ple stay for months while oth­ers only for a cou­ple of days. Num­bers have been swelling in the past weeks.

The camps have schools, med­i­cal tents and kitchens. There are el­ders and peace­keep­ers. Peo­ple gen­er­ate their own en­ergy with so­lar pan­els, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing said el­ders are now ask­ing for wind tur­bines.

Every­one who re­turns from the camps stresses their prayer­ful­ness and peace­ful­ness, say­ing that it is an in­cred­i­bly lov­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

But that doesn’t mean the popup city doesn’t have grow­ing pains. Ru­mors run ram­pant along with fears of po­lice in­fil­tra­tions and cell­phone-tam­per­ing tech­nol­ogy.

David Balestrini, an Au­rora teacher who lives in Den­ver, went to Stand­ing Rock over his Thanks­giv­ing break — or as many at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing re­ferred to it: “Thanks-taking.” He had to resched­ule a phone in­ter­view for this story af­ter some­one ran into a tent where he was sit­ting through ori­en­ta­tion scream­ing of a raid. Talk­ing the next day, he said it was just a woman try­ing to cause panic at the camp.

“I think a lot of Colorado’s al­ready awake to what’s go­ing on,” Balestrini said, adding that he ran into 20 other Coloradans on his first night.

Balestrini said he had been think­ing about go­ing, but the fi­nal push came af­ter he saw wa­ter can­nons fired on protesters in frigid weather.

“A lot of peo­ple are go­ing be­cause to them it’s ac­tivism or a cause they can get be­hind,” Mal­colm said. “But for (na­tive peo­ple), it felt like we had to be there.”

Wa­ter pro­tec­tors say the seem­ing dis­re­gard for na­tive sovereignty and vi­o­lence against peace­ful protesters hark back to a long his­tory of bru­tal­ity against indige­nous peo­ple that strikes a chord with other na­tive na­tions.

“It felt re­ally nice to see and to be near peo­ple of all dif­fer­ent na­tions com­ing to­gether for a com­mon goal be­cause it was some­thing that all of us can re­late to,” Mal­colm said. “All of the tribes have gone through some­thing sim­i­lar to this be­fore.”

For the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Tribe, the ques­tion is not if the pipe­line will break, but when. The tribe says a river con­tam­i­na­tion would im­pact 17 mil­lion peo­ple, killing crops, an­i­mals and peo­ple.

“As many indige­nous peo­ple know, our world is cen­tered around the wa­ter. Ev­ery cer­e­mony we have we start with this wa­ter be­cause wa­ter is life,” said Thomas Lopez, a grad­u­ate of Metropoli­tan State Univer­sity of Den­ver, who re­cently joined the In­ter­na­tional Indige­nous Youth Coun­cil. “By taking away our right to clean wa­ter and our right to ac­cess clean wa­ter, you are im­ped­ing on what peo­ple would call re­li­gion. We don’t call it re­li­gion; it’s our way of life.”

This is the first time that all of the Amer­i­can tribes have come to­gether in hun­dreds of years, Molly Ryan Kills En­emy said. She is a full blood Si­cangu Lakota Sioux from the Rose­bud reser­va­tion in South Dakota. She was adopted and moved to Den­ver.

Kills En­emy runs the Den­ver Stands with Stand­ing Rock Face­book group and helped plan a Stand­ing Rock march in Den­ver on Satur­day that drew more than 50 peo­ple. She has yet to go to Stand­ing Rock be­cause, as a sin­gle mother, she is wor­ried about her kids. In­stead, she said she can stand in sol­i­dar­ity by repli­cat­ing here what’s be­ing done in North Dakota.

She said she’s been un­easy and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fear un­like any­thing she’s pre­vi­ously felt since law en­force­ment used pep­per spray, rub­ber bul­lets and sound can­nons on protesters Oct. 27.

She got home that night and burst into tears. The next evening, she was lis­ten­ing to news about Stand­ing Rock, and sud­denly she had a vi­sion that took her to a field where she saw atroc­i­ties hap­pen­ing to her an­ces­tors at Wounded Knee. She said many na­tive peo­ple have re­counted sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences with their an­ces­tors’ mem­o­ries.

“When they con­tinue these at­tacks, they’re repli­cat­ing his­tory,” Kills En­emy said.

Kills En­emy ex­pressed con­cern about what will hap­pen this month, not­ing that both Wounded Knee and the 1862 mass ex­e­cu­tion of 38 Dakota Na­tive Amer­i­cans, which was or­dered by Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln, oc­curred in De­cem­ber.

There is pres­sure for Dakota Ac­cess to fin­ish the pipe­line be­fore the new year so the com­pany doesn’t break con­tract agree­ments. If the pipe­line is not de­liv­er­ing oil by Jan. 1, third par­ties can rene­go­ti­ate or can­cel their con­tracts, Gough said.

Wa­ter pro­tec­tors have ex­pressed doubt that help will come from Wash­ing­ton. In­stead, some said they hope in­vestors will back out af­ter Jan. 1. Democ­racy Now re­ports that more than two dozen ma­jor banks and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing Bank of Amer­ica, HSBC, UBS, Gold­man Sachs, Wells Fargo and JPMor­gan Chase, have given ETP a $3.8 bil­lion line of credit to build the pipe­line.

“Do I think this pipe­line is go­ing to get built? Yeah, I think they’re go­ing to do it,” said Jorge Lopez, a re­tired Marine who lives in Steam­boat Springs.

He was a part of front­line ac­tions at Stand­ing Rock over his Thanks­giv­ing break and headed back Satur­day for a cou­ple more days.

“I want to know that I did ev­ery­thing that I could pos­si­bly do to try to pre­vent it,” Lopez said. “I don’t want to con­tinue on in a world know­ing that the pipe­line was built and I just sat back and watched them while play­ing video games.”

Matt Black Ea­gle Man, cen­ter, of the Long Plain First Na­tion, chats with friends out­side his te­pee at the Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Reser­va­tion in North Dakota on Satur­day. He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Andy Col­well, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

Amer­i­can In­dian na­tions mem­bers and sup­port­ers march in down­town Den­ver on Satur­day dur­ing a Stand­ing With Stand­ing Rock demon­stra­tion.

H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Waskoness Pitawanakwat, 16, of the Ojibe tribe, heads out for a ride Satur­day on her horse Sun Cloud at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Reser­va­tion out­side Can­non Ball, N.D. He­len

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