Photos by Daniel Veintimilla
This installment is a follow-up to last Tuesday’s Tampastica blog on Clearwater resident and photo/videographer Daniel Veintimilla’s visit to the Standing Rock camp in North Dakota. He visited the mid-northwest assisting the Weaving Ties organization escort Amazonian tribal leaders to the Standing Rock camp and is helping document the delivery of a ceremonial drum signed by 12 nations representatives in support of the Dakota Pipeline protest.
Traumatized by irrevocable harm to the Amazon jungle and rainforest by Chevron and other oil companies, visiting tribe leaders representing Meso- and South American nations voiced their protest in solidarity with North Dakota Sioux tribes to prevent an additional and even more massive environmental catastrophe.
Along with the desecration of sacred lands, burial grounds and artifacts, the proposed pipeline could wreak harm by way of a burst or leak. Damage would be far-reaching since it is being planned to cross under the Missouri River, a vital artery that feeds into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. Eight-million lives could be affected, adding urgency to the #waterislife hashtag and Tuesday’s Presidential election. (Candidate Donald Trump has voiced his support for dredging oil and fracking at all costs.)
Last week, Daniel Veintimilla traveled to North Dakota to assist the Weaving Ties organization by picking up tribal leaders from the airport, interpreting English and Spanish at meetings, interviewing people, filming videos and shooting photos of life on the campsite, and editing into the wee hours. He is working on footage for the project as I type.
He was too busy to provide info over the phone. I caught up with him late at night once while he was en route back to his room at a Bismarck Radisson. He was excited to have just seen a white deer cross the road and seemed quite taken with the rolling hills and expansive countryside of the North Dakota prairie.
There’s another side to Standing Rock we’re not seeing, he told me.
The camp has become a gathering of love, a community unto itself that’s become a refuge for people finding a sense of a purpose.
He said he could feel the spirit there.
Flags line the entrance of Sacred Stone campsite and tipis dot the countryside with a number of Native American and non-Native American groups represented. Even the National League of POW/MIA Families has set up camp there, too. Native American visitors to the campsite are telling their own stories of human rights abuses as well as trauma and discrimination within their own tribal subcultures.
Volunteers are distributing winter clothing and helping to construct tipis.
The camp has become an umbrella for hundreds of lower-profile but significant conflicts endured by Native Americans. It’s become an Occupy America gathering of sorts, and the motivation is understandable — discrimination against and conflicts within American indigenous tribal communities have continued into the 21st century.
Daniel interviewed a tribe member whose family came under attack by mercenaries during the protest. He also interviewed Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, a female Sioux tribal leader (pictured below) who gave a moving account of her plight with the pipeline. She talked about a prophecy in which a black snake devours the world and she wept as she as shared that her son was buried on the land that had been taken over by pipeline project.
She also said she received death threats.
The South American tribal leaders voiced their support for her and her community with Daniel’s assistance in translations. They grabbed hands with her and gave her comfort.
Fortunately for Daniel, no violent incursions took place during his visit but he witnessed firsthand the patrolling of thug-like mercenaries and law enforcement officers who have pepper sprayed and roughed-up protestors as if they were unhinged criminals. Ominous unmarked helicopters still circle above the camp.
Momentum, however, is building on the side of the protestors and more people are setting up camp. The feds have called off the mercenaries’ unlicensed attack dogs and two area police officers turned in their badges over the weekend because they didn’t want to participate in the lopsided effort.
Daniel related stories that both inspired him and chilled him to the core. An elderly female Sioux tribe member died from wounds resulting from an onslaught of rubber bullets by mercenaries. Shortly after he left, his colleagues at Weaving Ties shared that another female protestor died at the frontline.
One startling discovery: The suicide rate is high for Native American adolescents. Yesterday, Daniel witnessed the moving account of Jasilyn Charger, a 20-year-old Cheyenne River tribe member (pictured above), who gave a moving account of physical abuse and pressure from tribal leaders attempting to force her into an arranged marriage. She fled to join the protest at Standing Rock only to be roughed-up and maced during last the recent campground arrests.
Despite upheavals, Charger is persevering. She founded a support group for Native American youths that now has a camp at Standing Rock.
Another tent offers psychological counseling.
There’s also the more business-formal side of the protest community — the recent summit of leaders on the American continents has created an opportunity for members to sound their grievances and voice support for one another.
With recent visits from European representatives and UN acknowledgement, the Standing Rock convergence is growing too large to be ignored (even amid cable and network news preferring to devote more airtime to a Starbucks cup controversy and the circus-like Presidential election).
Representatives of the pipeline received an anonymous $4-million dollar donation this week just as the feds are upping the amount of bail to six digits to trespassers arrested on the territory that the government turned over to Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), a Fortune 500 oil and natural gas company based in Dallas. According to the Washington Post, ETP is the main owner of the pipeline, along with Sunoco Logistics Partners and Phillips 66. Accounts of aggressive treatment of journalists continue, too.
As of this writing, an injunction agains the pipeline is still pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals. In September, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington declined the tribe’s request.
The takeaway from Daniel’s visit is that early Americans cultures provide historic perspective and enlightenment, and their lands should be respected. Their tribal culture should be supported and celebrated, and their rights as both indigenous peoples and U.S. citizens should be valued. Their heritage is a vital thread in our American tapestry, and they represent our own identity as Americans.
If we allow the oil industry to build that pipeline through their sacred lands, our agricultural heartland and a vital waterway, we’re mainlining poison into our own future.
For what — an antiquated technology?
If not compassion and intelligence, some common sense and perspective are seriously needed in North Dakota.
Video footage to come …