I don’t know what I expected to find when I arrived at the camp where thousands of people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), but I know I didn’t expect what is here. My hometown, Cedar City, Utah, has held a population of roughly 30,000 for some years now, so how could I have so greatly underestimated just how vast a space it takes to house thousands of people. In my mind, I would get here and go straight to the front line; I would get some great photos, conduct a few groundbreaking interviews, and generally be the badass I am in the fictitious world inside my mind.
People are freezing. They’re working, hard, to care for each other and prepare for winter. Although the ground is already covered in snow at the Standing Rock Indian reservation in North Dakota and temperatures trend between 6 and 32 in the scarce light of day and plummet to -13 at night, Winter proper has begun to awaken from its annual slumber.
Sickness and fatigue afflict scores within each camp, luckily the healers in the medic tents, 40-foot-long structures with skeletons of tree branches and skins of assorted blankets and tarps, are stocked with western and eastern style medicines and the skill to utilize them. Medicine and tonics like a daily shot of Fire Cider, an awful drink made from apple cider vinegar and every herb and spice known – meant to prevent sickness.
More surprising than anything, children are running around everywhere, and crews are erecting an earthen schoolhouse for them. Other construction crews are working on a building for the kitchen and a dozen outhouses to replace the commercial ones that will soon be taken away. I have been working on the crew building the bathrooms. I’ve worked with people from California, Massachusetts, Colorado, New Orleans, Germany, and Ukraine. I arrived at camp with the idea that this would all be over soon, but the people in these camps are setting up what they call a green community to last.
Following the conflict, the landowner plans to use the infrastructure to educate people to live in a sustainable way within a green community.
The community I walked into here is so busy with work. Everything is free, and there is enough food and clothing to keep everyone alive. Potable water is scarce but available. It’s easy to forget about the battalion of police across the Missouri River, about 600 yards or so from my living quarters, until I return and the 6-mile wall of spotlights along the river flood their luminescent glare toward, reminding me each night of the imposing authorities and the accounts of violence I’ve heard from people in camp.
As the progressive peoples of this nation celebrate the federal ruling Dec. 4 that should end this conflict, the consensus in camp is bleak: “We’ll leave when the barricade comes down and the Sheriff’s Department starts evicting DAPL personnel.” People here believe drilling will continue and the companies are willing to pay the fees they will incur; the local Sheriff’s Department will continue to support corporations over people; and the new federal administration will support the DAPL without concern for the environment.
From North Dakota, this fight is not over yet.