This is the first in a short series of posts providing updates about our partners around the world.
Schools for Chiapas, Class of 2008 partner
Working with the global indigenous rights community in support of Standing Rock
Sue Beattie and Peter Brown partnered with the Class of 2008 as they worked in Chiapas, Mexico with the indigenous Mayans. One product of that partnership was the documentary film Painting Without Permission highlighting the work that the Class of 2008 did with the Zapatistas and Schools for Chiapas.
Recently Peter and Susan traveled to Bismarck, ND and became part of the movement in support of the Standing Rock Souix Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline
Here is Susan’s Facebook post describing their experience:
“Wow! What an amazing week it’s been! Arrived Bismarck, ND and outfitted ourselves with necessary things for staying warm and sleeping tight. We threw our supplies in the back of a U-Haul truck and headed for camp.
The snow of the previous week was melting and the sun was out. Our first glimpse was quite emotional. We enter camp down “Flag Road” with the banners of 220 tribes snapping in the air. Teepees, tents and trailers as far as the eye could see. First day spent just wandering around trying to take it all in.
Camp is a very busy place. The Sacred Fire burns continually and is encircled by the tents of the seven tribes. There is frenzy of construction. Everywhere there are pallets stacked with wood frames that will soon be floors and walls of warm permanent structures. The kitchens (there are 5) are serving up huge portions of food to all comers. The medics (all sporting a red cross) and security (in yellow vests) are patrolling the camp making sure everyone is safe and well. A big, white geodesic dome is the largest structure and there we find the daily schedule of posted activities. Orientation is at 9am and is mandatory for all new arrivals. Signs read “Absolutely No weapons. No Drugs or Alcohol in You or On You.”
A short walk down the road we drove in on, takes us to the bridge where we can see the burnt out shell of a truck still blocking the road. We have heard that the police have technology that will wreak havoc with cell phones and, indeed, both Peter and I find that our cameras cut out. I have managed a single picture of the bridge and my battery is drained despite being fully charged when I started.
We set up our “camp”, duct taping U-Haul packing blankets to the walls and covering the floor of our U-Haul truck to give us a bit of insulation against the cold which descends as soon as the sun goes down. We are welcomed to the “Mess Tent” (the largest of the kitchens) where we find food and a fire and spend the evening meeting new friends who are called “relatives”. We are welcomed as family and can feel the community open to include us.
We have come at a unique moment in the camps’ life cycle. The Corps has said that as of Dec. 5th anyone still in camp will be “trespassing”. The Morton County sheriff has threatened to use all means necessary to clear the camp. The Vets are trickling in and rumor has it that there will be at least 2,500 arriving in camp in the next few days.
We can see about a kilometer down the road leading into camp and there is a line of cars stretching as far as the eye can see. People are streaming into camp to make their stand here with the Dakota/Lakota water protectors.
The orientation meeting is about more than how to find your way around camp and speaks strongly to the “allies” in camp about how to deport oneself in an “Indigenous Centered” movement. White privilege and decolonization are addressed head on. For the next few days, allies will outnumber the Indigenous but it is the Indigenous who lead this movement with their insistence that this be a peaceful and prayerful gathering.
This land on which we camp was originally reservation land that the US government later decided they wanted to repossess. The Lakota people have never ceded their right to this land to America. They will not do so now.
We attend a “Direct Action” training. There are no weapons in camp and all participants are schooled in non-violent confrontation. The legal team is well organized and everyone who intends to risk arrest through Direct Action is to fill out a “jail form” so the legal team knows how to proceed should there be arrests. We write the telephone number for the legal team on our arm with a “sharpie” and find change to carry in our pockets so that we can get a hold of them on pay phones if we find ourselves jailed for our action.
Rory Wakemup has brought a truckload of “mirror shields” that will reflect back to the attackers their own image in hopes that they might be ashamed to see themselves perpetrating such extreme violence on peaceful Water Protectors. When raised to the sky, reflecting the sky, the shields look like the flowing river. We plan to make the river flow from where it runs to the camp.
Despite the fact that the FAA has ruled the camp a “no fly” zone, the tribe has several drones and drone pilots. This is unceded treaty land and the FAA has no jurisdiction here. The drones are extremely important as they provide the footage that clearly shows the Water Protectors to be unarmed and peaceful and the militarized police as the aggressors. The drones fly up and down the line of Water Protectors as they learn to navigate their mirror shields. Rory will upload this footage.
And then, unexpectedly, there is the announcement that the Corps will not grant the easement. Peter and I had been walking from the Sacred Fire to our truck. Peter had stopped to play baby games with a small child being towed in a sled. From the microphone at the Sacred Fire I hear there will be an announcement. I wander back toward the fire to listen. Peter wanders back toward the truck.
“I have no details” says the Indigenous leader on the mic, “but I can tell you that the Corps has announced that they will not grant the easement.” There is stunned silence and then wild cheers as the impact of this amazing reversal sinks in.
The camp is huge. Only those of us at the fire have heard the news. As I go to find Peter, I tell the people I meet along the way what I have just heard. There is shock, followed by great joy. Hugs and whoops. We are all family and we are all celebrating! The rumor is that the following day we will walk to the drilling platform. Peter wants to dance on the drill site.
People are still streaming into camp. Thousands of Vets are here. Dozens of new tents have sprung up literally overnight. A conservative estimate puts about 12,000 people in camp on December 4th. Everyone is fed. Everyone has a place to sleep. Everyone has access to warm clothes and bedding.
The arrival of the Vets has made the camp a bit less tranquil. They have come to “protect” but, to my eyes, they seem to want to take control. They march and carry the flag. There are some fights. I think they are also completely caught off guard by the Corps announcement. Perhaps their arrival was the final nail that caused the Corps to relent.
This is an Indigenous victory and the Indigenous graciously, profusely and sincerely thank the Veterans for their support. We hear from the Sacred Fire that with this decision they will “forgive” the US Army for the murder of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. They will “forgive but not forget”. In return, the US Army will give the Lakota a White Horse, a symbol of lasting peace and goodwill. I have no idea if this will come to pass but the Veterans in camp, the 7th Cavalry, kneel to the Dakota/Lakota and apologize for genocide. We dance the “Round House” dance late into the night.
There is press conference the next day. Energy Transfer Partners has said that the decision of the Corps changes nothing. They will not stop drilling. We do not walk to the drilling platform. It is not clear how this will play out. The head of the Tribal Council says we should all go home and be warm with our families. Trust the system. At the same time, he says we may all need to return in January. When has the system ever worked for the Native American? There are other voices, strong and determined, that say they will remain until the drill is gone and the project is stopped. We will wait and see. The weather has turned. We are in the throes of a full-on blizzard by the time the press conference has ended. The temperature has plummeted. The wind is gusting. The snow is swirling.
People are still arriving. Other people are leaving. The Vets are leaving. We are thankful for our U-Haul truck which will protect us from the wind and weather. It is very cold as we crawl into our sleeping bags but we have a small propane heater and sufficient bedding to stay warm, even toasty. We listen to the wind as it howls through the cracks and snaps the banners on Flag Road. We will wake to another day of extreme cold and wind. This is the day we are to leave but the roads are closed. Our U-Haul truck is good protection from the weather but it is not safe on the road. With rear wheel drive and no chains, it will not even manage to climb even a small hill. So we have missed our flight and spend another night in our trusty U-Haul, thankful for the protection. Sleeping warm and dry.
The next day (our last in camp) dawns clear and cold. There is a trace of blue in the sky but the temperature is at -7 and the wind chill is 40 below. I grew up in Wisconsin. I lived in Montana and Upstate New York. I know cold… but I have forgotten. I have never tried to live outdoors in this weather. It is extreme but, once again, the camp functions. Security goes tent to tent to ensure that the occupants are safe and warm (enough). There is always coffee and hot food. The supply tents have racks of warm clothes and sleeping bags. The fires are stoked and people come and go warming hands and drying mittens. The wind dies down a bit and we decide to try to drive the truck “around the block” just to see what that feels like.
It feels like this might be the moment to try the 40-mile drive back to Bismarck. It takes a half dozen tries to get up the hill that takes us from camp to the plowed road but we gain the road and creep back to Bismarck. The 40-mile journey takes us 2 ½ hours. There a few tense, slippery moments but we arrive, whole and unscathed… but not unchanged.”
Many thanks to Susan for this insider’s glimpse of life at Standing Rock.