So it started to get real once I was waiting for my connecting flight in Denver, Colorado to Bismarck, North Dakota and I flicked through my Feedly stream. "War Crimes On The Northern Plains" "More than 140 NoDAPL Water Protectors Arrested Overnight" "Police Brutality at Standing Rock Soars With Use of Out of State Law Enforcement" "Brutalized by Police and Jailed in Dog Kennels."Then I checked the email from my producer at AJ+. “Safety is first — please not get close to anything that could put you in danger.” “The police will be removing people from the camp.” “It is an honor to be there and cover this story and be part of history.”
Oh yeah, this one was much more than just a trip. This one was something much much more than that.
I’ve been following this story for months, it struck a chord for many reasons, and ever since it was on my radar, I have been aching for a way to get out there or be involved, so when an opportunity to cover it for AJ+ in 360 video came my way, I was on it. I was originally planning to leave sometime late the week of October 31, but the events of October 27, the ones that spurred those headlines above, made it a much more pressing story, so first contact with AJ+ to the time of my flight went from 10 days to just under 48 hours. I was on a plane before all the details were even finalized.
It was go time.
If you’re not familiar with what’s been happening in North Dakota, I VERY highly encourage you to research the story on your own. Just Google “Dakota Access” or “NoDAPL” or “Standing Rock” and there will be no shortage of information.
In a nutshell, a pipeline that is set to carry oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota through 4 states to Illinois is meeting resistance at a crucial juncture where it is set to cross the Missouri River. The pipeline was originally routed to cross the Missouri River about 35 miles north near Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, but, and this part is crucial to note, residents feared it could threaten their water, so it got re-routed here…in Cannonball, North Dakota, less than a half mile upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where it immediately threatens not only the water supply of the Lakota Indians on this reservation, but also up to 17 million American residents downstream.
Additionally, the route of the pipeline has already destroyed sacred sites and burial grounds, and is currently routed to destroy even more.
On the night of October 27th, under the instruction of Morton County Sheriff Kyle L. Kirchmeier, and with the backing of North Dakota’s Governor Jack Dalrymple, over 140 protectors, including elders who were praying for the sacred grounds, were met with violent response from authorities that included Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) private security, the National Guard, as well as officers from North Dakota and 3 other states. Protectors were pepper sprayed, shot with rubber bullets, and many were marked on their wrists with numbers and thrown into 12’ x 8’ dog kennels with up to 15 others. I spoke with several medics who were treated this way while treating injured protectors, and they weren’t released until 3 days later. While I was there, Amnesty International showed up and the U.N. sent a team to investigate human rights abuses.
It is important to also note that the Lakota of the Sioux Reservation still view all of this land as their own under a treaty from 1851. Parts have since been wrangled from them under controversial ‘imminent domain’ claims, unrecognized by the tribe, and have been sold to private, non-tribal buyers, who have in turn sold swaths to the developers of the Dakota Access pipeline. If it reads like a highly organized gangster scheme, that’s because it basically is.
Anyhow, this was a story that brought everything that I care about together into one tight package — racism, environment, immigration, big business, national security, the economy, equality, human rights. You name it, this story was ALL of that. And now, finally, was my turn to experience this firsthand.
As I began my drive the next morning from Bismarck to Cannon Ball, a 45 mile straight-shot down the 1086, I wasn’t even 10 miles in before I ran into a roadblock, blocking the freeway to keep it clear for those constructing the pipeline, meanwhile re-routing me on a 20 mile detour that took me inland and then back around. When I made my approach into Cannon Ball an hour later, the signs began to make themselves more evident, beginning with a police checkpoint at the juncture of the 24 and the 1086 freeways, just about a mile south of the original camp, Sacred Stone, and 7 miles south of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the largest of the camps and the one closest to the pipeline.
Oceti Sakowin was my destination...
To read the full story and see all the pictures, please click here to visit the blog on the author's site.