“We are fighting a monster, but we will win”: Standing Rock Sioux

Ed. note: For previous dispatches from the Standing Rock protest encampment, see here and here.

CANNON BALL, NORTH DAKOTA: The rallying cry of the Oceti Sakowin (Camp of the Seven Council Fires): “We are fighting a monster, but we will win,” rang out from a speaker on my second day at the main Dakota Access pipeline protest encampment. We were reminded that we have been victorious, so far, in that we have done what we set out to do: “We have stopped construction.” Others stated: “We are going to win. The world is watching us.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its supporters are fighting to stop the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline from crossing Indian treaty lands. The pipeline that is slated to carry 470,000 to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day for Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners is planned to cross the Missouri River, a stone’s throw from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, an existential threat to the water system upon which so many people depend.

The Aug. 27 march to the main gate of the construction site was even bigger than the day before, with a motorcade following to transport the elders. The horse riders accompanying the march actually rode on to the construction site and positioned themselves on a hill overlooking the area to the cheers and war cries of the protesters. (The protesters are also called defenders and water protectors, terms which I will use periodically in this column.)

The camp is so well organized that efforts are in place for the home schooling of the children at the protest sites. There are reportedly almost 200 children in the encampments.

The commitment of the protectors is truly inspiring.  Some have sold all their belongings just to get to the protests.

The encampment is run like a small town. There are tipis and camping tents everywhere. Three meals are served daily. Security and medical staff are readily available as needed.

The spirit of harmony and cooperation in the encampment is uplifting. For example, the young people coming by the tipis and tents and ask the families at the campfires: “Do you need wood or water?” A Native lady who I talked to in casual conversation said “I’ve never seen so many happy Indians at one time.” An elder said: “The cooking and feeding never stops.”

Yesterday, on the march new call-and-response protest cries arose: “White, Black, Yellow, Red, without water we are all dead” and “When the people are under attack” the response came: “We fight back.”

After the march, the afternoon was filled with speakers, from tribal elders to those from other tribes in support of the Standing Rock Sioux. The elders spoke in Sioux and English.  The comments ranged from “today is a great day at the camp, a gathering of all the nations.” “We wish the outcome is peaceful.”

“We fight to protect Mother and water is sacred.”

“When one nation is attacked, then we are all attacked.”

“This is a time to take a stand, we are the protectors of our culture and our way of life.”

It was also mentioned that President Obama visited Standing Rock in 2014 doing photo-ops with the children. Many wondered: where is Obama now? One speaker said “Obama was all talk and no action.” His sentiments were understandable.

There are so many now at the encampment that it is now in the top 20 of North Dakota communities in terms of population.  I think this is the greatest gathering, and the most significant movement, of American Indian people and nations in decades. I shall continue to report on a daily basis from the encampments.

Photo: The sun sets on the plains just outside Prairie Knights hotel on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. | Melanie Bender/PW


Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.