Election Issues

Life in the Native American Oil Protest Camps

An Indian reservation in North Dakota is the site of the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years. 

September 2, 2016 | SOURCE: BBC | ALL PHOTOS: Charlie Northcott

Indigenous people from across the US are living in camps on the Standing Rock reservation as they protest the construction of a new oil pipeline. As a result, a new community has emerged. The BBC's Charlie Northcott went to North Dakota to meet the protesters and discover what goes on in camp.

C.NORTHCOTT Peter Francis, of the Sioux people, has spent a week hauling iron pots between a holding tank and an open fire to maintain a continuous flow of boiling water for tea and cooking. He is staying in the Red Warrior Camp, one of two enormous gatherings of Native American people near the Cannonball River, in the US state of North Dakota. He stands, united, in protest against an oil pipeline. "This is about water," he said, referring to the protest. "Water is the life of our people. Without it, we cannot exist."

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Peter Francis, of the Sioux people, has spent a week hauling iron pots between a holding tank and an open fire to maintain a continuous flow of boiling water for tea and cooking. He is staying in the Red Warrior Camp, one of two enormous gatherings of Native American people near the Cannonball River, in the US state of North Dakota. He stands, united, in protest against an oil pipeline. "This is about water," he said, referring to the protest. "Water is the life of our people. Without it, we cannot exist."

C.NORTHCOTT Life in the camps is often quiet. Whole families have based themselves there, having driven from as far afield as Maine and Arizona - hundreds of miles across America. Hours are spent around camp fires, sharing stories and food. Traditional Native American staples are on the menu, including sweet corn, peppers, beans and fry bread, which is eaten sweet and savoury.

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Life in the camps is often quiet. Whole families have based themselves there, having driven from as far afield as Maine and Arizona - hundreds of miles across America. Hours are spent around camp fires, sharing stories and food. Traditional Native American staples are on the menu, including sweet corn, peppers, beans and fry bread, which is eaten sweet and savoury.

C.NORTHCOTT A cohort of young men patrol the Red Warrior Camp calling themselves "spirit riders." They spend most of their time running errands and delivering messages. They are excellent riders, often going bareback, sometimes without reins, occasionally galloping in the nearby floodplain. The Sioux people have a long history of horsemanship, defeating the US army repeatedly in pitched horse battles in the 1800s - most famously at the Battle of Little Bighorn, where the invading cavalry commander George Custer was killed.

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A cohort of young men patrol the Red Warrior Camp calling themselves "spirit riders." They spend most of their time running errands and delivering messages. They are excellent riders, often going bareback, sometimes without reins, occasionally galloping in the nearby floodplain. The Sioux people have a long history of horsemanship, defeating the US army repeatedly in pitched horse battles in the 1800s - most famously at the Battle of Little Bighorn, where the invading cavalry commander George Custer was killed.

C.NORTHCOTT Hawste Wakiyan Wicasa believes the Native American standoff with Dakota Access is the last Great Indian War. "This is the first time the seven bands of the Sioux have come together since Little Bighorn," he said. "Now, we have no weapons, only prayers." Mr Wicasa says he prays every morning and every night in the sweat lodge pictured behind him. "We are here for what our ancestors fought and died for. We have endured 250 years of betrayal by the white man."

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Hawste Wakiyan Wicasa believes the Native American standoff with Dakota Access is the last Great Indian War. "This is the first time the seven bands of the Sioux have come together since Little Bighorn," he said. "Now, we have no weapons, only prayers." Mr Wicasa says he prays every morning and every night in the sweat lodge pictured behind him. "We are here for what our ancestors fought and died for. We have endured 250 years of betrayal by the white man."

C.NORTHCOTT The company behind the oil pipeline, Dakota Access LLC, says it will create thousands of jobs and generate over $40m (£30.5m) in tax revenue for the state of North Dakota. Seven counties will be traversed in total, in addition to the states of Iowa, Illinois and South Dakota. The pipeline will follow the line of the power cables visible in the backdrop of this picture, as seen from the outer edge of the Red Warrior Camp.

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The company behind the oil pipeline, Dakota Access LLC, says it will create thousands of jobs and generate over $40m (£30.5m) in tax revenue for the state of North Dakota. Seven counties will be traversed in total, in addition to the states of Iowa, Illinois and South Dakota. The pipeline will follow the line of the power cables visible in the backdrop of this picture, as seen from the outer edge of the Red Warrior Camp.

C.NORTHCOTT Amihan, 19, pictured here with a friend she made in the Sacred Stone Camp, drove from Ohio to participate in the protest. Many protesters have been living in the camps for weeks, but some are just passing through. Standing Rock has seen hundreds of young indigenous people and activists visit, eager to take part in the historic gathering. Over 80 different tribes have a presence in the area.

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Amihan, 19, pictured here with a friend she made in the Sacred Stone Camp, drove from Ohio to participate in the protest. Many protesters have been living in the camps for weeks, but some are just passing through. Standing Rock has seen hundreds of young indigenous people and activists visit, eager to take part in the historic gathering. Over 80 different tribes have a presence in the area.

C.NORTHCOTT On most days, demonstrations take place along the road leading to the Dakota Access pipeline construction site. Participants wave flags representing different tribal nations. In some cases, they obstruct trucks and diggers approaching the pipeline. Over 20 Native American protesters have been arrested in the month of August, including the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, David Archambault II.

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On most days, demonstrations take place along the road leading to the Dakota Access pipeline construction site. Participants wave flags representing different tribal nations. In some cases, they obstruct trucks and diggers approaching the pipeline. Over 20 Native American protesters have been arrested in the month of August, including the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, David Archambault II.

C.NORTHCOTT Pancho, pictured here, is from the Standing Rock Reservation. He has been protesting against the pipeline since April, and worries the camps are becoming overcrowded and that local supplies are overstretched. "We know this place can't handle many more people," he said, standing in the Sacred Stone Camp. "Resources are stretched. Our community does not have a lot of money."

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Pancho, pictured here, is from the Standing Rock Reservation. He has been protesting against the pipeline since April, and worries the camps are becoming overcrowded and that local supplies are overstretched. "We know this place can't handle many more people," he said, standing in the Sacred Stone Camp. "Resources are stretched. Our community does not have a lot of money."

C.NORTHCOTT Clyde Bellecourt is one of the founders of the American Indian Movement, a significant civil rights group in the 1960s and 70s. In all his days fighting for Native American rights, he says he has never seen anything like the camps. "I am 80 years old," he said. "I've been jailed, I've been shot. This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. This is what I fought for."

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Clyde Bellecourt is one of the founders of the American Indian Movement, a significant civil rights group in the 1960s and 70s. In all his days fighting for Native American rights, he says he has never seen anything like the camps. "I am 80 years old," he said. "I've been jailed, I've been shot. This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. This is what I fought for."

C.NORTHCOTT At the centre of the Red Warrior Camp is a microphone, and at night, a blazing fire. Anyone can stand up and speak or sing. Here, Dallas Goldtooth, an organiser for the Indigenous Environmental Network, delivers a speech about camp logistics. "The porta potties [toilets] are the most expensive things here," he said, to a chorus of laughter. "Please do your stuff neatly."

C.NORTHCOTT

At the centre of the Red Warrior Camp is a microphone, and at night, a blazing fire. Anyone can stand up and speak or sing. Here, Dallas Goldtooth, an organiser for the Indigenous Environmental Network, delivers a speech about camp logistics. "The porta potties [toilets] are the most expensive things here," he said, to a chorus of laughter. "Please do your stuff neatly."

C.NORTHCOTT Security, cleaning and cooking are all handled by volunteers in the two protest camps. Some of have been told to keep track of the media, who are scantly trusted. "We don't bother them," said Xavier Long Feather, a 17-year-old volunteer on the security team. "But it's good to keep watch, to see who is here."

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Security, cleaning and cooking are all handled by volunteers in the two protest camps. Some of have been told to keep track of the media, who are scantly trusted. "We don't bother them," said Xavier Long Feather, a 17-year-old volunteer on the security team. "But it's good to keep watch, to see who is here."

C.NORTHCOTT On 9 September, a major decision will be made regarding the Red Warrior Camp and its protesters. A judicial court will decide whether the Dakota Access pipeline should proceed, or be halted for further environmental and archaeological assessments. "This is the biggest gathering of its kind in history," said Keith Lussier, on the camps. "We will stand our ground if we have to."

C.NORTHCOTT

On 9 September, a major decision will be made regarding the Red Warrior Camp and its protesters. A judicial court will decide whether the Dakota Access pipeline should proceed, or be halted for further environmental and archaeological assessments. "This is the biggest gathering of its kind in history," said Keith Lussier, on the camps. "We will stand our ground if we have to."

Full article here.