What 4 Indigenous Women Have to Say About Standing Rock’s Ongoing Fight

By Yessenia Funes Feb 23, 2017

As of this morning (February 23), a few dozen people remain at the Oceti Sakowin Camp outside Standing Rock, North Dakota, in opposition to the nearly complete Dakota Access Pipeline. They spent the night after authorities arrested approximately 10 people yesterday following an evacuation order by Governor Doug Burgum.

Along with yesterday’s arrests, a seven-year-old boy and 17-year-old girl were burned as a result of two explosions that occurred during the ceremonial burning of structures, according to the North Dakota Joint Information Center and  Unicorn Riot. The 17-year-old was airlifted to Minneapolis to treat her burns.

These ceremonial burnings were a sign of respect for tribal elders, according to Indigenous Rising Media. It was a way of ensuring the structures went “out in dignity,” the group wrote on Facebook, instead of risking “having them desecrated by Morton County and North Dakota law enforcement.”

Law enforcmement in riot gear, accompanied by armored vehicles and a helicopter, officially entered the camp around 11 a.m. CT today, according to independent news outlet Unicorn Riot, to begin clearing out tents of any inhabitants. The state plans to begin cleanup efforts at the Oceti Sakowin Camp this morning, which Army Corps Col. John Henderson told the AP could cost taxpayers as much as $1.2 million.

If authorities decide to forcibly remove all who remain and clear out Oceti Sakowin, other camps still exist: Sacred Stone Camp, a newly launched Cheyenne River Camp on land the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Fraizer leased and the Black Hoop Camp, which is just adjacent to Sacred Stone on privately owned land. Lyla June Johnston, a nonviolence advocate currently at Sacred Stone, says there are at least a thousand people remaining. There are also numerous camps that have sprung up across the nation as a direct result of #NoDAPL and that are a part of a growing movement against fossil fuels.

None of that can take away, however, from what it means to see the Oceti Sakowin Camp come to an end. It was the largest of the camps and one where Indigenous people from around the world converged to fight the "black snake," as they often refer to the pipeline. Some people, says Linda Black Elk, the lead of the Medics and Healer Council, even made this camp their home. She herself lived at Oceti Sakowin off and on since August 2016 until two weeks ago, getting ready for work out of a Mongolian ger. People at Oceti Sakowin lived life a lot more similarly to how their ancestors did, she says. "People thought the camp would be there forever and that it’d be a monument to the origins of our fight against the fossil fuel industry," Black Elk says.

Colorlines spoke with several water protectors who have worked to end this "black snake," asking them to share their message that this cleanup doesn’t mean the battle is over. 

Kandi Mossett, 37
MHA Nation
Indigenous Environmental Network

Mossett is currently not at the camp. She didn’t want to risk anything happening to her three-year-old, she says. She’s been at Standing Rock at various points over last year, but she continues the fight at home at the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. This is where the fracking of the Bakken Shale Formation will provide the crude oil set to run through the 1,172-mile long Dakota Access Pipeline. “The fight doesn’t end with the symptom,” Mossett says. “It continues where the problem exists.”

The physical camp doesn’t define this fight, she believes. “The spirituality and the ceremony and the reality around climate change continues,” Mossett says. “We’re not naïve in saying, ‘Stop one pipeline,’ and we’re done. This is one fight in the struggle to just transition.”

Mossett invites water protectors and allies to join her and other Native peoples in Washington, D.C., at the Native Nations March and Camp from March 7-10.

Linda Black Elk, 42
Catawba Indian Nation
Medics and Healer Council

Black Elk leads the Medics and Healer Council at Standing Rock, where she lives and has spent nearly half her life. Though she is dismayed to witness the clearing out of Oceti Sakowin, she believes the fight is not over at Standing Rock just because one camp is gone. Black Elk points to the Dakota Access Pipeline: “Oil is not flowing from the Dakota Access Pipeline [yet]. It is still not too late."

She does, however, acknowledge the disappointment in seeing the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the largest of the camps, abandoned.  It, says Black Elk, was where a vision was built—a vision of what communities could look like. “We could have set this up as a model sustainable community so people can see it is possible to live in a way that’s less consumptive,” Black Elk says. “But there’s a lot of guns, and people are tired of getting hurt, but even more tired of seeing the people they love be hurt.”


Lyla June Johnston, 27
Diné (Navajo) and Tsetsêhestâhese (Cheyenne)
Nonviolence advocate

Johnston is currently staying at the Sacred Stone Camp, where she’s been sporadically since August 2016. While they lost the battle to stop the pipeline from being constructed, Johnston believes water protectors have won the most important victory: “We have won by inspiring and awakening people around the world to look at water differently. We have helped people to see the direct links between water and life, and that is something that will continue to massage and change society for generations.”

She’s most proud of how water protectors have remained nonviolent throughout their struggles against law enforcement. They’ve played by the book, put their bodies on the line, taken to the courts and even hit developer Energy Transfer Partners in their pockets.

There’s a “temptation to succumb to sorrow and a temptation to succumb to fear,” Johnston says. “But we all know that that is useless.” She spoke of singing in prayer on a hilltop yesterday as she and other water protectors braced for what was to come as law enforcement made their way to Oceti Sakowin. An eagle came right up to their prayer circle, she says. “[It] reassured us that everything is going to be OK. And that there is no bullet, there is no law, there is no pollution that can change the fact that creator will have the final word and that mother earth will have the final word.”

Crystal Arrieta, 33
Coahuilteco Mexica
Earth Guardians El Paso

Arrieta has never been to Standing Rock. But she’s organizing efforts to contest pipelines in her community in El Paso County, Texas. The #NoDAPL movement launched her community into a fight against two other Energy Transfer pipelines: the Comanche Trail and the Trans-Pecos pipelines.

“Now, more than ever, is crucial to keep our minds and eyes on the goal, the bigger picture,” she wrote to Colorlines. “We must stay in good spirit and in prayer so we can be guided.”

As her work makes clear, Standing Rock hasn’t come to an end. It’s continuing in North Dakota and spreading to new places such as Texas, Louisiana and Florida.