Standing With Standing Rock: Surfers Against The Dakota Access Pipeline

The Dakota Access Pipeline Project (DAPL for short) is a $3.78 billion project being built to transfer tar sands oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota, all the way down through South Dakota, Iowa and to Patoka, Illinois where it will join existing pipelines heading to refineries in the Gulf and East Coast. The DAPL could transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The Army Corps of Engineers fast-tracked the project's approval, with the most controversial section of the construction passing below the Missouri River, and across multiple Native American Sioux tribe sacred sites and burial grounds–project came to fruition without discussion with the Sioux people.

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The police / military presence was there to send a strong signal of intimidation to the protestors. Snipers and monitoring vehicles lined the tops of the hills in all directions, and guns were consistently pointed in the direction of the unarmed protestors. However, the spirits of the Water Protectors has not been broken or intimidated. Here's John Hildebrand, staring in the eyes of the over militarised police, armoured with middle east conflict style Humvees, automatic weapons, and crowd dispersing sound canons.

A week prior to the nation's elections, Kamalei Alexander (pro surfer from Hawaii), Theo Friesen, Teva Dexter, John Hildebrand, Leo Harrington, Ryan Skvarla and Ryan Lynch and I (Editor’s note: Keegan Gibbs is the gentleman behind House Beer and RVCA’s staff photog) travelled to North Dakota to bring supplies and show solidarity – not just to stand with the Sioux tribe, but with an unprecedented gathering of hundreds of Native American tribes from across the country that historically have never gathered together in peace. In addition to the Native American gathering, hundreds of non-natives have come together to protect what is crucial and sacred to all life: Water.

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Our group huddling around our small camp fire in the below freezing conditions at night, boiling some water for tea before bed while we talk story of the day.

The Standing Rock Sioux say the pipeline crosses directly through sacred sites, including burial grounds. It also has the potential to destroy their water source, the Missouri River. The pipeline was originally slated to cross the Missouri River just north of Bismarck, but the citizens and authorities voiced their concern with potentially polluting the capital's water supply, so the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners company rerouted further south through farmland and ending up in the nearby Standing Rock reservation.

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U.S. Navy veteran, Petty Officer, First Class Kash Jackson, came to North Dakota to uphold the Constitution by protecting the American citizens he swore to defend. By flying the flag upside down, it signals distress, which he associates with the natives struggle with over militarised police acting on behalf of corporate interests. He is quoted as saying “Our greatest enemies are not overseas, our greatest enemies are right here.”

The protests started last January, and by April, reservation residents and supporters from nearby tribes created a camp to observe the daily construction of the pipeline and to further protest it. By the beginning of September, protests escalated, with a private security firm for the pipeline attacking protestors with dogs and pepper spray. Shortly after, the state filed for a “state of emergency,” typically reserved for environmental disasters, which opened up tax-payer funding for outside state police forces and national guard to help act as security for the private pipeline project on private land. This is an unprecedented allocation of funding and resources for a private company, doing illegal and unpermitted construction work on private land, disregarding the Native American sacred sites. 

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Every morning there was a meeting and prayer at the sacred fire in the middle of camp. The organisation of the camp was remarkable, with first aid, daily community meetings, proper protest etiquette training, etc.

Mainstream media has been almost entirely silent of the protests and project. Dozens of financial institutions who are invested in media companies are also invested in the pipeline, including Bank of America, HSBC, UBS, Goldman Sachs, WellsFargo and JPMorgan Chase. 

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As non-natives, we came in solidarity, but with a respect for the historical division between us and Native Americans. Kamalei Alexander, pro surfer from Kauai who has recently relocated to Oahu, in considerable awe of the grounds. Hawaiians too have a history that run deep with the invasion of their land, resources and disrespect for their human rights.

If you are also enraged by the actions of the Energy Transfer Partners construction, their security tactics and disregard of natural resources and human injustices, as well as our government's lack of intervention; please donate to the StandingRock.org Tribe directly. Even if you only have five dollars, it matters.  The camp is about to enter freezing winter conditions and is in need of cold weather materials.

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We arrived our first night and set up camp among a vibrant and large campground, filled with teepees, tents, fireside chanting and an energy that is indescribable.

We've also created a Gofundme account to donate head here

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Sunrise revealed a haze filled campground even larger than we anticipated. Tents, structures, teepees and smouldering smoke from the previous night's fires filled the air.

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What looks like a pile of trash is actually the remnants of the north camp, where police with swat gear unexpectedly came in just days before and pulled everyone out of their tents against their will, slashed all the belongings with knives, and dumped them on the side of the road.

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Kamalei with a couple of Native Aunties, overlooking a threatened portion of the Missouri River and sacred site for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

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From left to right: Theo Friesen, Teva Dexter, John Hildebrand and me.