1. The Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL) happening at the Sacred Stone Camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, have been in and out of News Feeds on Facebook for months, but they made headlines again as things took a violent turn this weekend.
Law enforcement officials used aggressive force on several hundred unarmed protesters, firing rubber bullets, teargas, and water cannons in sub-freezing weather Sunday night.
The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council released a statement saying they had treated 300 injuries, and that ambulances had transported 26 people to local hospitals.
2. This week on BuzzFeed’s podcast Another Round, we got back in touch with our friend Dr. Adrienne Keene, who has been working to raise awareness about what’s been happening at the Standing Rock protest site.
The professor and creator of the website Native Appropriations just returned from North Dakota where she participated in the movement against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. She shares her experiences, and we hear from reflections from other Native people on the front lines.
3. Here are 11 things you need to know about the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline:
4. 1. People are rejecting the pipeline because they say it potentially threatens Native communities’ drinking water supply — and disturbs sacred areas.
The goal of the water protectors is to block the final phase of pipeline construction. Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the oil pipeline, intends to complete the project — despite a request from the Army Corps of Engineers to cease construction until more is known about risks to the drinking water supply and the pipeline’s potential impact on the existing Native community there.
5. 2. The water protectors’ direct actions are peaceful.
Despite an increasingly violent response by police, the water protectors say they have and intend to remain unarmed and nonviolent.
According to its website, the Sacred Stone Camp is “a peaceful, prayerful camp, so firearms and weapons are strictly forbidden, as are alcohol and drugs.”
6. 3. This week’s high-profile intervention was not the first time unarmed protesters have encountered police violence.
7. 4. Native people from tribes across North America are coming together in solidarity.
And it’s not just Native people coming together — people from all over the world have come to stand in solidarity with #NoDAPL protesters.
Keene says part of the reason for the strong solidarity among Native tribes across the country is because the dispute over the the pipeline is part of a long-standing fight to have the sovereignty of their nations respected by the US government.
“To me, this is really about the fundamental connection between us as native peoples and our homelands,” Keene says. “So for the community of Standing Rock and all of the other Lakota Sioux communities … These lands that the pipeline is cutting through right now are their homeland from time immemorial.. The land right now that the pipeline is building through on the river crossing has documented burial sites, has documented sacred sites, and so it’s just a blatant disregard for that connection to the land and that connection to place and space.”
8. 5. Winter is a huge concern.
Winters in North Dakota are no joke: The average low temperature is 2 degrees Fahrenheit, so hypothermia and frostbite are a real concern for the water protectors, who have no plans to leave anytime soon.
One advantage, however, is that Native people from the Plains are teaching the folks from warmer climates how to adapt, using lots of traditional methods from bonfires to longhouses.
9. 6. Wellness teepees are helping campers deal with their mental and physical stress.
Keene recalls a time during her last trip when a young woman she was driving with had a panic attack at a checkpoint. “We got stopped by the police at the roadblock on Highway 1806 and she started having a panic attack in the backseat because she had been arrested on October 27 when they tore down the north camp. She was kicked by a police officer and still has nerve damage in her shoulder, she was thrown in a dog kennel at the jail, and had a number written on her arm, so … the police weren’t doing anything to us, just seeing why we were at the roadblock, but just seeing the flashing lights and hearing the siren really sent her into a state of panic.”
10. 7. This is not a Burning Man vibe. “Vision quest” vacationers are discouraged.
“It’s not a game out there” says Keene. “There’s a lot of white folks who have come in who want to ‘be a part of the movement.’ But they’re not out there getting chased by the cops, they’re not out there putting their bodies on the line, they’re really there to live out their weird, mystical Indian fantasy.”
There is a protocol for how to enter these spaces, how to earn trust and eventually participate, according to Keene. Everyone has a job to do.
11. 8. Celebrity involvement is…complicated.
But Keene says celebrities speaking for the movement can be a “a double-edged sword”: “You want the attention, but I feel like sometimes the attention goes to the wrong people and doesn’t get the right message out when you’re just talking to celebrities and not talking to folks who are on the ground actually doing the work in the space day in and day out.”
12. 9. President-elect Donald Trump has financial ties with the company leading construction.
After reviewing Trump’s financial disclosure forms, The Guardian reported last month that the president-elect has “close financial ties” to Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Keene also reminded us that in the ’90s, Trump questioned the authenticity of Native Americans competing with his casinos in Connecticut, saying, “They don’t look like Indians to me.”
13. 10. Nixon was surprisingly helpful on Native issues.
Keene notes that President Richard Nixon made policy changes that benefited Native Americans, noting on her blog that he was a big supporter of “self-determination for Natives, ended the termination policies of the previous administrations, and his administration ushered in a new era in Federal Indian policy that was largely good for Natives.”
However, she also says it’s more complicated than that, noting that Nixon “was responsible for the large military response” to the Wounded Knee siege “and overall was not a fan of the American Indian Movement and was responsible for the heavy surveillance and monitoring of folks involved in AIM.”
14. 10. But Obama…not so much.
Despite or perhaps because of President Barack Obama’s heartwarming and historic visit to Indian Country in 2014, many Native people feel all the more let down by Obama’s long silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline. “People are extremely disappointed in him right now,” says Keene. “He was the first person to visit actual reservations while he was a sitting president … and he only visited a couple … and one of them was Standing Rock. So the irony of that is that he sat at the powwow, he took pictures with babies, he met the elders, he got to know people in the community, and now as those same people are being maced, and being pepper-sprayed, and being shot with rubber bullets and as their graves have been dug up, he has been largely silent.”
Obama did finally address the #NoDAPL protests publicly for the first time earlier this month, including the possibility of rerouting the pipeline. And his administration took steps earlier this fall to temporarily halt construction. However, there’s not a lot of hope that Trump will be better (see #9).
15. 11. But where there’s a will…there’s a way.
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