SIOUX NATION—An Island family recently travelled to Standing Rock North Dakota in the Sioux Nation to bring a message of solidarity with the American Indian Tribes who have turned down more than a billion dollars from an oil pipeline company and are fighting to stop an oil pipeline from crossing the Missouri River within a half-mile of the border of their lands.
Peter Jones, Sophie Pheasant and their son Ezra drove for 24 hours straight to the lands of the Sioux Nation and the protest at Standing Rock, a Lakota, Yanktonai and Dakota Indian Reservation straddling the borders of North Dakota and South Dakota in the United States.
“It was good, you should go, everybody should go,” said Peter Jones of Little Current. That is a sentiment that is certainly reverberating throughout the Indian Nations in the US and amongst the First Nations here in Canada, as tribes from across Turtle Island are gathering at the camp to join the protest. “There were, last I heard, 96 tribes that had pledged solidarity by the time we were there, and I understand that there are up to about 150 nations from across North and South America now.”
The family bore a letter of introduction and support from the Wikwemikong Unceded Territory signed by Ogimaa (chief) Duke Peltier authorizing them to carry and plant that community’s flag along side of those of the other nations joining the people of Standing Rock in their struggle with big oil. All three are members of the Wikwemikong band.
“It was amazing,” said Ms. Pheasant of the experience of travelling with her family to the protest and what they experienced once they arrived. “Things really came together to allow it to happen.”
Ms. Pheasant had requested a Wikwemikong flag about a month prior to leaving, and to this day she isn’t sure what had prompted her request at the time. “My mother asked me ‘why do you want a flag’,” she recalled. “I didn’t really know, I just thought it might come in handy sometime down the road.” That time came quicker than she thought.
The turnaround for the letter from Wikwemikong, along with permission to plant it in solidarity with the Standing Rock band and their allies, was also a pleasant surprise. “It was in the middle of the election,” said Ms. Pheasant, “and I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t want to bug them about it in the middle of the election.”
“It must have been the first thing he did after the election,” laughed Mr. Jones, “because we got word it was ready on the Monday (following the vote count).”
Ezra described the experience as “phenomenal.” Taking a moment out from his job at Luc’s Pizza and Eatery in Little Current, Ezra noted that he was impressed by the number of people who were there and the huge variety of places they came from. “I was really happy to go,” he said. Was it the trip or the cause that was foremost? He did not hesitate. “The whole pipeline on the Missouri River thing,” he replies. “It’s important you know, that’s the water.”
Mr. Jones noted that the Standing Rock area is somewhat remote. “There really are not a lot of big towns around,” he said. “The biggest we saw was only about the size of AOK (Aundeck Omni Kaning), if that. It’s pretty spread out.”
“It’s all agricultural land around there, with big farms,” he said. “But that is the food and the drinking water for millions of people they are messing with.”
Despite the number of people camping out in the remote area, the media coverage in the US and Canada has been relatively sparse. “I learned about it on Facebook,” admitted Mr. Jones. “I had heard they had turned down $1.3 billion and I thought to myself ‘wow, that’s pretty cool. They are putting the water ahead of the money’.”
“My grandmother, who isn’t into social media at all, but she watches all of the news on television, she had no idea what we were talking about or where we were going,” noted Ms. Pheasant.
There were media there, but “they all spoke in different languages,” said Ms. Pheasant.
“There were news crews there from Belgium and the BBC,” said Mr. Jones. “There was media there from outside North America, but we did not see anybody from the US or Canada covering the protests.”
What little has made it on to North America’s mainstream media has focussed on the arrests and confrontations that took place at the beginning of the protest. But that was not the experience of the family while they were there.
“The police were amazing,” said Mr. Jones. “They even let us take a couple of pictures of the federal command centre. We asked and they said ‘go right on ahead’.” But they did decline to photobomb the session. “They joked with us saying they weren’t really very photogenic,” said Mr. Jones.
Ezra actually played a large role in the proceedings, noted his mother. “He carried the flag,” she said, explaining that each day there is a procession up into the Dakota Hills and ceremonies in which the newly arriving flags are planted along the fence line in an act of solidarity. “He marched with the flag, he stood there throughout the entire ceremony holding the flag aloft,” she said proudly.
Ms. Pheasant noted that along with the spiritually charged atmosphere of the camp, she was struck with both the welcome, the cleanliness and the organization she saw. “We had just arrived when someone rode up on horseback, asked where we were from and thanked us for coming,” she said. A short time later a group of about five men showed up with wood, water and even set up a fire for them. Although all three family members are more than comfortable in the bush, both Peter and Ezra are experienced hunters and trappers, they were impressed with how quickly they had things set up for them.
“It was cleaner than any powwow I had ever been to,” agreed Mr. Jones. “They had washrooms set up and they were feeding about 1,500 people a day.”
“There was the usual high tech presence, cell phones and even a drone that would fly by occasionally,” said Mr. Pheasant, “but the food was cooked over fires and the technology wasn’t right in your face so much. Our cell phones didn’t work,” she added with a laugh.
For the entire family the experience of taking a major road trip to join other communities from across the continent and beyond was something they described as a memory of a lifetime.
“It’s hard to get Peter to leave the Island,” laughed Ms. Pheasant. “I was really impressed that he was willing to travel so far. It was all a good experience.”