We’ve all seen the Facebook posts about it.
Sub zero temperatures, tear gas and teepees are what I think of when I hear Standing Rock. I’ve shared countless videos and pictures on Facebook about it, and I see more news every day when I’m scrolling through my news feed.
If you haven’t kept with the issue as keenly as I have, the protesters at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota are protesting the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone Pipeline. The main issue with DAPL is that although it is not running directly through Native American Treaty land, it is on the outskirts and will run towards the Mississippi River, which is a main source of drinking water for the tribes. The Keystone Pipeline will run directly through Native American Treaty Land.
I thought I was an informed citizen by posting on Facebook about my opposition to the pipelines. Until I found out that one of my fellow classmates, Dakota Williams, would be making a trip to Standing Rock with three of his friends.
Williams, a college senior, said that he would “Share as many posts as I could on Facebook…as I was doing that it seemed like things up there only got worse…so I figured instead of just talking about it with my friends I’m actually gonna go up there and try to do something about it.”
At the beginning of January 2017, Williams and friends began their trek from Rhode Island to North Dakota. The drive was the most difficult part-it took countless hours and hundreds of dollars in gas money to get there. However, Williams says that once they got there, the living conditions were pretty decent considering how freezing it was in the village.
Williams recalls the tents, saying “These things were like huge…I’m talking like 30-40 people in tents and they had like three or four layers of insulation.”
Once they became situated, the group tried to help out in any way that they could. The volunteers did not exactly have a structured orders, but just did whatever they could to help out. “Usually every morning we would start off by just chopping wood…we would deliver it to all the tents in our camp…then we would literally just walk around the camp and see whoever needed help…not really have a set task that we had to do but just go up there and make our time as valuable as possible.”
Much of the group’s time was spent walking around, getting to know people and learning about the variety of people that had come together for this cause. Williams described to me a man named Teddy, whom he called the “OG of the camp.”
Williams says, “He was from the Lakota Sioux Tribe actually from Canada. This dude’s a savage, he legit walked from Canada with nothing on his back but this little track bag that had this shield that was gifted to him from one of the ancestors of his tribe that looks over his family…and just the clothes on his back.”
Teddy shared his wisdom with Williams and other protestors in the camp. Williams remembers exploring the camp and seeing a herd of buffalo up on a hill with his friends. “We go back to tell Teddy about it…he said that’s crazy you don’t understand! There have not been any buffalo at the camp since earlier in the year when the weather was really nice.”
Williams later found out that “…the security officers for DAPL basically slaughtered all of them [the buffalo]….so since then they hadn’t seen any buffalo so he was just really happy…that was something we couldn’t plan.”
Teddy is just one of the inspirational people Williams met on his journey in Standing Rock. He says “There were a lot of genuinely nice human beings who care about a cause more than themselves.”
Thousands of people have trekked to Standing Rock to protest these pipelines since the beginning of 2016. Since protests started at Standing Rock, tribes that were usually enemies have come together in unity for a cause. The protest is thought to be the largest gathering of Native American tribes in United States history. Williams says, “There’s no way you can go there and have selfish interests at heart…everybody there is ready and willing to help anybody whether they just met you or not.”
Williams said that being in Standing Rock made him realize that there is so much more to life, and happiness takes place in different forms. He notes that while we usually associate happiness with material things, there are people that have nothing that are perfectly happy.
While getting to Standing Rock is definitely a difficult process, Williams says that it is worth it. “It’s real easy to talk about it…but it’s another thing actually going up there and just doing it…the biggest thing is don’t think you’re not able to go up there and be impactful…if anybody wants to do it it’s 110% life changing.”
While I haven’t made any plans to visit Standing Rock yet, Williams’ story has definitely inspired me to go out and stand up for what I believe in rather than just sitting at home and sharing Facebook posts about it.