Trahant Reports: Sights and Sounds of Camp Sacred Stone

From “signal hill,” where the cell service is better, to the kitchens and distribution points for food and water, the protesters who stand in the way of a crude-oil pipeline in North Dakota are organized. Politicians should take note. The Standing Rock Sioux and friends are fueled by resolve.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Journalist Mark Trahant visited a “spirit camp” where Standing Rock Sioux and activists from around the country are opposing the construction of an oil pipeline. His column today, taken from, provides a first-hand account of the camps. The logistical arrangements to serve the needs of the camps are significant. One estimate puts the number of camp inhabitants at 2,500. That’s about a third the size of the Standing Rock reservation’s usual population.

Opponents say the pipeline, which would carry North Dakota crude across four states and 1,200 miles, threatens Standing Rock’s water supply and cultural features. Proponents say the pipeline has been permitted and reviewed for safety.

The Standing Rock Sioux have filed suit against the Army Corps of Engineers over the pipeline’s approval process. A judge’s decision is expected September 8. Leaders of the spirit camps, or prayer camps, say they will continue to block construction of the pipeline until at least that time. At a minimum, that means 10 more days of food, water, and other supplies must be delivered and distributed.

Mark has written another article about the pipeline for Yes! Magazine, and a previous column looks at how grassroots organizers used social media to help further their efforts. The images for this article are drawn from Twitter posts via #DakotaAccessPipeline and #NODAPL and other media.


standingrock998The disconnect between the perception of Camp Sacred Stone and the reality of the moment starts a few miles south of Mandan, North Dakota.

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A cement barricade and a handful of law police divert traffic so that people have a slightly slower route to Camp Sacred Stone. Not that it stops anyone. It’s silly. And more than anything else it displays a deep sense of ignorance.

Indeed it’s that ignorance that is systemic. There is a profound regional misunderstanding about so many things. It’s exactly why, in an election year, every politician running for office (or even those in office) ought to take a few hours’ drive around the barricade and take time to listen.

What will they see and hear?

The first thing is a remarkable organization. It’s very much like any powwow weekend in America — except more so. Checkpoints (no alcohol, no drugs, no weapons) and a food operation that is extraordinarily complex managing the increasing shipment of donations to the menu of the day. Everybody is fed. People walk around camp handing out water, “make sure you stay hydrated in the heat,” was a common pitch. And the trash is about as organized as you can get: Cans for cigarette butts, recycling bins, and garbage bags. When people forget to separate their plastic – we are dealing with human beings after all – there are regular reminders and more people to help. (My favorite spot: Signal hill. Where people stand because cell phone bars are pretty good alright.)

Politicians would hear speeches, songs, and prayers, one after another. People standing, listening, laughing, nodding, and inspired. They’d also see many symbols of patriotism: From flags to recurring honors for veterans.

But the most important lesson for any politician who drops by would be this: A clear message of resolve. There is a serious purpose for the people here, one that’s not going away without a successful resolution. There are so many avenues for that to happen: A favorable court ruling based on the Treaty or federal consultation rules, a potential legal challenge to the failure of Dakota Access Pipeline to secure easements before beginning construction, global interest and support, and, the court of public opinion. As more media arrive it’s this story of resolve and peaceful purpose that will carry the day.

And for the North Dakota politicians who show up. A few have been here already. Congressional candidate Chase Iron Eyes posted on Facebook:  “Don’t get dragged into this racial division being pushed as a result of the DAPL happenings. We are stronger together. You can’t ignore the ignorant & hateful comments, so represent your character but fighting fire with fire too long burns a hole in the soul. Remember we are all evolving socially, there are racists in each race, and there are liberated people who see race for the superficial human construct it is. We have been living side by side for 120 years, relatives. We are neighbors, like it or not. Mutual respect must reign.”

And Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, who’s running for the office that would regulate pipelines, spent Saturday in service. She reported handing out  “780 bags of chips for 4 hrs & was promoted to chip supervisor.” This is what politics is supposed to be about, service, and she “observed, & visited friends & family I haven’t seen in a while … had some good, much needed laughs!”

But on her way out. “As I tried to go home today the police that stopped me at the blockade & said ‘for the safety of the protesters, you have to go around!’ So this little country girl took the backroads  (and the country) was just as beautiful as it was when I was a little girl!”

The roadblock is silly. And it’s exactly why North Dakota politicians – especially the Republicans – need to spend a few hours looking at the world from a different point of view.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports



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