If you heard the phrase “water is life” spoken here in Cambria, it could elicit at least two different interpretations from as many perspectives.
No matter: No sane person would want the water contaminated beyond use. Yet, in so many places in our country, that is exactly what is going on, and it feels out of the control of the common man.
My friends Jane and Doug Hay were written up in The Cambrian a couple of weeks ago for their efforts and observations at Standing Rock Reservation, where people are struggling to protect water and sacred lands, a place where that catchphrase sums up the cause on the most basic level.
I have come to meet another Cambria resident who made an impromptu journey to the scene of that proposed, privately funded Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL): Stacey Louria. Stacey was working on a seemingly unrelated campaign when she had a conversation with a young friend from Los Angeles, filmmaker and activist Jeremy White, who said he needed to go to North Dakota to help.
DAPL is a privately funded project that is supposed to shuttle Bakken oil from North Dakota to Illinois for processing. Run over private lands, it tends to avoid usual permitting processes. Landowners risk having their land taken via eminent domain, so they feel compelled to allow the pipeline on their property or risk losing everything; however, federal lands are involved, including land historically deeded to the Sioux.
“I knew this was going to be something historic, and I wanted to be part of that,” Stacey said of her desire to join the protest against the pipeline. “However, I didn’t know how to drive in the snow, I’m older and have a handicap — I did not want to be a burden, but I would do my best.”
Army Corps denies project access
She and Jeremy packed up her subcompact car with gear and headed east from Palo Alto on Dec. 2, driving nonstop until they reached the encampment Dec. 4.
Within hours of their arrival, news broke that the Army Corps of Engineers had decided to deny access for Energy Transfer Partners’ project. Online video shows the celebration.
“‘But, it’s not over!’ reminded one of the leaders,” Stacey said. “They were being cautious about the depth of truth to the report.
“Like 6,000 people, we all held hands and encircled the camp. The next day, we saw 2,000 veterans show up to start helping do anything they could. It was really powerful. The whole thing was just so, so powerful!”
After two nights there, witnessing incredible camaraderie, prayer and hard work winterizing the encampment, Stacey and Jeremy agreed to go into the small town of Cannonball to the casino there to pick up someone who had a job to do back in the camp. However, they just beat the blizzard to end all blizzards and were forced to stay there.
“The casino had 5, 7, 10 to a room,” Stacey said. “People were lining the halls and then there was the pavilion, a big place with bleachers and open floor, that hundreds of people just hunkered down in. There was a makeshift kitchen set up so all could eat, anyone. That was a continuous theme — there was always whatever anyone needed, share, there is ‘enough!’
When the road was cleared for them to return to Standing Rock, the snow was piled so high, Jeremy had to slash up her tent to remove it. The sustainable camp did not want junk left at the site. (As of this writing, organizers are working to move the camp over because it’s in a flood plain: as soon as there’s a thaw, it will be underwater.)
Lessons of the experience
In The Atlantic, the company building the pipeline criticized the Army Corps’ decision to side with the tribe, accusing the Obama administration of “currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.”
Said Stacey: “This extreme political constituency has supported the white way of life throughout this country’s history. Give me a break. First we took their land, then gold, then oil, and now we’re starting over again, polluting their water. And people, First Nations from all across the country and the world, are standing up together!”
She elaborated on her experience and how it has affected her:
“The main thing I drew from this experience was to let go — they had such a lack of ‘possessing’ anything. It was all for everyone, and everyone is a part of it. I will never look at things the same.
“I was afraid on my way out that I couldn’t help, but I saw everyone working so hard together, I mean … look at this! They’ve been out there all year, standing up to big corporations and banks, standing up for what is right. How can I back down when I’m worried about something as simple as my bank book not balancing? They are endlessly determined.
“They took mirrors up to the officers, (saying) ‘Look at yourself! Please think about what you are doing. What do you think of yourself, what you are doing to us? To everyone who depends on this river for water?’ But always peacefully. Elders would remind youngsters to speak with respect.
“After months of relentless harassment and harm by hired police and special forces, injury and sickness … the natives were peaceful — I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly peaceful they were. It was all about the sacred land and the importance of peace and ceremony. How can I ever give up on anything? I’ll just find another way. I will find a way. I don’t need to confront people, per se — I will just reflect back to them my peaceful intent.
“And finally, I have a new appreciation of prayer. I grew up thinking it was all, ‘put your hands together and give me this, give me that.’ This opened my heart to realizing that it’s more about connection and drawing strength from everywhere, everyone, that you must trust and have faith that you will prevail. You are born with gifts and talents, and your job is to open up to them to give to the world. And for the Sioux, it seems to be working. Prayer and ceremony are working.”
I personally pray that it continues to work. We can all do a small part.
Here are some suggestions for supporting the tribe:
▪ Call on the Army Corp of Engineers to start the Environmental Impact Study now.
▪ Learn more about the tribe and the cause at standwithstandingrock. net.
▪ Donate money to continue the fight for clean water and preserving sacred lands.
▪ Divest from the banks supporting a vast spread of social and environmental injustices including Standing Rock: 17 in all: http://bit.ly/2ia4C8V.