OC Photographer Reports From Standing Rock Protests

More than one million people “checked-in” at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota over the weekend hoping to throw off law enforcement who might be monitoring attempts by protesters to stop construction of the multi-state Dakota Access Pipeline. (The Morton County Sheriff's Department would like us to believe no such surveillance is taking place). Effective online activism or not, around 5,000 people are actually on the ground for the continuing battle over the Wasichu pipeline's fate.

Authorities arrested 142 protesters late last month, using mace and rubber bullets in the militarized crackdown. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe fears the oil pipeline project will poison their drinking water supply. Not to mention it had been rerouted away from Bismark, a largely white town, over similar concerns and is trampling on tribal sovereignty.

Josue Rivas, an OC Weeklyphotographer, spent two months in Standing Rock filing videos for Fusion, AJ+, and the Indigenous Environmental Network before returning back on Monday. The Weekly interviews one of its own in this report back from the protests.

OC Weekly (Gabriel San Roman): What's different this time around at Standing Rock from your last visit?

Rivas: The winter is coming in so people are building a more community-based infrastructure to live long term. When I first came, it was very evident that people wanted to come for a couple days and then leave. This time around, people are here to stay. Even folks from other places are getting ready for the long-haul.

Speaking of folks coming from other places, what does the sense of solidarity at Standing Rock look like now?

A lot of people coming in, especially those who are fighting their own fights in their territories and communities, those are the folks that are making the long-term commitment. For example, non-Native folks from Iowa near the Mississippi River where Dakota Access is coming through as part of the pipeline project, they're organizing and doing direct actions in Iowa. They got inspired because they came to Standing Rock first. Indigenous tribes from across the country and the world have seen the same thing. Inspiration is what people have taken the most out of this.
More than a million people have checked-in to Standing Rock on Facebook. What's the sense of that action has been on the ground?

That action came organically and caught on fire once Facebook pages with a lot of followers started sharing it. A lot of the folks down here see that. The main reason why was to confuse the Morton County Sheriff's Department from monitoring people on Facebook that are here. It evolved into a way of people showing solidarity, to be here in spirit. People out here really appreciate that.

What's the feel on the ground after the latest police clash with pipeline protesters?

A lot of folks that are here from Standing Rock, they are going through a post-traumatic situation. They are trying to recover from Thursday's experience. There's been a lot of ceremonies where women are leading the men in prayer. A lot of times, people don't understand this battle is not just a battle against the pipeline, it's not just a battle against the police. In reality, the most important battle is a spiritual battle. People here are grounding, doing ceremony, and cleansing to get back up on their feet to the the physical work of stopping this pipeline. A lot of people were in  jail and mistreated in jail. They're just recovering from that.

Beyond a Facebook check-in, what else does Standing Rock need from people?
The first thing I would recommend for people to do is to show up physically. Personally, I left a home behind and took off because I felt it was really necessary at this point. If you can, get out of your house, get out from in front of your computer and take a week off work, that would be the most important and beneficial thing that can be done. Don't come here expecting to be taken care of, bring everything you need to survive a cold winter.

For those who can't come, unfortunately, in moments like this, there's always people making up accounts and selling shirts online to donate funds to the camp, but in reality that never happens. There's two places where the funds are clearly being put to work, one of them is Indigenous Rising . They are a team of native photographers, videographers and journalists that are out here documenting and sending out press releases. The other is the people working as medics, like those who assisted folks from recovered from the macing on Thursday. There's also the legal team here, Red Owl Collective, volunteering to get people out of jail.

How long are you planning to stay at Standing Rock this time and what's the native perspectives people aren't getting from the corporate media?

I'm planning to stay out here at least for a month to be able to continue documenting and digging through the layers of the story.  I'll be able to look at it from other places besides the camp and the confrontation with the police and security guards. Standing Rock Reservation is people's home and I want to really connect with that side of the story.

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