Reports from Standing Rock

Members of the International Indigenous Youth Council and Gina Petry (right) with RW/FSP banner
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Days 6 and 7, November 20-21, 2016 – State warfare intensifies – solidarity builds

Our final days representing Radical Women and Freedom Socialist Party at Standing Rock were action-packed and compelling.

Varied voices of water protectors

Patrick Burns and I spent time with the International Indigenous Youth Council and attended a council meeting. The youth are very organized and serious about their role as the “Seventh Generation” – those who will protect the earth and resources for the future. See the video below for our interview with Youth Council members Alex Good Cane Milk and Ta’Sina Sapa Win. The Youth Council is a main leadership voice and has been organizing and on the frontline of the actions that many refer to as “ceremonies.” Youth Council members were thrilled to receive the beautiful hand-painted Radical Women and Freedom Socialist Party banner we brought from Seattle. They especially appreciated the message “Solidarity with Warrior Women.”

I interviewed women coordinating an on-site Midwifery Collective and others who have formed the Two Spirit Camp. Two Spirit is an umbrella term used by some indigenous people to describe gay, lesbian, bisexual and gender-variant individuals. Both groups are fulfilling needs at the encampment, and also bringing visibility to often-overlooked issues in Native communities at large.

Patrick continued to build winter housing structures and set up a kitchen supply tent for the Union Camp. He connected with labor activists, including members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). They strategized on getting more rank-and-file workers and unions involved and agreed on the importance of working-class united fronts to oppose environmental destruction.

Vicious onslaught on unarmed activists

On Sunday night, a call went through camp to come to the bridge because an attack was coming down. The bridge is an access point to pipeline construction and is blocked by razor wire, armored vehicles and cop cars. Water protectors have been battling to reach the construction site by way of the bridge. Hundreds of people responded to the call and swarmed onto the bridge. Others of us provided support and witnessed police dousing the crowd with water cannons in the frigid cold, and bombarding them with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Patrick Burns (standing on left) and construction team

In the midst of photographing and filming the attack, I spoke to a man from the Lakota Sioux tribe in South Dakota who expressed anger and disgust at the cops, government and corporations for their unending destruction of Native lives and tribal land. This sentiment was widely expressed at the camp.

Patrick and I stayed to help as long as we could, then headed back to our hotel. We opened up our room and shower to those seeking warmth.

When we arrived at camp early Monday morning, we saw the aftermath of the police attack. Patrick spoke with medics who had treated the hundreds injured. He helped carry a young woman who was shot in the groin by a rubber bullet and learned about several others who were targeted so viciously. One woman was severely injured when a tear gas canister hit her eye. Another had her arm smashed by a concussion grenade.

Folks were outraged at the ferocious assault, saying, “This changes everything.” All were even more determined to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). From the announcer booth, a Native man said, “We don’t have to go looking for war, it came to us.” He urged unity and for all to be proud warriors in the battle for the earth and life on it.

Defeating the “black snake” oil pipeline

Repression against the water protectors has continued since we returned home on November 21. Ceremonies and actions on Thanksgiving and Black Friday were again met with excessive force and multiple arrests. Meanwhile, there are reports that DAPL is preparing to drill under the Missouri River.

Water protectors sprayed with water in freezing weather on November 20th

Rather than President Obama taking action to stop the pipeline as many have hoped, the Army Corps of Engineers ordered the evacuation of thousands of water protectors at Oceti Shakowin camp by December 5. But people are responding to the call for solidarity, including over a thousand war veterans flooding in from across the U.S.

Standing Rock leaders are calling for a month of solidarity actions kicking off on December 1. This includes a campaign to pressure banks to divest from pipeline investments. Individuals are also being asked to close accounts at these banks. Continuing pressure is needed on Energy Transfer Partners and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Thank you to everyone who donated to Patrick’s and my trip to Standing Rock. Your generosity made it possible for us to learn, support and make connections with incredible Indigenous leaders and dedicated activists from around the country! We are determined to share what we learned at Standing Rock to build support for this courageous fight for tribal sovereignty and environmental sanity.

Day 5, November 19, 2016 – Actions, debates and solidarity at Standing Rock

The cold is coming in, but the mood of Standing Rock is warm. Patrick Burns and I continue to learn each day about the thousands of people at camp –where they are from, what moved them to come, what they want to contribute, and where they think the movement needs to go from here.

Water Protectors demand freedom for Red Fawn.

I participated in a ceremony led by the International Indigenous Youth Council calling for the release of Red Fawn Fallis, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, who has been accused of shooting at police and charged with attempted murder. Many who know Red Fawn say the accusations are inconceivable and call her a political prisoner. Over 500 people attended the ceremony for Red Fawn near the river. It was followed by a group take-over of a bridge that is blocked by barbed wire and a row of armored vehicles. Though many cops showed up on the other side of the bridge, there were no confrontations or arrests. There is debate going on about orientation towards law enforcement. Some want to try and win the cops over, but many others have been vocal about police repression and know we cannot trust them.

Both of the ceremonies I attended were led by women. There is conscious encouragement for women to step forward, be leaders and speak up. Native women speakers encouraged all women to unify and stand together with our brothers and everyone struggling for justice.

Patrick’s crew putting up a 16×16 structure.

Patrick continues to work hard on construction of winter-ready housing structures. He’s sharing his skills, tools and political ideas with the crew he’s on. Patrick also started connecting with a camp of unionists from many places in U.S. who are building rank-and-file support of organized labor for Standing Rock. They were thrilled to meet another union carpenter who wants to get more unions to show solidarity.

Many people are excited to hear about socialist feminism and the existence of Radical Women and Freedom Socialist Party. I have had several conversations about the greed and destruction of capitalism. Everyone has agreed we need a new system!

There are only a couple days left in our week here. In this short time, we have only scratched the surface of all that is encompassed at Standing Rock. The connections we’re making will strengthen our ability to confront the battles that are coming.

Day 3, November 17, 2016 – Gina Petry’s interview with Ta’Sina Sapa Win

Ta’Sina Sapa Win from the International Indigenous Youth Council at Standing Rock explains the work the youth council is engaged in now and the need to winterize the camp while continuing to take “hard” actions as water protectors.

Day 1, November 15, 2016 – Our Arrival on the International Day of Solidarity

By Gina Petry

Patrick Burns and I arrived at Standing Rock this morning after flying in to North Dakota from Seattle. We were very moved by the vast panorama of teepees, tents, yurts, a large white geodesic dome and thousands of people. The energy was thrilling! It is clear that the water protectors are strong in their fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and they aren’t going anywhere!

While many people at the camp were glad about the recent news of the U.S. Department of Army and Interior calling for a delay on further construction of the pipeline, they know that this may not even slow down the drillers and that the movement must keep up the pressure. Several people were justifiably skeptical after experiencing hundreds of years of broken promises and lies by government officials. The camp is in it for the long haul and is preparing for the bitter winter ahead.

Today, Patrick used his skills to assist in the assembly of over 25 wood stoves for the campers. I talked with many people who have flooded in from all over the country to provide solidarity. I also helped the support team and saw the leadership role many Native women are playing in getting donations sorted and distributed, orienting volunteers, preparing food, and providing security.

Standing Rock has broad support. You can see it in the hundreds of flags flying at camp from many tribes and countries, and in the banners and signs from feminist, environmental and labor organizations. People greatly appreciated the concrete help and beautiful banner we brought from Radical Women (RW) and the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP). Today’s massive international day of action raised spirits of those on the ground here, despite continued government repression, arrests and pepper-spray targeting the hundreds of people putting their bodies on the line for safe water and the rights of indigenous peoples.

We look forward to what else this week will bring!

Gina Petry, the Organizer of Seattle Radical Women, and Patrick Burns, a union carpenter and activist with the Seattle branch of the Freedom Socialist Party, responded to the urgent call for on-site support to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will jeopardize the country’s water supply by running toxic oil conduits under the Missouri River. They will be in North Dakota through November 20.

To contribute to the delegation’s expenses, please donate by clicking here. If donations exceed the $2,000 needed for the trip, additional funds will be sent to the Water Protector Legal Collective, which desperately needs money to cover bail and legal costs for arrestees.

Please contact Radical Women or FSP, or 206-985-4621 (ask for Doug Barnes), if you would like to interview Gina or Patrick after their return or have them make a presentation to your union or community organization.

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