NORTH OF THE STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION – Vincent Herald stepped off a school bus and into history on Friday.
The 60-year-old and more than a dozen of his fellow Spirit Lake Tribe members made the four-hour drive from Fort Totten to the Camp of the Sacred Stones near Cannon Ball, where the population swelled to an estimated 5,000 or more opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
But for Herald, as important as stopping the pipeline was the fact that more than 200 indigenous tribes had gathered peacefully in the same place to pray and stand together.
“This point in time is going to be remembered 100 years from now. My great-great-grandchildren will remember this,” he said.
While the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lost its court battle Friday in Washington, D.C., with the judge denying its request for an emergency injunction to halt construction of the $3.8 billion crude oil pipeline under the Missouri River less than a mile north of the reservation, the camp’s mood turned jovial when they learned that three federal agencies had pressed the pause button on the project until the tribe’s concerns can be further addressed.
As steady rain gave way to sunshine Friday afternoon, hundreds gathered at the core of the sprawling campground to celebrate the news. Raised fists, cheers, drums, dancing, singing, hugging, crying: it all erupted after Jon Eagle, Standing Rock’s historic preservation officer, read the announcement into a microphone.
“You stopped that pipeline,” Eagle told the crowd. “We proved to the world that we didn’t have to be violent to get our way.”
Jeff Iron Cloud of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota said he viewed the announcement as a victory – for now. “I think also there’s more work to be done,” the 54-year-old said. “We’ll continue to come together, as you see, in prayer and in peace.”
Not everyone put their full trust in the words from the feds. Jean Roach of the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota said past promises broken by the government made her suspicious, and she wondered why the pipeline was allowed in the first place. “I think there’s a lot of double talk,” she said.
Before the news came down, Art Medina, 65, and his daughter Marla, 32, who arrived Tuesday from Washington’s Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, listened with more than 100 others at the center of the campground as a series of speakers spoke about broken treaties, tribal sovereignty and the need to keep protests peaceful.
“It’s all over the world,” Art Medina said, wearing a tan cap that reflected his service as a Vietnam War veteran. “Everybody’s watching, you know what I mean?”
His daughter was making her second trip to the camp, having brought fresh salmon and other supplies in an RV last week. Staying at the nearby Prairie Knights Casino and Resort, she planned to leave Saturday to get back to her 9-year-old daughter, but said it will be “very” hard, having made so many friends and knowing that the gathering will likely only grow with the United Tribes Technical College International Powwow taking place in Bismarck this weekend.
“It’s unexplainable. There’s no words,” she said.
Harold Arres, 39, and several other members from southern California’s Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians unloaded timbers for building shelters and a pile of locally picked corn for food. Arres arrived Tuesday night after a 36-hour drive and planned to leave Friday so he could return for work Monday after taking a week off from his job as director of a social service program for needy families.
Arres said his own tribe reached a settlement with the federal government over water rights about a decade ago, “so we know the struggle.”
“It’s a worthy cause. We believe in what they’re fighting for. It’s going to affect a lot of people,” he said. “If they’re going to be out here for a couple more months, I’m sure we’ll be back.”
Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II told reporters at a protest at the state Capitol that he couldn’t predict whether the camp will continue, but said, “I know that it’s important that we continue to send a message, and it’s a good feeling today because I know that we are being heard.”
He said the support from indigenous people around the world shows “there is a spirit wakening, there is a movement that’s happening.”
About 30 miles north of the camp, Highway Patrol troopers and members of the North Dakota National Guard that was activated by Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Thursday manned a traffic information checkpoint on Highway 1806, warning motorists that there could be vehicles and protesters on the road by the campsite. Traffic was restricted temporarily when a large group of the self-described “water protectors” marched up the hill, blocking both lanes of traffic with people, vehicles and horses.
At the camp, Phyllis Young, a Standing Rock Sioux Tribe elder, spoke of continuing to resist the pipeline regardless of Friday’s court decision, saying, “We will not take ‘no’ for an answer,” and also addressed the Guard activation. About 100 Guard members will be on standby as the dozen or so Guard members manning the traffic checkpoint provide relief for civilian authorities so they can patrol Morton County and better respond to calls for service, Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, the Guard’s adjutant general, said Thursday.
“The National Guard has no jurisdiction,” Young said, talking about the camp, where organizers are technically camping without a permit but are seeking one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be on its land. “We will not allow them to bring America’s war machines into our peaceful way of life we’ve created here.”
Activist Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Tribe in Minnesota said she hopes pipeline crews withdraw from the area, pending a full environmental review of the project. “And I’m hoping the governor demilitarizes the situation,” she said.
Herald, who was involved with the American Indian Movement in the 1980s, said the feeling Friday was “totally different.”
“There’s more of a sisterhood and a brotherhood here, rather than a militant alliance,” he said.
Arvol Looking Horse, a chief and spiritual leader from the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, led daily prayer ceremonies at the camp and led the Capitol protest in a prayer song Friday. The 63-year-old hopes the worldwide attention given to the gathering will lead to greater consideration and justice for indigenous peoples.
“I hope and pray that today, they finally consider that,” he said. “We are making a point in history.”
Herald, wearing a gray T-shirt that proclaimed Spirit Lake’s support for Standing Rock, said he and others weren’t there for the pipeline protest, but for the energy.
“One can say, ‘I was here, and I meant something here,’ ” he said.