Sacred Stone protesters face challenges while living on the frontline

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Protests in North Dakota have grown after the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has continued with construction on the Standing Rock reservation. Hundreds of people have flooded the Sacred Stone camp in Canon Ball to support the protesters who called themselves “water protectors” with food and clothes in an attempt to halt the construction. Even celebrities like Shailene Woodley, Susan Sarandon, and Mark Ruffalo have made the trek out to the camp to provide their support.

Despite the support that is coming from across the nation, protesters are still facing challenges while living on the frontline. These challenges include homesickness, as many have been away from family for months. Roy Tom is a supporter of the water protectors and has been in Sacred Stone for over 4 weeks. He says the hardest thing about being in the camp is being away from his family.

“When you have to leave your home behind, you miss your family,” Tom said. “But you meet people out here who keep you going.”

This spirit of inclusion is shared by many around the campground who welcome people from a variety of backgrounds.

People from the LGBT community are known as "two-spirit" in the Native American culture. They were represented in Sacred Stone with their own camp and flag.
People from the LGBT community are known as “two-spirit” in the Native American culture. They were represented in Sacred Stone with their own camp and flag. Photo by Bailey Vertin

But while the feeling around the camp is positive, there is a hint of danger as the pipeline construction gets closer to the camp. Last week, the demonstrators set up a barricade on Highway 1806 in order to garner attention from the masses by disrupting traffic flow. During the demonstration, Sacred Stone community members were prepared for anything, including forcible removal by the police.

Demonstrators were prepared for anything, including tear gas. Handkerchiefs are doused in water and used as a tear gas deterrent.
Demonstrators were prepared for anything, including tear gas. Handkerchiefs are doused in water and used as a tear gas deterrent. Photo by Bailey Vertin

The barricade came down peacefully later in the evening with no police intervention; however, this was just one of many demonstrations that the protesters have done in the past couple of months. Using tactics like street barricades, chaining themselves to equipment, and sitting in front of construction zones are just a few of the ways in which the water protectors have expressed their discontent with the construction that’s happening in their backyards.

The barricade was up throughout the afternoon and was pushed to the side after camp officials talked with police officers.
The barricade was up throughout the afternoon and was pushed to the side after camp officials talked with police officers. Photo by Bailey Vertin

Frank Archambault works with the security team that is currently walking around Sacred Stone camp. He’s been at the camp since the beginning and is planning on staying there for however long it takes to halt the pipeline.

“To be honest, I’m very pissed off,” he said. “I’m very angry at the situation when it comes to building something that will harm my children and other people’s children.”

Signs littered Highway 1806 in Standing Rock, ND where demonstrators took to the streets to show their discontent with the pipeline.
Signs littered Highway 1806 in Standing Rock, ND where demonstrators took to the streets to show their discontent with the pipeline. Photo by Bailey Vertin

Even though there has been a lot of discontent over the pipeline, DAPL has come out with statements recognizing the protests and reassuring people that the pipeline will be constructed safely and without any environmental damage. DAPL Media Relations official Lisa Dillinger released the following statement:

“Safety and reliability are top priorities for Energy Transfer Partners and the Dakota Access Pipeline Project. We pledge to the communities we cross and the customers we serve that will operate the pipeline with the utmost level of integrity and safety at all times.”

Along with reassurances, DAPL officials have also promoted the different positive aspects that the pipeline brings to the states it crosses, which will include a $3.78 billion investment into the U.S. economy, 4,000 jobs in each state that’s affected by the pipeline, and will reduce truck and rail utilization in crude oil transportation.

Despite the promises made by officials, there are many who still fear major environmental damage as the pipeline crosses over the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. “Water is life” is the most common slogan used throughout the Sacred Stone camp, and it symbolizes the worry about having clean drinking water after the pipeline is put into place.

Frank Archambault (right) and fellow security officer hold up a sign made by the SCSU group Students Organized For Change demonstrating the importance of clean water.
Frank Archambault (right) and fellow security officer hold up a sign made by the SCSU group Students Organized For Change, demonstrating the importance of clean drinking water. Photo by Bailey Vertin

As the winter months approach, the water protectors aren’t planning on backing down, but as the temperatures get colder, living in the camp is going to become more difficult. Yet, despite the incoming frost, the water protectors plan on continuing their fight for clean water.