A JOURNEY TO THE PROTESTS
In January 2016, energy company Dakota Access announced plans to run an oil pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois. A few months later, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe began protesting the threat to their water supplies. The protests quickly became a movement, a rallying point for all manner of individuals and groups to express anger about everything from dark money and corporate power to ecocide.
But while the protests came to mean many things to many people, Neil McQuillian found that they mean most to the Native Americans involved. He went to understand why this is one of the greatest scandals in US history.
Colourful flags crack in the cold wind. There are tepees that sit like crowns amongst the regular tents. A silvery grey sliver of Missouri river slicks dull beyond them. The camp is pretty, in a way.
But, in its freezing stillness, the scene feels bleak – the few figures I see are bundles of clothing, moving hurriedly to finish what they’re doing and get back into shelter. Plus I’m only dropping in – I’ve come to better understand the protests against the $3.8bn Dakota Access oil pipeline but have just a few hours to spare – which means I’m an outsider. That status weighs pretty heavily here.
So when I hear low applause, it sounds like warmth and company. I find the source, a large tent in the centre of camp, and push back the heavy flap. It is warmer in here and my cheeks begin to glow. A group of some thirty people, around two-thirds Native American, are listening to the speaker. I recognise her as LaDonna Brave Bull Allard of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who owns the nearby land where the protests began.
“I’m here until the pipeline is stopped,” she is saying. ”We are at a point in our lives where we are unifying. We are people of trauma and we have to heal. We are fighting a demon. Everything we have fought for the past 500 years.”