Editor's note: Conflict over the 1,172 mile Dakota Access Pipeline reached a fever pitch last week when police arrested hundreds of protesters, including Hoopa's own Thomas Joseph. The 30-inch pipe, if completed, is slated to carry 470,000 barrels of oil from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa, before ultimately connecting to an existing pipeline in Illinois. But the project has faced fierce opposition, most notably from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which fears it will destroy sacred land and threaten its water supply. Hundreds of tribal nations have joined the Sioux in opposition to the project and thousands of protesters have descended on the area to set up makeshift camps and occupy the pipeline's proposed path. On Oct. 21, hundreds of police in riot gear confronted protesters and made some 140 arrests, including Joseph, who spent two nights in Morton County Jail on suspicion of trespassing and engaging in a riot before his release. Joseph shares the following dispatch from the protest's front lines.
The sense of urgency is at an all time high inside the camps. The Dakota Access Pipeline is working around the clock to reach the Missouri River. Morton County police keep a 24-hour presence around the camp, with consistent air patrols and militarized vehicles on all the high points outside the camp. Attendance at the camp has declined some due to the normal process of a long occupation and the weather growing colder.
A brutal attack on our peaceful camp happened on Oct. 27. Morton County Sheriff's deputies invaded the "Sacred Camp" that was recently established on the route of the pipeline. The attack brought our souls to remember the trauma of our ancestors. I will never forget seeing elders, woman and children beaten and tossed to the ground, youth being shot off horses with rubber bullets; images of people being shot at close range will be burnt into my memory for many years to come.
Although it might take years to recover and hours of professional counseling to fix damage from the traumatic experience, the spirit and resolve of this camp tells another story. Forgiveness is the feeling in the camp; compassion for the lost souls that seem to devalue life is the resolve of our people.
The following day, Friday, Oct. 28, most of us were in shock and took a day of rest to debrief after the previous day's attack. Saturday was a day of healing; we went back to Highway 1806, where the attack took place, to pray. We were led by our elders and women to the ceremony to forgive and find healing in ourselves. The ceremony also allowed the perpetrators to have a space to heal, as we invited their leaders to be with us and pray with us. This action helped us remember our core values as indigenous peoples and acknowledge that our strength comes from our love and compassion; our weapons are prayer and solidarity. This was real healing, this is the power of our people and the direction of our ancestors leading this movement.
If you have ever felt the slightest desire to come stand with us, I plead with you to listen to the calling. Our Creator has called many and if you feel like you have been chosen, it's not because of us needing your help. It's because you need our help and your soul needs to feel the healing that is alive and strong inside our camps.
Don't get me wrong: We need bodies on the ground and we need many, but the Creator is calling you here for your own healing. Again, we are at the highest point of emergency and request all hands on deck, but come in peace and come in prayer and you will find what your soul has been seeking.
We will be victorious. Our ancestors are with us and the sacred is on our side. You can feel the presence in our prayers and ceremonies. People of the world need to understand this resolve. You need to feel in your soul the victory that will be ours through our desire to stay nonviolent as we continue in ceremony until the Black Snake is dead.
We ask you to know this, to feel this and understand our collective power of prayer. With the continual outpouring of prayer in solidarity with us, we can build the power that is needed to end not only the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline but also to start moving our world toward healing — something all of our communities and nations desperately need.
Thomas Joseph II is a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and is a tribal lands community organizer with True North Organizing Network. He and his family have led the Klamath-Trinity region's presence at the Oceti Sakowin DAPL resistance camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota since mid-August.
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