Over 1500 kilometres. Seventeen hours of driving. Two Canadian Provinces and three United States states. Four tanks of gas, two bags of spitz to keep me awake and a shitload of irony to keep me humble. I drove all this madness, in the dead of winter, from Canmore, AB, to Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. And yes, I powered a non-eco friendly ’87 Chevy van with gas-O-line, to get myself to a protest that was, you guessed it, fighting against the building of a pipeline(insert pro-oil, anti environment meme here). Although I’ve never claimed to be an environmental photographer, I do enjoy trees and oxygen and all that other cool stuff that helps keep us alive. Let’s just say that I am attracted to moments of human weirdness, and what I was seeing on the news, in my mind, was certifiably strange by any accounts: partisanship certainly has a way of justifying treating people with an incredible lack of empathy and respect.
One main reason I felt compelled to go was to truthfully see for myself what was actually happening. News is news, mostly tripe, really. If you know where to look you could find something worthwhile, maybe. Despite the scale of the protests, and its importance to the future of Indigenous land rights and environmental sustainability, what was happening down in Standing Rock was indeed under-reported by the mainstream media. Honestly, is the relevance of an issue related directly to it’s frequency of appearance on the daily news? If so, presidential pussy grabbing must be more important than children dying in Gaza, Syria and Yemen. But as anyone with more than half a brain and is not married to their second cousin knows, news is based on ratings, and ratings come from sensationalism, not by enlightening people with actual truths. So be it, I needed to see it for myself. I drove, far and long, icy and cold. Upon arrival I was set up in camp, and took the mandatory orientation and peaceful frontline resistance training. The atmosphere was truly amazing. The energy was immense. We were there illegally, but the morality of the idea spoke much louder. There were communal kitchens, hospitals, schools for the kids. My time there coincided with the arrival of about 3000 US army veterans. They came to “provide a human shield” for the water protectors against the brutal police tactics like the use of pepper spray, water cannons in freezing temperatures, and unleashing attack dogs on unarmed people. There was an intense, raging sun, the day that the Veterans showed up. There was a fanatical anticipation all morning, no one knew what was going to happen. A final standoff between protesters and the Bismarck police? Army vets versus the the US National Guard? However, without a single teargas canister or rubber bullet wasted, the climax of the day was slightly disappointing. As we all began to confusingly mobilize, word came through that the easement to continue the pipeline had been denied. The US Army Corps of Engineers no longer had the rights to finish the remaining segment of pipeline. Right. On. Time. It was perfect. Or tragic. Was the Standing Rock victory to be co-opted by the arrival of the Army Vets? White men to the rescue? It was a strange moment. There was a large gathering at the sacred fire after the announcement came through. My time in mosh pits as a teenager contributed completely to the prime real estate I found myself in at the front row. Standing Rock tribal council, Apache elders, a bizarre Quaker all spoke of the day, the months, the entire struggle up to that time. Cornell West, amazingly, came out of the multitudes of bodies, and gave a speech made for HBO! I didn’t find it quite the right scenario to totally fan-out on him, so I bit my tongue. The waves of the day subsided. An awesome victory, with undertones of some sinister reasoning. Who, behind closed doors, had made this decision, and why? What would have happened had the Vets not shown up? The media, because of their presence, had swarmed to the scene, and put the national spotlight on it. Would the easement been denied, had they not chose to cover the story? If a tree falls in the woods…?
Regardless of all that, it didn’t matter, really. The next day, a monster of a storm rolled down Cannonball River. I woke up to a small snow drift forming at the foot of my bed, that had crept in from a tiny crack in my van door. I sat in my van in -28C, cooked ichiban noodles and read six books in four days, under the maternal cover of my down-filled sleeping bag. People came by, banging on the van to see if I was a frozen popsicle. I left only to piss and shit, which was done only when absolutely required, at warp-speed, to avoid the sudden freezing and loss of any protruding limbs. When I finished a book, I would leave to shoot photos, but it was so damn cold. There was no one around, and the wind was how I would imagine it to be on Mars. After five days of this savage unnecessary weather, I ran out of books to read and instant noodles to heat my frozen carcass. I felt like a Russian soldier in Stalingrad, 1943. But there was no commanding officer to shoot me if I deserted. I dug my van out of an eight foot snow drift that had built up around it, and slipped out of there with no goodbyes. I returned home with a bit of truth of what was going on there. I saw some unusual things, and felt proud that I got to witness a great moment, in one of the truly significant resistances of my time. I went there objectively, to document, learn and take away some understanding of the difficulties of those fighting for their ancestral rights. And of course, to have a little ammo for all my social media armchair battles.
Since this great adventure has come and gone, millions of kissing cousins have elected a pussy-grabbing mongoloid as president of the USA. This single-celled protozoa has ordered the continuation of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The DAPL and the Energy Transfer Crude oil pipeline began operations simultaneously on June 1, 2017. In 2017, the two pipelines, which make up the Baaken system, have leaked at least 8 times. The largest being in Dyersburg, Tennessee, on June 19, where it leaked 4,998 gallons.
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