Ask around and you’ll hear stories of pipeline protesters who’ve traveled great distances.
They’ve come from Japan, Russia and Germany. Australia, Israel and Serbia. And, of course, there are the allies, not exclusively Native American or indigenous, who’ve flocked here from all corners of the US.
Together they stand in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion investment to move 470,000 barrels of domestic crude oil a day through four states. They’re fighting against what they see as corporate greed, an environmental threat and an assault on sacred land.
Demonstrating is their proud daily work.
The Standing Rock Sioux call this reservation home, and many are not on the frontlines of this months-long, and at times violent, protest. With no end in sight, what does it mean to them? And are they even united in their support?
The answer to that last question: Not even close.
Wishing they’d go home
No one makes this clearer than Robert Fool Bear Sr., 54, district chairman of Cannon Ball. The town he runs, estimated population of 840, is just a few miles from the action. It’s so close that, given the faceoffs with law enforcement, you have to pass through a police checkpoint to reach it.
It’s about time people heard from folks like him, he says.
Fool Bear has had it with the protesters. He says that more than two years ago, when members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe could have attended hearings to make their concerns known, they didn’t care. Now, suddenly, the crowds are out of control, and he fears it’s just a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt.
Go down to the camps, he says, and you won’t see many Standing Rock Sioux.
“It irks me. People are here from all over the world,” he says. “If they could come from other planets, I think they would.”
The presence of all these people has become a downright nuisance to his community, he says. Given the roadblocks, residents of Cannon Ball are often forced to go more than 40 miles out of their way.
Not long ago, he found three teenage girls from Ontario, Canada, camped out inside his storage shed. A white woman from Spokane, Washington, came to see him for help, saying she’d come here with nothing and her car had broken down. When he was at the casino recently, someone approached him about two young kids who were on their own because their parents had been arrested.
The situation has dissolved to madness, he says, and he wishes Dave Archambault II, the Standing Rock Sioux chairman, would speak up.
“If he had any balls, he’d tell [the protesters] to go home,” Fool Bear says.
And he’s not alone in feeling this way. Two women who listen in as he talks keep nodding in agreement, but they don’t want to speak.
Just look at a recent vote in the community for further proof that Fool Bear’s not the only naysayer. When protest organizers presented a request to build a new winter camp in Cannon Ball earlier this month, his community shot it down.
Of the 88 people who voted, he says 66 were against the camp, less than 10 were for it and the rest remained undecided.
Even though Fool Bear is against the protests, that doesn’t mean he’s not preparing to help people out, too. He anticipates opening the community gymnasium for people without beds come winter, and a growing pile of sleeping bags and blankets sits in his office.
Those protesters from Arizona, Georgia and California won’t know what hit them when the cold rushes in, he says.
A fight worth having
The tribal headquarters sits in the Sioux County seat of Fort Yates, nearly 30 miles south of the protests. Driving into the small town, population less than 200, a hand-painted sign announces, “Oil & water don’t mix!”
To hear it from those hanging out in Club Diamond Z, a bar and deli, Standing Rock Sioux support of the protests is universal. They can’t fathom how anyone would disagree.
Artist Roger Valandra, 61, says he travels north to join the protests once a week. A proud Vietnam Vet, he says the freedom to peacefully demonstrate was something he fought for, just like his nieces and nephews who’ve served in Iraq.
To feel suppressed by the nation he’s served offends him. He’s baffled by the flood of law enforcement from nearby states and North Dakota counties he’s never even heard of.
“Don’t they have enough to do?” he wonders.
Any violence, he says, was provoked by them. Valandra and those around him at the bar begin to rattle off the offenses, many of which they heard about through social media. They talk about tear gas, rubber bullets, sound cannons and concussion grenades. They speak about the elder who was beaten with a club, the horse that had to be put down, the boy whose wrist was broken. (CNN could not confirm these stories.)
The crackdown also maddens Valandra’s 25-year-old daughter, Elaina, who works here at “the Z,” as locals call it. She grew up believing racism didn’t exist; not anymore.
She brings up the recent acquittal of Ammon Bundy and six others, who occupied a federal wildlife refuge earlier this year.
“The Bundys were armed to the teeth, and they’re acquitted,” she says.
She pulls up a Facebook post, showing a photo of a number scrawled on a man’s arm after he was arrested Thursday and words likening the treatment to what Nazis once did. Online comments and the stereotyping of her people leave her stunned. She wants people to know this battle isn’t about race.
“It’s about water, not just native people,” she says. “We don’t get another Earth.”
Her father doesn’t question what will happen to the reservation’s water if the pipeline goes in. Just look at the track record of oil companies, he says, and understand that the problem will grow.
“When that water gets contaminated, it’s going to affect everyone from here all the way to the Gulf of Mexico,” he says.
He calls the pipeline a “moneyline” for billionaires who’ll never live on the land their desecrating. It’s just “greed at play,” he says, in a world where nothing is ever enough.
A shrug of indifference
Ten miles west of the protests, a man who doesn’t want to be named, for fear of retribution, admits he looks forward to the pipeline. It’ll mean fewer trucks barreling down these rural highways and fewer trains flying down the tracks.
Back at Cannon Ball, however, Carl Bruce, 52, isn’t afraid to say his piece. For this Standing Rock Sioux who has lived his life here, the pipeline doesn’t matter. If it breaks, he says he’d just work around it.
“Oh hell,” he says. “I can move north of the break and get my water over there.”
The pipeline is coming, like it or not, he says. The world may watch this ongoing battle and believe it’s a unifying force for his people, but Bruce just shrugs his shoulders and walks away.