The excessive force used by authorities in recent clashes near the drilling site had spurred a public outcry on behalf of the unarmed occupants, who call themselves “water protectors”, of Oceti Sakowin, and many veterans saw it as a call for action. For the veterans, native and non-native alike, of every age and from every war, travelling to Standing Rock was an extension of their lifelong commitment to serving the country.
Successive blizzards have left the camp thickly blanketed with snow.
A water protector rides through camp with a tribal flag, checking on camp residents to ensure they have a safe shelter and supplies, such as propane to stay warm during subfreezing temperatures. [Avery White/Al Jazeera]
Even as winter rages over the Dakotas and temperatures plummet below freezing, members of the movement are not ready to pack it in yet. Those who have chosen to hold the ground at Oceti Sakowin have doubts that Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the DAPL, will honour the Army Corps’ decision.
With the rapidly approaching term of President-elect Donald Trump, who has been vocal in his support of the pipeline, many fear that the struggle has only just begun.
Kane Wolf is an Apache descendant from the South Side of Chicago. ‘If you’re coming here for spiritual enlightenment, you came to the wrong place. We’re here to fight. We’ve been doing this for 500 years, and it’s the same fight. Water or oil? You just gotta choose.’ [Avery White/Al Jazeera]
Oceti Sakowin camp two days after the December 5 blizzard that iced over the roads throughout the camp, making it difficult to navigate. [Avery White/Al Jazeera]
Lisa wears a buffalo fur coat to keep warm during the blizzard. ‘For me, standing rock was mainly a human rights issue but also a place where I could hopefully find a connection to my native heritage,’ she says. ‘I have Native American in my blood line [Cherokee, Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Chippewa], and I heard stories of my great grandmother Sara … the most beautiful woman [with] long hair down to her feet. Like most Native Americans and African Americans, our families were torn apart and records were never kept, so we will never know how far back our family history goes. We have to rely on foot-to-foot stories.’ [Avery White/Al Jazeera]
Shakes the Spear warms up in his truck. ‘This is winter,’ he says. ‘It’ll get cold here. It gets about 40-50[C] degrees below zero. For the non-natives of this land, it’s going to be hard. They’ll have to leave. If you don’t have it in your blood to stay and fight for what you believe in, you won’t be able to take this kind of cold. I’m prepared for it. It’s in my ancestral blood.’ [Avery White/Al Jazeera]
Smoke wafts out of a chimney of a community structure at the Oceti Sakowin camp. The dome was built for the water protectors by the Burning Man group, Red Lighting. [Avery White/Al Jazeera]
Standing Still from the Mille Lacs Band of the Ojibwe tribe cries in front of his tepee. ‘The winters are very bad here. People are already leaving. Now, we’ll see who the real water protectors are. I’m staying. We should all stay until it’s over. We won a battle, but the war is not over. We need to stop this black snake. It starts here and it needs to stop here. If it goes past this river, it’s going to affect 18 million people down the Missouri River. We’re here for everybody. We’re here for life. We’re here for our women and children, our elders. We’re here for our ancestors.’ [Avery White/Al Jazeera]
Protesters march to the frontlines with US veterans, in snow and winds so strong that it was almost impossible to see. [Avery White/Al Jazeera]