Smith: To Standing Rock
Author: Morgan Smith - January 3, 2017 - Updated: January 4, 2017
“What now?” my son, Jay asked. It was Sunday, Dec. 5, and we were just north of Dilia, New Mexico, where he has a small farm and where we had loaded his Toyota Tundra with firewood. We were preparing to head out to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota but had just heard that the Army Corps of Engineers had called a halt to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project that had been under protest there. Should we call it quits or continue the 1,000 mile drive?
“Let’s keep going,” we both said simultaneously.
After a night at his home in Denver, a stop near Cheyenne to leave off our trailer because of the intense winds, stops in Lusk, Wyoming; Spearfish and Faith, South Dakota; Elgin, North Dakota; and after passing even tinier towns like Mud Butte and Flasher; a day and a half of blowing snow; beautiful but isolated ranch land; icy narrow roads and bitter cold; we came across an array of cars and trucks stuck in snowbanks and finally, the Oceti Sakowin camp. There were no demonstrations, no police, just dozens of flags whipping in the wind and a hunkering down of the people there, focusing only on their survival. It was 4 degrees with 50 miles per hour winds.
Jay and I have experienced cold before; we did many winter climbs of Colorado 14ers and once camped at timberline on Mount Elbert in January and summited in below zero temperature. This, however, was a different dimension — intimidating and demoralizing. I came away with the deepest respect for all those who were there to protest. Real social change requires sacrifice and risk — not just talk — and this is what the Lakota Sioux personify as well as the volunteers who came from all over the country.
Our truck was loaded with the much-needed firewood, propane canisters, clothing and boots as well as a huge freezer full of beef and even some elk meat donated by a bow hunter here in Santa Fe named Jesse Gries. First, we tried to help two young women from Missouri jump-start their car. There were people here from all over and many were unprepared for this savage weather.
We then distributed the firewood, propane and clothing and later found a friend from Santa Fe, Brian O’Keefe, who had been there for a month and had been arrested and banged up in a demonstration. At his request, we bought more propane, a portable heater, food items, balaclavas, cooking equipment and other necessities in Bismarck the next morning and braved the icy roads once again. We were also able to jump-start frozen cars and pull others from snowbanks. This was an intense and humbling experience, and I have nothing but admiration for the Lakota Sioux who are standing up to protect their land and water. When the weather is better we plan to go back. Donald Trump will become president in just a few weeks and this struggle is likely far from over.