Lakota Country Times: On the #NoDAPL front line in North Dakota

Oglala Lakota artist and water protector Joel Pulliam at the front line camp's "Wild Oglala Cook Shack" in North Dakota. Photo by Natalie Hand

Oglala Lakota on the Front Line
By Natalie Hand
Lakota Country Times Correspondent

CANNON BALL -- When warriors first arrived at the confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri Rivers, the grass stood tall and green and the sun kissed their cheeks.

Months have passed since that balmy August day, with countless events replacing calendar dates. The air is crisp and the tall green grasses are now brown and flattened by thousands of feet that have marched through the massive resistance encampment on the “taken land”. The Oceti Sakowin camp sits on a swath of land on the north bank of the Cannon Ball River that was taken by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe decades before.

Several hundred Oglala Lakota water protectors, not protestors, have converged on the camp since August, filling numerous roles in this effort to stop the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project that is actively being constructed through four states.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe put out an urgent call in April to water protectors and land defenders to come to the river and help stop the pipeline construction. As construction neared the reservation, thousands of people, native and non-native, have caravanmed to a makeshift camp along the Cannon Ball River, just one mile south of the pipeline corridor.

Olowan Martinez takes part in a #NoDAPL action in North Dakota in August 2016. Courtesy photo

We Flow Like the Water
Olowan Martinez, 43, arrived at Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on August 9th. Martinez, an Oglala Lakota/Tohono O’odham grandmother and long-time activist, answered the call. Born into the American Indian Movement, Martinez has innate skills for front line work. Her strategist mindset has proven vital to this effort.

“My role in Red Warrior Camp is encouragement, empowerment and enforcement for these young warriors that have come from all over and are healing from an oppressive upbringing. The most beautiful part of my experience here is seeing the colonized mindset arrive in camp and then the decolonization begin to transform people,” stated Martinez.

Martinez acknowledges that there have been challenges along the way. Like the ever changing population of the resistance camp and Morton County Sherriff’s increased militarized police forces.

“Seeing all the people arrive at camp, growing more and more each day. Regardless of whatever is happening, we’re like flowing water, we come to an obstacle, we flow around it. We all flow together like the water,” added Martinez.

The camp is filled with people from all walks of life with different approaches to protecting the water and land.

“I ‘understand’ and respect the diversity of the tactics being utilized to stop the pipeline construction. The political, spiritual, physical tactics are all important and need to be respected,” she said.

Martinez describes seeing the seven tipis representing the Oceti Sakowin for the first time.

“My heart swelled with pride and honor. I am so humbled and thankful that my bloodline made it this far to witness that historic moment,” added Martinez.

For those that cannot travel to Cannon Ball, Martinez encouraged supporters to flood the banks that finance the project, government offices, or simply pray for the warriors that are using their bodies to physically stop the pipeline. “We are not acting in violence, we are acting in self-defense,” added Martinez.

Martinez is in this fight for the long haul. “I plan to stay here until I have the black snake’s head hanging from my war belt," mused Martinez.

Water protectors in Mandan/Bismarck.

Posted by Nataanii Means on Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Nataanii Means on Facebook: On the Front Lines in North Dakota

Rap of Resistance
Natannii Nez Means, 25, Oglala Lakota/Omaha/Dine’, of Porcupine, South Dakota, arrived in August as well.

“I have been on the ground here in Red Warrior Camp, helping with nonviolent direct actions in support of stopping pipeline construction so that DAPL will lose funding,” stated Means.

Means, an internationally known hip hop artist and son of the late Oglala Lakota activist Russell Means, promotes Indigenous rights and decolonization through his art form.

“I was here when construction first started. And during the dog attacks in September. I was also here when they destroyed the front line camp on October 27th. It was very disheartening to see the police rip apart the sweat lodge and tear down the tipis,” added Means.

Means, along with other unarmed water protectors, was beaten with batons and mobbed by militarized police on the scene.

Part of a mass arrest that day, Means was carted off to Morton County Jail, where he and the others had numbers written on their arms with permanent marker and then held in chain link dog kennels. Means, #116, was charged with one count of Conspiracy to Endanger by Fire, a Class C Felony; and two misdemeanor charges. His bond stipulations prohibit him from being on DAPL construction sites, their property or contact with DAPL employees.

“My attorney is looking into the possibility of taking my case to federal court because our treaty rights are being violated,” added Means.

Means feels a deep connection to this issue and intends to stay until the construction is stopped.

“I think of why we sundance. I think about the water that we sacrifice for those four days. We suffer for all our relatives. I come from three great nations that really depend on and respect water. I just want clean water,” stated Means.

Feeding the Warrior Spirit
When well-known Oglala artist Joel Pulliam isn’t on the front line, he spends his time in the heart of the camp, the cook shack. The Oglala have maintained the “Wild Oglala” cook shack since arriving in early August. And since Joel’s arrival 58 days ago, he has helped feed thousands of warriors.

“I was called here to protect the sacred water and the land. When I saw the videos of the dog attacks, I had to get here to help protect my relatives. The Standing Rock relatives have shown hospitality and extreme gratitude towards us,” stated Pulliam.

At the October 27th direct action, the water protectors came under fire from the police, using percussion grenades, rubber bullets and bean bag ammunition at point blank range.

“We had the idea to make use of the wood that had been donated by the Oglala Sioux Tribe. We quickly cut it into makeshift shields with handles to protect our front line. The wood was to be used for our kitchen floor, but it served a better purpose that day,” mused Pulliam, an Army combat veteran.

“I was trained to function under pressure and I have witnessed so many of our water protectors, with no former military training, conduct themselves this way here. The nonviolent direct action training is very effective,” added Pulliam.

Pulliam is inspired from his experiences on the front line.

“I’m working on a series of ledger paintings on camp life here. Another project is creating artwork from old tents, using the material as our canvas,” added Pulliam.

“My message to the Oglala Oyate is… if you’re going to come here, be prepared. Not only with winter gear, but come prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Our vow binds us together here and makes us stronger. We operate by consensus and it’s most effective,” stated Pulliam.

Inspired by the worldwide solidarity, Pulliam intends to travel to Oak Flat or other front lines to support people protecting their land and water.

Note: This piece is the result of a collaboration between Lakota Country Times and the Lakota Media Project.

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