Report Back from the Battle for Sacred Ground
For months, hundreds of people, including members of nearly a hundred different indigenous peoples, have mobilized to block the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. On October 27, police raiding the Sacred Ground camp encountered stiff resistance. We’ve just received the following firsthand report from comrades who participated in the defense of the camp. Describing some of the fiercest clashes indigenous and hey pose important questions about solidarity struggles.
When we arrive on Wednesday, October 26, we can’t find our contacts, the friends and friends of friends who have been vouched into the secretive Red Warrior camp. Word around the camp is that eviction is imminent for Sacred Ground, the only camp in the direct path of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. The tribe claims this land is territory granted to them in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, and that they were using their own “eminent domain” to take it back when they set up the camp. We decide to set up at Sacred Ground and to figure out how to make ourselves useful in stopping its eviction.
The Sacred Ground camp is located about two miles north of the main camp on highway 1806. The main camp itself is just north of the Standing Rock Reservation, where two more NoDAPL camps, Rosebud and Sacred Stone, are located. Before arriving, we had seen images of barricades blocking Highway 1806 to the north of the Sacred Ground camp.
When we walk to that site, however, we find those barricades have been pushed to the sides of the road, the northernmost one turned into a kind of checkpoint. According to the people at the checkpoint, they were ordered to remove the blockade by the camp leaders, who plan on allowing the police to enter and evict the camp.
The “camp leaders” are hired Nonviolent Direct Action consultants. They are utilizing a classic strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience: they hope that the images of police evicting people in prayer will win them the sympathy of the public. The people we speak with at the checkpoint are clearly not buying this. But what can they do? Their elders have hired these people to stage-manage the moment.
After some conversation with the folks on the barricades and with the “camp leaders,” it is decided that we’ll leave the road open until the police actually arrive, and then we’ll build up the barricades quickly in order to slow their progress. This will hopefully buy time to allow the people who want to get arrested while in prayer to assemble and prepare themselves. For what its worth, this plan was crafted with the approval of the “proper channels.”
As soon as this course of action is proposed, some new organism bursts into life, and thirty people we’ve never met are loading logs and tires and barbed wire onto trucks in the middle of the night. A plan comes together for when and how to start blocking the road. The energy is electric; the possibility of a real physical defense of this strategically decisive camp is in the air and in people’s conversations.
“I don’t know who those ‘leaders’ are,” a Native guy tells us as we throw tires on the side of the road. “They’re not my elders. I came here to defend this camp, and I’m going to do what I have to.” We still don’t know where the fabled Red Warrior folks are, but we feel that we’ve found people we want to support in this battle.
This is the plan: the folks up the hill at the checkpoint are the first line of defense. When the cops come, they will get in the road and begin a prayer ceremony. They inform us they have no intention of moving until they are arrested or worse. While they block the road, it will be our job to build up the next barricade about a quarter mile down the road to buy time for the prayer circle to assemble in the camp. To us, this is not ideal, because it still means that the eviction will go through. But we also feel that we have very little agency in this situation. We’re white. We just showed up. At least we’ll be a part of putting up a fight, we tell ourselves. At least the police won’t just be invited in.
We take shifts all night, trying to decode the flying objects in the sky. Is that a drone or a satellite? Is that the moon behind the clouds? Then why is it moving? Why is that surveillance plane flashing those lights over there? For hours, I have the feeling that we’ve stepped into some deep historical current, that this moment is connected to every other moment in which people waited to defend barricades against overwhelming adversaries. We joke and tell stories, we snap our attention to any movement on the hillside, we speculate and scheme. We receive new names based on stupid things we do or say. The night is long and cold and at dawn the sun is welcome.
“All night, we take shifts at the barricades, watching the sky for drones. The night is long and cold and at dawn the sun is welcome.”
The next morning, we learn that there has been another barricade all along, located on a bridge on Route 134, the only other entrance by which the police can access the Sacred Ground camp since all other entrances go through the Standing Rock reservation. Apparently this is what Red Warrior has been up to, and they have no intention of letting the police through. While that is exciting to hear, we can’t understand why the same commitment to physically defend the space is absent here on Highway 1806.
Around midday, a line of police vehicles shows up blaring their sirens—but not on the highway. They are taking the access road beside the pipeline construction, where we have no defenses. People start parking their cars to block the access road and crowds start to gather. Word comes that the police are bringing in armored vehicles on the highway. We run to our posts at the second blockade and begin loading tires into the street. Just then, a truck pulls up and out steps a paid nonviolent consultant who is on his way to negotiate a mass arrest. He gathers the barricade crew in a circle and makes an impassioned plea for us to leave the road clear. “When people see the images of them arresting us and storming our teepees with guns, they will know our struggle is right.”
Some people are convinced and begin removing the barbed wire. Our crew has a quick conversation. We aren’t convinced by this guy, but we don’t want to be the ones to disobey his orders—we don’t want to make it easy for the police or media to deploy a narrative about “outside agitators,” and we don’t want to sabotage the possibility of other anarchists like us participating in this struggle. We decide we will check in with the Native guys we spent the night on the barricade with. When we ask about their reaction to the speech, we get a blunt response: “Fuck that guy.” Our thoughts exactly.
As we’re building the barricade, our new friends give us one rule: build it up as much as we want, but their elders say no fire. We agree to this. At this point, people are crowded up the hill at the first checkpoint; we begin to load our barricade materials into the street, leaving one lane open to enable our people to make it to the other side before the cops. We watch from a distance as the armored vehicles approach the crowd up ahead.
Then a blue car that had been up near the first checkpoint speeds down the hill toward us. It parks, blocking half the road. A Native woman gets out and stabs her own tires with a knife. A team removes her license plates, and soon another car blocks the other side of the road in similar fashion. The cops are heading toward us, and word spreads that the other barricade is already on fire. People and horses are herded to our side of the blockade. Just then, the paid nonviolence consultant gets on top of one of the cars and attempts to deliver a speech to calm everyone down. He can barely get a word out before a Native kid gets up on the other car and starts chanting:
“BLACK SNAKE KILLAZ! BLACK SNAKE KILLAZ!”
As the crowd chants this over the guy who just negotiated a carefully orchestrated mass arrest with the cops, the barricade is lit and the fight is on. Bottles and stones are thrown at the police vehicles. But this only lasts for a moment before a line of elders and camp security forms to start pushing the combatants back from the barricade. Shouting matches and fistfights break out. There are Native folks of all ages on both sides of the long and disappointing struggle. Those opposing the physical confrontation succeed in pushing us back, enabling the police to form a line around the north side of the camp where the large crowds are gathered.
At this point, a truck is parked in the road with two people locked to the underside. Logs are piled up around the truck and two teepees are erected on either side of it. Some try to hold a line against the police, stretching teepee poles across a dozen people. Others hurl stones and logs at the cops and their vehicles. The chaos is overwhelming. A young warrior on horseback is tazed and falls to the ground. All around us, people are screaming from the effects of pepper spray. Flash-bang grenades are bursting in the air, mingling with rubber bullets and beanbag rounds. The screaming matches continue between those who want to fight back and those who want to be arrested while praying. The cops are already in the camp.
Over a painful hour, we are all pushed south of the only camp that blocked the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Over a hundred people are arrested, many of them charged with “conspiracy to endanger with fire” regardless of whether they were in any proximity to the flaming barricade. This seems calculated to drain our legal fund, since the bail is set at $1500 each. Sacred Ground is lost….Read more, much more: https://itsgoingdown.org/report-back-battle-sacred-ground/