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'Protectors' Gather In Montana, Show Solidarity With Standing Rock Sioux

Montanans joined in organizing four of the estimated 200 events nationwide yesterday in support of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Environmental and tribal organizations rallied in Poplar, Lame Deer, Whitefish and Missoula, where our Flathead Valley reporter Nicky Ouellet and Missoula reporter Cole Grant gathered these stories.

Tuesday is normally the farmers market in downtown Whitefish, but yesterday, for an hour before vendors opened their booths, the stage space usually reserved for live acoustic performers became a platform for solidarity.

"Let's see your sign! Oh, nice one, water is life, that's our theme here."

About 50 people showed up for a rally in support of the ongoing protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. In Whitefish, rally-goers formed a semicircle around the stage and held signs saying ‘Water is Life’ and ‘No DAPL.”

"We call on the Obama administration to revoke these permits altogether and engage in full consultations with the Standing Rock Sioux."

Whitefish’s rally was organized by Steve Thompson of Glacier Climate Action and Scott Brant of the Blackfeet Nourish Project.

Brant recently returned from a trip to the Sacred Stone Camp at the protest site. He brought a van-load of food -- 1,400 pounds -- and spent a week camping with members of the Pawnee Tribe.

"We brought coffee, and people were really happy about coffee," says Brant.

Describing the events of the past week, Brant said a feeling of peaceful unity pervaded the camp. Even as, at the protest site itself, construction crews razed several sacred and historic sites, culminating in a violent outbreak in which several protesters were maced and bitten by dogs and a few construction workers were injured.

Though the Obama administration granted protesters a small win last week by suspending some construction permits, the company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, says it’s committed to completing its $3.8 billion project. Scott Brant worries people will forget the pause in construction is only temporary.

"Now that the headlines have said, “Obama calls halt to the pipeline,” I'm afraid there's not going to be a lot of headlines out there about the pipeline."

Brant was joined onstage by Richard Smith, a Chippewa tribal member and local architect, and several other community members, including a Lakota and Dakota man known as Yellow Stone.

Yellow Stone asked the crowd to join him in offering words of support and prayer for the protesters in North Dakota.

"We pray with tobacco. We put our prayers in that tobacco and then we offer it to the seven directions and put it down. Put your prayers in this tobacco, we’ll pray a little while together."

And then the ralliers, carrying their signs of protest, dispersed into the farmers market.

Crowds gather in Whitefish on September 13,2016 to be in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and the No DAPL protests.
Credit Nicky Ouellet
Crowds gather in Whitefish on September 13,2016 to be in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and the No DAPL protests.

At the height of a Missoula rally, about two hundred people lined both sides of the Higgins Street Bridge. Among them was Angie Romero:

“I don’t believe that it’s OK to destroy sacred land for the sake of oil that’s gonna go somewhere else.”

This is Wayne Pritchett:

“It is our happiness. It is our sustenance. Worth protecting, worth making a noise about it, worth making a scene about it so that people wake up.”

A mix of tribal members and white allies held signs saying “leave it in the ground” and “people over pipelines.” People banged drums and shouted through megaphones.

Protester: “Medndi-wah-chonie.”

CG: What does that mean?

Protestor: “Means water is life in Sioux."

CG: "Great, thank you."

Standing with her mom near the Wilma theater, a little girl named Mollie Sydnor says the Dakota Access Pipeline is bad news.

“I mean Missouri River, um, gives water to, like, so many people. And so if the oil pipe busted into the Missouri River, that would be really bad.”

Moses Yellowrobe III, who was holding a neon green sign on the other end of the bridge, agrees.

“As long as the threat is there, we’re gonna voice our opposition to it. We want safe drinking water, not just for my generation, but for generations to come. As Crow and Cheyenne People we are taught to think seven generations ahead.”

'Protectors' stand on the Higgins Street Bridge on September 13, 2016 in solidarity with the No DAPL protests happening in North Dakota.
Credit Cole Grant
'Protectors' stand on the Higgins Street Bridge on September 13, 2016 in solidarity with the No DAPL protests happening in North Dakota.

In the middle of it all stood Larry Evans, beating a drum for the majority of the rally.

CG: "Why is it important that we’re here in Missoula versus being in North Dakota? What's the goal here?"

LE: “I mean it affects everybody. You know, why use fossil fuels to go some place to show solidarity? You know, you see solidarity right here, people are honking their horns and stuff. You know, everyone believes that we don’t need more pipelines, we need fresh water.”

Despite the large crowd, police presence was minimal along the bridge. They ushered the self-described “protectors” out of the way of traffic.

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