The protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota are drawing hundreds of people from across the country, including Montana’s Indian reservations. MTPR's Nicky Ouellet spoke with a Flathead Reservation resident who’s there now.
Orlando Avery grew up in South Dakota, just south of where people are protesting. For him, it wasn’t even a question whether he’d make the 12-hour drive from the Flathead Reservation to the protest.
"I felt the need to be here. My heart was here."
Avery is Cheyenne River Lakota. He owns a company that sets up tournaments for handgame, a traditional guessing game. At the Sacred Stone Camp, he’s organizing pickup games in the evenings. There are a few thousand people there, but Avery says the camp has infrastructure: there’s a cook tent, a council of elders organizes meetings and makes camp rules, and volunteers are even starting a school.
"They have cultural classes, they have language classes. They have cooking, plants and herbs, art. Just for the kids, because a lot of them aren't in school so they do homeschool there, and a lot of volunteers are coming in to help out with that."
A little ways away from the camp, people are non-violently protesting at the construction site. Standing Rock tribal officials worry the pipeline will damage sacred and historical sites and that a leak could pollute the Missouri River.
Energy Transfer, the company building Dakota Access, says pipeline is the safest way to transport crude and that the pipeline will boost local economies.
Avery says he’s been awed by the unity and solidarity he feels in the camp.
"Lot of tribes that historically never got along are all coming together in unity, and all coming together as one voice to help defeat this black snake, the Dakota Access Pipeline."
He says the protests — but even more so, the camp itself — is the first step in a burgeoning movement among Native Americans.
"We're tired of environmental injustice, we're tired of environmental destruction. We're ready to take a stand. Even after this fight we're probably going to fight with another tribe, help another tribe, help another nation out that needs our help."
Along with the on-the-ground protests, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has filed a lawsuit to block the pipeline’s construction. The tribe argues the Army Corps of Engineers failed to consult the tribe before approving permits. A ruling on that case will be issued this coming Friday.