The route taken to the No Dakota Access Pipeline protest on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was not a direct route, or at least not for me. Entering South Dakota on I-90 westbound from Minnesota, the first signs of a large scale project could be seen on either side of the highway, just past Sioux Falls. Westward until I came to Hwy 281, it was already dark but I continued north and stopped in Wolsey for the night. After a big breakfast I continued north towards Aberdeen, noting the road construction and pipeline area about 3-5 miles south of Redfield, you can't miss it. It's a wide swath of rich brown soil, displaced and out of place, a diagonal path through lush green fields of corn, soybeans and occasionally sunflowers.The drive north was a beautiful representation of the American small town ideal. Alternating scenery between hometown americana, lush farmland and beautiful sloughs. At Aberdeen I turned west on Hwy 12 and, with the radio up and windows down, continued on towards Mobridge and the Missouri River crossing. The only evidence of the pending pipeline was a detour sign around Hwy 47 indicating a road closure towards Hoven. I reached Mobridge and crossed the Missouri River and was welcomed by a big green sign to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. I took a right turn, onto State Rte. 1806, following the river to North Dakota and the protest encampment. The drive north held a wilder beauty, less farms and more open land, with the road winding through hills and around river inlets and eventually the encampment on the right.
When I arrived I asked the security people at the gate about parking and parked where they directed me to. A brisk wind had me grabbing a heavier flannel jacket, along with my camera, and I set out to observe, listen and learn. Each tribe has it's own area, indicated by their tribal flags, and there is a central area for everyone to gather and interact. People sat in chairs they brought or stood and listened to a variety of speakers, with topics ranging from legal issues and camp organizational matters to speeches about the pipeline and related matters. The crowd was a tapestry of colors and backgrounds, children played and wove their way through the attentive adults and whatever was cooking in the camp kitchen smelled delicious. I asked a few questions of others there, "How long have you been here?", "Why did you come?" and the like. The answer to the first varied, the answer to the second was almost always the same. "I don't want what's happened in (pick an oil spill location...any really, several were mentioned) to happen here. It would flow all the way to the Gulf and ruin the land. Not just our land, but the land of everyone down river."
And they're right, it would. I'm not going to throw in a bunch of facts about oil spills or try and sway your opinion, I'm going to tell you my reason for going. Why did I go? My reasoning is twofold, first I completely agree with the people I talked to and an oil pipeline crossing over, under, or through a major river and tributary of the Mississippi is a bad idea. Especially given the terrible track record that the oil industry and the EPA have for clean-up operations after a spill. My second reason, and for me this one is far more important, is that it's time for us(as a nation) to honor the treaties made with the native population. I understand that honoring all of them is probably impossible, but many are not. It's time to make our word mean something again and if the government won't honor the bargains it made on the people's behalf, the people should.