Western Students Stand with Standing Rock

Thirteen students join the Sioux tribe and water protectors against the DAPL

Roberta Marquette-Strain/Senior Staff Writer

The group at Standing Rock. Photo courtesy of Dustin Crowner
The group at Standing Rock. Photo courtesy of Dustin Crowner

One cannot ask any of the students who traveled to Standing Rock Indian Reservation what the experience was like and expect a simple answer. There isn’t one. “It was a full range of emotions,” said group member Dustin Crowner. “We experienced truly beautiful things as well as terrible things sometimes within an hour. It’s hard to convey a sentence or a simple conversation.”

The 13 students, Crowner, Cody Bontecou, Delaney Adrian, Landan Schaller, Bailey Stewart, Chris Doucet, Uma Costanza, Jodie Howard, Jessica Howard, Madison Manning, Lozen Miller, Jared Allen, and Louissa Rozendaal traveled to the North Dakota reservation November 19-22 to join forces with the Sioux Native American tribe and protesters, who call themselves water protectors, who are standing against the planned construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The DAPL would be built half a mile from Standing Rock, and would require digging up sacred Sioux land and could contaminate the reservation’s water.

The front line following Backwater Sunday. The barrier was built to protect them from the water and rubber bullets. Photo courtesy of Dustin Crowner
The front line following Backwater Sunday. The barrier was built to protect them from the water and rubber bullets. Photo courtesy of Dustin Crowner

The pipeline and the implications it could have for the land are not solely what influenced the group to go. “It’s about all of the people who have been oppressed,” Costanza explained. “All of these people are fighting for others to recognize their worth that we have ignored for years and years. The oppression of these people and oppression of the Earth go hand in hand.” During their time at the reservation, the group saw the oppression first hand, but also encountered beautiful moments of community, love, and trust.

The group did not know exactly what they were going to encounter, but any negative thought passed as soon as they arrived in North Dakota as they were setting up their camp the first night in frigid temperatures. A car drove by and the driver offered for them to stay in their kitchen tent they had set up. “It was the first thing we were really hit with, the generosity,” said Schaller.

Their first night set the tone for the rest of the trip. They were no longer just a group of college students from Colorado. They were members of this community, all gathered together for a larger cause – to stand with their brothers and sisters. The unity was felt across the camp, as Schaller explained. “The love and unity in the camp is kind of like a wave, a giant current that you can resist, but it takes everybody with it.”

The Standing Rock community operates like a “well-functioning commune” as Howard explained it.  Everyone took the time to help each other, whether it was watching someone’s children, washing dishes, or doing chores. The students also contributed to the camp by helping them prepare for the winter by chopping wood and building structures. They were also able to donate clothing, firewood, propane, and other supplies some, of which were donated by the Gunnison community.

A camp elder Joe holds a rubber bullet that hit him the night before. Photo courtesy of Delaney Adrian
A camp elder Joe holds a rubber bullet that hit him the night before. Photo courtesy of Delaney Adrian

Their entire trip was not spent completing these responsibilities however. It was only the second night when half the group found themselves in the middle of an extreme protest between the protectors and law enforcement. The two group’s tensions have run high throughout the months of the DAPL protest. This specific event, referred to as Backwater Sunday, is just one of the many clashes the groups have had.

Water cannons were shot off, tear gas was used, and rubber bullets were targeted toward the protectors. Half of the students found themselves in the middle of the group of about 400 protectors. “As soon as we exited the camp and went over the hill, we immediately saw the lights, the water, the chaos,” Crowner said. “As a group, we kept inching up, growing more and more curious and before we knew it we were right within it all.” Bontecou said they inched so close, that they themselves were teargassed. The group documented the event through photos and videos and watched as people around them vomited and passed out from the gas.

Despite the pandemonium, the large community did not falter. The 400-some group worked together as team. They warned people not to run as the tear gas was shot as it would cause more chaos, and those injured were carried out. The community never stopped looking out for their family. “It’s like everyone viewed the people around them more important than themselves and it helps create this unity,” said Costanza.  

The unity of the community within the Standing Rock Reservation and its supporters world-wide is ultimately the biggest thing that Schaller has taken from the experience. He believes that the DAPL has stirred many to think more about the importance of the environment, people from all walks of life, and of course, community. “At the end of the day, this battle is going to be won in people’s hearts and minds. Not at the front line. (If the DAPL is approved) everything is stacked against us, but this movement has taken a life of its own. In that sense, we’ve already won.”

For those interested in joining the battle, the group meets Tuesdays and Thursdays in the library’s mural room on the first floor at 5 p.m. They have also created Go Fund Me pages, one Donations to Standing Rock Protest goes directly to the reservation, and the other Send Western to Standing Rock raises money for possible future trips, which has already sent a second group out to North Dakota December 2.

However, the biggest thing one can do to help out the cause according to the group and  the Sioux elders, is to educate oneself on the topic, putting one’s heart in the right place, and understand that while anyone is welcome to join the cause, this is the Sioux’s fight and protectors need to do it in their way.

Even though we’ve had a victory recently, we must continue to be vigilant and to support the protectors and stand for Standing Rock.