With additional reporting by Karen Richardson Dunn and Virginia Daffron
The North Dakota prairies — where members of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline since August — lie more than 1,500 miles from Asheville. Even so, the indigenous protest movement has resonated with many in WNC, and locals have found creative ways to support the protests.
‘Go back home and tell this story’
Three UNC-Asheville professors traveled to North Dakota on Sept. 2 to join the protests for a three-day period: Gilliam Jackson of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, an adjunct lecturer who teaches Cherokee language; Trey Adcock, a Cherokee Nation citizen who is assistant professor of education and director of American Indian Outreach; and Juan Sánchez Martinez, assistant professor of Spanish.
“Having never been to the Dakotas,” recalls Adcock, “I experienced multiple impressions at once. The beauty of the landscape contributed to a feeling of entering sacred space. At the same time, as we got closer to Sacred Stone Camp, the roadblocks and security presence took on an increasingly militarized feeling. That’s when the seriousness of the situation really hit us.”
One of the main reasons for his trip, Adcock says, was to deliver donated supplies. The people in the camp were “unbelievably grateful,” he notes. “They stressed how important it is for people from across the country to go back home and tell this story.”
A gathering in Madison County a few days prior to Xpress’ conversation with Adcock raised $400 in cash contributions, he says. But there are other ways to contribute. “It’s a beautiful movement because it’s based in prayer. If people can’t give money or supplies, the tribe let us know they are equally grateful for prayers, in whatever manner.”
Ashevillean Marston Blow, along with three other area residents, made the long journey to Standing Rock with 10 solar panels donated by John Senechal, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Asheville. “I liked what they were doing in Standing Rock,” Senechal says, “fighting big oil. And solar is the answer to big oil. What a great match!”
Weaverville’s Sundance Power Systems donated 12 more panels. Dave Hollister, the company’s president, says he has since been raising money to build a solar trailer that he hopes to take to Standing Rock himself within the next two weeks. “It’s very special what’s going on up there; it’s a profound moment, and we wanted to support it,” he adds.
Tommy Cook, a 27-year-old Pittsburgh native who moved to Asheville two years ago, also sensed the significance of the Standing Rock protests. Cook, who worked as a field guide at a wilderness rehabilitation center, says, “After losing my identity as a wilderness guide I felt a lack of purpose and direction in my life. Then I saw what was going on in Standing Rock. … My heart kept … telling me there isn’t anywhere more important to be right now than Standing Rock.”
What he found upon his arrival, he says, were “feelings of connection, purpose … collaboration, prayer, song, love, surrounding the entire camp. I was honored and grateful to be working beside the natives who started this movement … [who were being] reintroduced to a culture that they may have strayed away from.” And he adds, “[I myself] was finding a renewed sense of purpose … a new path.”
Feeding the protest
On Sept. 15, local business owner Rosetta Star Buan and a vanful of youth volunteers struck out for the Red Warrior Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation with a trailer of outdoor kitchen equipment in tow. On Facebook, she explained the mission: “I have been tasked to deliver a trove of industrial-sized restaurant equipment that has previously been used to feed people on the ground during [Hurricanes] Katrina and Sandy, and many other smaller events. … We have equipment to prepare food for over 1,000 at a meal.”
Buan and her crew arrived at Standing Rock in the early morning hours on Sept. 17. Several days later, on Sept. 23, she took to Facebook once more, this time posting a video of a young Dakotas local, Herman Singh, expressing his protest of the oil pipeline. Her video went viral, garnering over half a million views by press time.
When asked why the Standing Rock protest should matter to people in Asheville, Buan replies, “The Standing Rock movement matters because we all drink water, breathe air, and eat food. ….
“Our message is: We do not consent to the poisoning of the planet any longer. We need air. We need water. These are things that every human and every living being needs.’”
WNC takes a stand
On Sept. 27, Asheville City Council passed a resolution in support of the Standing Rock Sioux. The city’s resolution cites the cultural and natural resources at stake: “The proposed Dakota Access Pipeline would carry as many as 570,000 barrels of fracked crude oil per day for more than 1,172 miles from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois, passing over sensitive landscapes including treaty-protected land containing recognized cultural resources and across or under 209 rivers, creeks, and tributaries including the pristine Missouri River, which provides drinking water and irrigates agricultural land in communities across the Midwest.” The resolution also highlights concerns about tribal sovereignty on reservations.
Richard Sneed, the vice chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, applauded city officials for continuing “to bring awareness to environmental and human rights issues.” According to the Cherokee One Feather, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Tribal Council passed a resolution in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and also donated $50,000 to the Dakota tribe’s legal defense fund on Sept. 6.
Yet, cautions Asheville resident Jenna Be, the work of supporting Standing Rock remains unfinished. At a gathering of Standing Rock supporters held on Oct. 2 at New Mountain Asheville, Be, who had recently returned from the protests, explained: “The Department of Justice and the Army Corps of Engineers put out a joint statement . . . requesting that the energy company ‘voluntarily’ pause construction of the pipeline while the Army Corps of Engineers re-investigates the relationship between that land and the National Environmental Protection Act [also known as the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970] and the [National] Historic Preservation Act [of 1966].”
That request for a voluntary pause, says Be, “got spun in the media as ‘Obama squashes the pipeline.’ … The construction there has restarted. … I haven’t seen anything in the mainstream media about that, but we know that that’s true.”
Ways to help
Twenty-year Asheville resident Erin Hardy has been working with Friends of the Sicangu Oyate, the Rosebud Lakota tribe, to raise funds for winterizing the Lakota camp at Standing Rock. She says, “Our primary objective, in Asheville, is to raise [these funds] because if the protectors can’t withstand the North Dakota winter, then none of the other fund-raising efforts really matter (except for the legal defense fund), and the snows are coming quick.” Hardy has lists of people from the Asheville community who want to help and be directed: “The [Asheville] community is speaking,” she adds.
Hardy emphasizes the importance of Ashevilleans educating themselves about Standing Rock, urging: “Pick a place and dive in. …. People need to care to help effectively in this situation because … if you don’t have a passion-based understanding of what is going on, then you will likely lose your motivation. [And] this is going to be a long battle.
“… It’s dangerous to show people the spark of hope,” she continues. “Those of us who know and care spend our days holding our breaths. … [but] as much as we worry, that hope could just as easily ignite, and it literally brings tears to my eyes to imagine that world.”