US veterans are returning to Standing Rock and pledging to shield indigenous activists from attacks by a militarized police force, another sign that the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is far from over.
Army veterans from across the country have arrived in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, or are currently en route after the news that Donald Trump’s administration has allowed the oil corporation to finish drilling across the Missouri river.
“We are prepared to put our bodies between Native elders and a privatized military force,” said Elizabeth Williams, a 34-year-old air force veteran, who arrived at Standing Rock with a group of vets late on Friday. “We’ve stood in the face of fire before. We feel a responsibility to use the skills we have.”
It is unclear how many vets may arrive to Standing Rock; some organizers estimate a few dozen are on their way, while other activists are pledging that hundreds could show up in the coming weeks. An estimated 1,000 veterans traveled to Standing Rock in December just as the Obama administration announced it was denying a key permit for the oil company, a huge victory for the tribe.
The massive turnout – including a ceremony in which veterans apologized to indigenous people for the long history of US violence against Native Americans – served as a powerful symbol against the $3.7bn pipeline.
Vets with post-traumatic stress disorder also suffered in the cold and chaotic environment without proper support, said Matthew Crane, a US navy veteran who is helping coordinate a return group with the organization VeteransRespond. His group has vowed to be self-sufficient and help the activists, who call themselves “water protectors”, with a wide range of services, including cleanup efforts, kitchen duties, medical support and, if needed, protection from police.
“This is a humanitarian issue,” said Crane, 33. “We’re not going to stand by and let anybody get hurt.”
On Friday afternoon, as snow rapidly melted during an unusually warm day in Cannon Ball, Jake Pogue helped organize a vets camp area at Sacred Stone, the first camp that emerged last spring in opposition to the pipeline.
“We’re not coming as fighters, but as protectors,” said the 32-year-old marine corps vet, noting that he was concerned about police escalating tactics. “Our role in that situation would be to simply form a barrier between water protectors and the police force and try to take some of that abuse for them.”
Since last fall, police have made roughly 700 arrests, at times deploying water cannons, Mace, rubber bullets, teargas, pepper spray and other less-than-lethal weapons. Private guards for the pipeline have also been accused of violent tactics.
“We have the experience of standing in the face of adverse conditions – militarization, hostility, intimidation,” said Julius Page, a 61-year-old veteran staying at the vets camp.
Dan Luker, a 66-year-old veteran who visited Standing Rock in December and returned this month, said that for many who fought in Vietnam or the Middle East it was “healing” to help water protectors.
“This is the right war, right side,” said Luker, a Vietnam vet from Boston. “Finally, it’s the US military coming on to Sioux land to help, for the first time in history, instead of coming on to Sioux land to kill natives.”
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, founder of the Sacred Stone camp and a Standing Rock tribe member, said she welcomed the return of the vets.
“The veterans are going to make sure everything is safe and sound,” she said, adding, “The people on the ground have no protection.”
At Standing Rock, indigenous activists say the mass arrests and police violence have led many of them to develop PTSD, suffering symptoms that many veterans understand well.
“This historical trauma of indigenous communities in this country is very real. It’s tragic,” said Crane. “The military has a lot of the same problems.”
Aubree Peckham, a member of the Mescalero Apache tribe who has been at Standing Rock for months, was in tears on Friday as she described the way indigenous water protectors have bonded with vets.
“We don’t know how to protect ourselves against the tactical weapons they are using,” she said. “They are getting us better prepared.”
Peckham said the affection was mutual: “We are able to talk about PTSD. And they finally feel like they are understood.”
U.S. military veterans have thrown down the gauntlet to the Trump administration, vowing that the Dakota Access Pipeline will “not be completed— not on our watch.”
Veterans Stand, a group of vets who have vowed to protect the pipeline protesters of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and supporters, ominously threatened the possibility of more “boots on the ground” at the site — but also repeated their commitment to nonviolent action. The group is capable of calling up several thousand veterans to the protest site.
“We are committed to the people of Standing Rock, we are committed to nonviolence, and we will do everything within our power to ensure that the environment and human life are respected,” spokesman Anthony Diggs told CNBC. “That pipeline will not get completed. Not on our watch.”
The latest defiant declaration follows the arrest Wednesday of nearly 80 protesters camped out at the demonstration site near the town of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, amid the Trump administration’s determined press to push through the controversial pipeline. Local law enforcement said the protesters were arrested when they moved from one of their camps onto land owned by pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners.
The renewed pressure on the protesters drove donations to a GoFundMe site established last week by Veterans Stand to $105,000 in six days.
Trump late last month signed an executive order to advance construction of the pipeline just weeks after the Army Corps of Engineers had held up the pipeline by calling for a new environmental review that could taken up to two years. Financial disclosure filings by the president have revealed that as recently as last summer he owned shares in Energy Transfer Partners, and company CEO Kelcy Warren contributed $100,000 to elect Trump, Mother Jones reported.
The arrests at the protest site occurred the day after Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to abandon the environmental review and grant Energy Transfer Partners the final easement it needs to complete the last stretch of the $3.7 billion, 1,172-mille-long pipeline.
Protesters have vowed to stand their ground. The Standing Rock tribe says the planned section of the pipeline where they’re encamped would travel through sacred burial grounds, would violate an 1857 treaty and would threaten precious water resources. They have vowed to launch a new legal challenge to the pipeline, arguing that the Army Corps of Engineers lacks the authority to halt the environment review that it had just launched weeks ago.
Before Trump moved into the White House, the Corps denied the easement to the pipeline company in early December, declaring that the best option would be to consider other routes by conducting a thorough environmental review.
The Native Brothers and Sisters have told us … The only thing that will heal the planet and all life on it, is Love. It is so important that anger be released.
We know very well now, it is true, the US Government has been creating “enemies” for centuries. They have been abusing the American people, lying and manipulating them, so they would go fight these battles for freedom, and they maintained the reins, steering the masses in the direction they chose.
Now though, they are abusing the very people the military has sworn to protect. They cannot lie any longer about the abuse, and the attempted manipulation.
Veterans, please go deep into your hearts, feel fully the pain you may carry, the anger, and transmute it into something more powerful … forgiveness and love. It will be hard, maybe one of the hardest things you have ever done.
I had not seen this video before. She is demonstrating the same shocked outrage that so many of us feel today.
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