By Julian Aguilar
“It felt like my heart stopped to show up and see this incredible encampment. I knew there were a lot of people there. I had no sense of the scale. And when you’re there and seeing it, it’s just profound.”
Allison Goldberg, government and economics teacher, described her experience on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was planned to intersect. “Whether it’s chopping wood or building weatherized tarpees…it was always infused with this prayerful experience, even during direct action where these brave water protectors…were going face-to-face with the DAPL security and cops,” Goldberg said.
On Dec. 4, one week after Goldberg’s Thanksgiving Break trip to North Dakota, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement needed for the completion of the DAPL. This was a huge victory for Standing Rock, a long-awaited triumph after months of physically and mentally demanding protest.
But it was on this trip, prior to the good news, that Goldberg caught a small glimpse into the struggles of not only the members of the Sioux Reservation, but also of those who came from afar to join in the cause. “To see activism on their part really empowering them and mobilizing them and bringing tribes together in a united front is a really inspiring story,” says Goldberg.
Goldberg discovered that finding details and updates on the situation in Standing Rock was not easy when consuming media through popular American news channels. Nevertheless, she kept herself informed and developed a strong position on the issue. “I follow the news and I seek out independent news because, unfortunately, the Standing Rock story has been largely ignored in mainstream press. I’ve always been interested in the struggles of indigenous people in our country. I feel like we have a lot to learn from them,” Goldberg said.
And so her decision was made. She would spend one week on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation so that she, too, may have her voice heard.
“Some people flew in, some people drove in but flew back. Some of us crazy people drove there and back. We sort of loosely ‘caravanned’ along the way but [a friend of mine], Pilar, was really the inspiration,” Goldberg says when explaining their transportation and preparation. “One of Pilar’s friends was part of our group, RayRay Riggin. She started a fund which a lot people donated to collect ultimately $3,000 to purchase firewood, which is very much needed during the wintertime there for people to keep warm.”
Once on the reservation, Goldberg was taken aback by what lay before her. “Just seeing the beautiful landscape unfold and seeing the Cannonball River there which connects directly to the Missouri was astonishing.” Rituals including the many sacred ceremonies to Flag Road (a representation of the reservation’s diverse tribal culture) defined an environment brought together by their mutual purpose.
A recurring theme for those who participated in the DAPL protests was a message of peace. “They were in prayer and they maintained both the ceremonial sacred approach, peaceful the entire time and reiterating over and over again that our only weapon is our prayer. Our only weapon is our righteous message. We are not going to be violent. We respond passively,” Goldberg said.
“It really took the nonviolent civil disobedience ideas that we’ve seen in the black Civil Rights struggle and really brought it to bear there.”
Peace, to the people of Standing Rock, did not have to be mutual. It was to be reinforced with their spiritual fortitude, strengthened by their sense of community, and hardened by the harsh hands of oppression. In fact, Goldberg recalled that while she was traveling to the reservation, “terrible things happened: water cannons, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas. Indigenous elders were collapsing and vomiting on the ground from the power of the chemicals. Sound weapons were going off, people had hypothermia.”
The natives and their supporters, however, are happy to know that their struggles were not in vain. As they received the news about the denial of the easement, the reservation lit up in fireworks and celebration. The DAPL is now awaiting the completion of an environmental impact statement in an effort to explore alternative routes for the pipeline.
“That these people would be as brave as they are against all the odds, stand out there face-to-face with people who have all this weaponry at their disposal and to stand there in sacred ceremony…I was just very inspired by people’s bravery and commitment in a way that we often don’t see,” Goldberg said after returning from North Dakota.