Alaskans travel to North Dakota to stand with Standing Rock

A handful of Alaskans this week are heading to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. They’re joining thousands of Native Americans who have gathered there to protest the construction of an oil pipeline that they say threatens cultural artifacts and drinking water. An earlier plan to have the Dakota Access Pipeline cross the Missouri River north of the state capital was scrapped as a potential threat to Bismarck’s water supply.  The plan now is for the pipeline to cross the Missouri south of Bismarck, but north of the Sioux reservation, which also draws its drinking water from the Missouri.

Dakota Access Pipeline Native American protest site, on Highway 1806 near Cannonball, North Dakota, August 15th, 2016 (Wikimedia image courtesy of Shane Balkowitsch)
Dakota Access Pipeline Native American protest site, near Cannonball, North Dakota, in August (Wikimedia image by Shane Balkowitsch)

In recent weeks, local police and state troopers have impounded cars and arrested some 400 people on trespass and other charges. Julien Jacobs is originally from Bethel, and now lives in Homer.

“The state and the local sheriff have basically created a monopoly on being able to pick up over a million dollars from impounding and arresting so many of us, hundreds of us,” Jacobs said.

In recent months, Jacobs has spent about six weeks in North Dakota. He’s heading down this week for another few months. He organized a protest in Anchorage over the weekend. He said public attention is needed to preserve civil rights.

“The U.N. has sent in monitors to see which of all the human rights that have been violated. So the U.N.  has stepped in. Jesse Jackson has came in the camps,” Jacobs said. “Mark Ruffalo, from celebrities, and also Amnesty International, Greenpeace. Just all kinds of organizations have come in to monitor and report.”

The Bismarck Tribune reports more than $3 million has been raised for the cause, and dozens of lawyers are donating their time to help defense attorneys.

Jacobs said visitors will find three encampments – set up with clean water, porta-potties and with security, medics, and cooks who dish up three meals a day, using food donated by tribes.

“These resources are coming in from all over the world that are helping us to build and to maintain the stronghold that we have,” Jacobs said.

He said the entire endeavor is based on the principle of social change through non-violence.

“Then we have a mandatory training in non-violence training every day for people, for newcomers, for people who are coming in and out and for people who are supporting the movement,” said Jacobs.

A traditional healer, one of eight Alaska Native women traveling to North Dakota this week, explains why she’s spending the time and money to make the trip.

“I am doing this because it is in alignment with my work, and teachings that we need to stand up for Mother Earth. We need make a stand,” said the healer. “We need to change our relationship with nature and get off of extractive resources.”

The healer said she and others in her group don’t want to be publicly identified. They want to keep the focus on the issues. Also, she said, for many, the trip is a deeply personal quest.

“So I do see this as a spiritual journey. It has to be because it’s done in prayer. So this whole movement is done in prayer. And its success will only be won through peaceful interactions and through prayer,” the healer said.

Jacobs said the next challenge will be to get through North Dakota’s brutal winter. He’s part of a “winterization” committee that’s looking at the traditional semi-subterranean Yup’ik “qasgiq” or men’s community house, teepees, and domed houses such as those used by the Innu of Quebec and Labrador, as possible models for temporary housing.

Joaqlin Estus is a reporter at KNBA in Anchorage.

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