Ho-Chunk Nation veterans join Veterans for Standing Rock
On December 4 to 7, 2016, a group of Ho-Chunk Nation veterans joined Veterans for Standing Rock to stand on the front lines for opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The $3.8 billion pipeline has been opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota because an eventual leak would contaminate drinking water for millions of Americans.
The Facebook group Veterans for Standing Rock organized 2,000 native and non-native US military veterans to convene at Standing Rock to protect the water protectors from Morton County Sheriff’s Department, North Dakota state police, other state police, and private security contractors’ aggressive tactics.
Since the beginning of the NoDAPL efforts in early spring 2016, water protectors have faced physical attacks, attack dogs, CS gas and pepper spray, sound cannons, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, cyber-attacks on electronic devices, and water cannons in freezing temperatures.
Local and state police and private security for the Energy Transfer Partners are dressed in riot gear and military body armor, while water protectors are dressed in appropriate civilian and culturally significant attire.
Water protectors who have been arrested have been strip searched and held in dog kennels.
Journalist covering the events have been targeted by police and security forces to cover up the violations of law and mistreatment of the water protectors.
Wesley Clark Jr., the son of US Army general, who was NATO Supreme Commander, and 2004 presidential candidate and Michael Wood Jr., a retired Baltimore police sergeant, are the organizers of the Veterans for Standing Rock. Both are veterans; Clark served in the Army, and Wood served in the Marines.
Clark and Wood recognized natives have served in the US military at a higher rate than all other ethnic demographics. But all veterans served to protect American freedoms, such as the right to peaceably assemble.
“The veterans saw state sanctioned agents injuring innocent people. They saw the water hoses spraying grandmother and people who should be respected. They heard the Morton County Sheriff’s Department saying they were extinguishing fires, which were outright lies,” Wood said.
From the Ho-Chunk Nation, Assistant Tribal Veterans Service Officer Pierre Decorah Jr. organized for a group of veterans to join forces with the 2,000 veterans who planned to stand on the front line to protect the water protectors.
The Ho-Chunk Nation Division of Veterans Affairs brought five veterans, but met additional veterans who were at Standing Rock.
“We wanted to answer the call for veterans to stand with Standing Rock to show support and stand in solidarity with the Sioux in opposition to the DAPL,” Decorah said.
“When we arrived, there were well over 1,500 veterans at the camp and an additional 1,500 pouring in at large volumes. I planned to do outreach once we were there, but there was so many veterans I wasn’t able to set up shop and service the veterans.”
For Decorah the highlight of the trip occurred when the veterans were put in formation and the message of the easement being denied was announced. He said most of the law enforcement departed the scene from then on.
“My feelings, weeks before, in preparation to face opposition, I felt confident we wouldn’t face oppression from the aggressors,” Decorah said.
“The whole reason we went there was to get that order from the president, and if need be, go to the front line to give the water protectors some rest.”
Decorah said he felt relieved to hear the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the easement to Energy Transfer Partners was announced on Sunday, December 4, just one day before a potential standoff between veterans and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
Wood remained skeptical of the denial of the easement
“They didn’t want to pit the veterans against the police and the sheriff department,” Wood said.
“Once it was real, and they saw the veterans coming to stand up for the people. That was the back down.”
One of the veterans who participated in the Veterans for Standing Rock was Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who represents Hawaii’s Second District. Gabbard is a major in Hawaii’s National Guard.
On December 1, Rep. Gabbard addressed the Dakota Access Pipeline on the floor of Congress. She called for President Obama to halt the construction of the pipeline.
In a YouTube statement, Gabbard announced that Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Archambault received notification from the US Army Corps of Engineers that the easement was denied for the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“He’s number one message was to deny the easement. And that is what happened here today. He was also successful in getting an Environment Impact Statement ordered for the entire pipeline. To date, there has only been an Environmental Assessment, which is no anywhere near as comprehensive as the EIS, the Environment Impact Statement,” Gabbard said.
“All the people here today, the many veterans who have gathered here, are celebrating. They are joyful that their stand for water, as water protectors, has been successful,” Gabbard said.
The Ho-Chunk Nation veterans’ trip was cut short due a blizzard. Road conditions for veterans who arrived on Monday, December 5, were dangerous from snow covered roads and gusting winds. The hour long ride from Mandan to the camp took over two hours to travel.
“The decision to join the veterans in Standing Rock was made before the inclement weather. But in the end, it was a safety issue to depart North Dakota a day earlier,” Decorah said.
Overall, Decorah believed the trip to be a success.
“We got to share our culture with the Sioux. We invited them to join us at our Ho-Chunk Nation camp,” Decorah said.
Wood thought that Energy Transfer Partners would try to come up with ways around the denial to keep their investors’ money, but wouldn’t be successful in doing so.
“It’s done. Worst case scenario; its two years from now. We’ll come back. If they think we’re not going to come back, they’re crazy. We’ll be organized by then. We weren’t organized this time. But, by then, we’ll be able to stop that again, with much less effort and fanfare,” Wood said.
Since easement denial and last blizzard, the camp still remains, and water protectors are still protecting and praying. Some have gone home for the time being.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Archambault has released a statement that it’s okay to go home for the holidays and get out of the extreme winter weather.
One of the main concerns is what will happen when President-elect Trump takes office. He has already made a statement about wanting the project to be completed and privatizing Indian reservation land to extract oil resources.
For now, the decision lies in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers and their Environmental Impact Statement for the entire 1,172 mile pipeline project. Most of which, has already been constructed.