Feb 20, 2017 by

By Donald Kaufman   TRUTHDIG

  The Oceti Sakowin Camp, the home base of the #NoDAPL movement, now feels like a ghost town. (Donald Kaufman / Truthdig)

Editor’s note: The sources interviewed here want to remain anonymous due to pending legal trials and fear of police and judicial repercussions.

CANNON BALL, N.D.— Native Americans and fellow activists gathered around small fires in the Oceti Sakowin Camp on Sunday night and sang songs in a nostalgic and bittersweet ceremony. These demonstrators opposing the Dakota Access pipeline, who call themselves “water protectors,” felt this was a last stand.

Nightly rituals of song, speech, dance and gatherings by firelight used to involve thousands at this camp, but that number has dwindled to around 50 people—many of whom have been subjected to police violence and have spent time in jail. The national media has all but vanished. Cold winds blow through the vast, empty plains.

  Campfire ceremonies at the Oceti Sakowin Camp are smaller than they used to be, but they still bring hope and excitement to water protectors. (Donald Kaufman / Truthdig)

Altogether, hundreds of people remain at the Standing Rock camps, but Oceti Sakowin—once a vibrant center for the #NoDAPL movement—now feels like a ghost town. Police stop and check all vehicles approaching the camp. No one is allowed to bring camping gear, including sleeping bags, to the site.

Many water protectors anticipate a raid this Wednesday. Authorities are expected to force evacuations from the camps. Resistance is likely, and many demonstrators fear it may be brutally crushed. When asked about the approaching action, a water protector said people feel “estranged, vulnerable, [like they’re] facing a wolves’ den. … I feel betrayed.”

During the day, water protectors work urgently to remove the makeshift homes, leftover supplies and trash from Oceti Sakowin, before the police come. These people working together in muddy, cold and chaotic conditions feel anxiety and fear. Many longtime campers are plagued by coughs. One speaker around the fire said that he regularly coughs up blood, and that he was told that it was caused by Rozol, a chemical used to kill rats, moles and other animals. No independent sources verified whether the poison was used on activists, but The Bismarck Tribune reported that Rozol had killed wildlife at the nearby Cannonball Ranch.

  A makeshift home is dismantled at the Oceti Sakowin Camp. (Donald Kaufman / Truthdig)

Law enforcement officers have arrived from all across the country. They include National Park Service rangers, who were told to bring riot gear, night vision and thermal scopes.

“The police are working as state enforcers of corporate greed and exploitation,” an activist told Truthdig about the police presence. “I wish it wasn’t that way. I can’t construe it any other way. They are literally standing between the peoples of this land and the project [the pipeline] that’s going through it.”

  Outside the road at the Oceti Sakowin Camp, police line up after a short ceremony of women showing their kids how to set up a tepee. They were able to construct the wood structure for one tepee before being forced to take it down. (Donald Kaufman / Truthdig)

Adding to the grim atmosphere, the FBI has launched a terrorism task force to investigate Standing Rock activists, The Guardian reported last week.

On Sunday night, the music, which helped campers bond over the past many months, brought smiles and laughter to the 50 people at Oceti Sakowin. A storm is coming, and no one at camp is delusional about what lies ahead. The immediate outcome of their resistance no longer drives them. Instead, they focus on a moral line they have drawn between what they believe is right and what they believe is wrong.

  The water protectors in North Dakoa realize they may lose the #NoDAPL fight. (Donald Kaufman / Truthdig)

They accept that the United States government will vanquish the camp. But the stand of the water protectors, as Chris Hedges described in his book “Wages of Rebellion,” has a greater purpose than preventing an oil pipeline from being built:

If you fought for righteousness, you would always be assured of spiritual victory, even if you were defeated in the eyes of the world.

The feeling of hope and excitement that intoxicated the pipeline opponents months ago was revisited around the fire. “I think people are anxious but happy, just full of resolve,” said a water protector living at an adjacent camp in Sacred Stone.

  The #NoDAPL resistance has sparked a movement that could end future oil projects. (Donald Kaufman / Truthdig)

The demonstrators trust that the #NoDAPL movement will lead to something important. Terrence Daniels, a technology activist who has been staying at Standing Rock since August, believes that the actions of the water protectors will increase awareness of the rights of Native Americans and help end destructive oil practices. Daniels said, “Your enemies fight their hardest at their last, and that’s one of the things we are seeing here.”

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