About 50 people gathered in Paonia last week to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's ongoing protests of the Dakota Access Pipe Line in North Dakota. Marchers, many of whom are involved in efforts to keep hydraulic fracturing out of the North Fork area and away from local water sources, carried signs, burned sweet grass and shouted the "Water is life" mantra of the Standing Rock protestors.
Calling it a "grave injustice and a crime against the future," public lands consultant Pete Kolbenschlag drew parallels between the threat of oil and gas development in the North Fork and Standing Rock areas. "The struggles that they're facing are not unrelated to the struggles that we're facing here," he said. It's really about "putting the priority back on people over profit."
The proposed pipeline would transport crude oil beneath the Missouri River. The protestors, who call themselves defenders of water, or "water protectors," say that pipeline easements have not been granted and argue that a break in the pipeline would contaminate water on tribal lands and compromise water in tributaries used by an estimated 15 million people living downstream.
"We're fighting their battle, and we're also fighting our own battle," said protest organizer Birdie Kuhl. "I think we need to convey that today."
Sergeant Neil Ferguson with the Paonia Police Department said there were no problems associated with the protest. They called ahead and let the department know what they were doing, said Ferguson. "They did it the right way."
Protests at Standing Rock, which have attracted people from throughout the country and the world, are expected to continue through the winter. Since protests began last spring, North Fork residents have made numerous trips to deliver supplies to the camps and have established a North Fork camp.
Deliveries have included food, medical supplies, clothing, building materials, firewood and fuel. A Go Fund Me drive to provide solar-powered lights was spearheaded by Gerald Castillo with Solar Energy International. The drive quickly surpassed the goal of $1,000, and Castillo delivered 65 25-lumen (No Kerosene) lights made by the Denver-based company Nokero in early November.
With money saved on a special deal with Nokero, they were able to purchase wool socks and other items from an army surplus store, said Castillo through Facebook messaging. Deliveries of non-perishable foods donated by Hardin's Natural Foods and a 12-volt photovoltaic system built on site with supplies donated by Kris Sutton at SEI and Brad Burritt with Empowered Energy Systems were also delivered.
Paonia EMT and biologist Niki Carpenter made the 17-hour drive to deliver medical and other supplies to Standing Rock. For 10 days she volunteered in a medic tent in the Rosebud Camp on reservation lands located on the south side of the Missouri River. The main camp, where the actual protests are taking place, is located on the north side of the river, said Carpenter.
During her 10 days at Standing Rock, temperatures fell into the mid-teens. She said EMTs, paramedics, doctors and nurses treated cases of hypothermia and burns from camp fires and stoves. They also treated people with asthma, coughs and colds and pneumonia, whose breathing problems were exasperated by smoke from campfires and wood stoves.
Carpenter said she received $500 in donations to purchase veterinary and medical supplies. She also carried clothing, personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, soap, condoms, feminine hygiene products, and canvas tents and wood stoves, all donated by people in the North Fork area. As they head into winter the protestors and support teams now need to focus on staying warm, said Carpenter. They need shelters that can withstand the North Dakota cold, wind and heavy snow, as well as cots, bedrolls and sleeping bags.
Carpenter said she went to Standing Rock out of curiosity after seeing conflicting information between social media and the mainstream media. She also believes the rights of indigenous people have been ignored for generations. "I felt like it was my duty to go and offer what I could," she said.
She was surprised to hear protesters say they harbor no ill will toward the opposition and pray that the pipeline workers and armed forces have a change of heart. "They are willing to die for what they believe," she said. "But they aren't willing to kill for it."
Those wanting to donate cash, Lowe's gift cards for purchasing building supplies, or other items can drop them off at The Trading Post. A steady flow of people from the North Fork area has traveled to Standing Rock, said Kuhl. They are asking for winter clothing and outerwear, blankets, non-perishable food, straw bales and firewood. Local mechanic Mike Straub and Carmela Courtney are heading north after Thanksgiving with a load of wood and straw bails and are accepting donations of both, as well as contributions to cover fuel costs.
The Facebook page North Fork Water Lovers provides information on the protests, links to resources, materials needed, drop-off points, and anticipated delivery dates. Photos from Standing Rock and a short videos of the local protest are also posted on the page.