Standing Rock Transitions

Rev. Karen Brammer, Standing Rock, part 10

I am en route to my home in NY State.  Last night I stayed at the UU Church and Fellowship of Bismarck and Mandan to answer calls of folks in need of emergency housing. (It was also really helpful to park the car close to the best-maintained roads. Snow removal and ice management is no small thing in a North Dakota blizzard. )

Yesterday Rev. Karen Van Fossan and I spent the day making calls and taking requests for emergency housing. The blizzard caused the closure of major highways and country roads alike, and forced travelers off the road. Thousands of those travelers were leaving Standing Rock camps as requested by Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault.

Throughout the day we learned scattered details. Some of that information came from organizations and leaders the congregation had not had contact with before, but who knew the local Unitarian Universalists were a center of connection and service to Oceti Sakowin.

We learned that thousands of folks went to Prairie Knights Casino (native owned and run) not far from camp. Prairie Knights was running low on blankets and food yesterday afternoon. The community centers in Cannon Ball and Fort Yates opened up for folks to bed down in relative warmth. The Red Cross and Standing Rock Council were working to coordinate trailer-based bedding for 100. By midafternoon, the roads into and out of camp were closed and snowplows were pulled off the road because of bad drifting.

At the church we got a call from Mandan emergency management asking if we could help 25 people who were ferried, we think, from stranded cars to the local high school for the night. The owner of a local motel called hoping we would have places for people to stay since she was getting up to 10 calls an hour from folks coming out of camp, and the local shelter was not open. Her motel was full and most of the other motels in the area were as well.

At the airport early this morning, I saw many folks from Standing Rock camps curled up on couches and in sleeping bags on the floor. They had a long night, but at least a safe one. On the plane, one man walked by with a bandaged hand, recovering from frostbite on his fingers. His glove got wet. 

Our interfaith yurt ran out of fuel, so folks had to go elsewhere. Theoretically they should have had enough for three days, but more was needed than anticipated with a temp of 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and a constant wind chill of 25 degrees below zero.

All the same, an unknown number of hearty folks will do their best to remain at camp, and hold it steady into the winter. While Council leadership is clear about leaving camp, camp leadership is concerned that when President Elect Trump is sworn into office, construction will resume. Many are also concerned that the drilling has not actually stopped. At least for the time being, the camp will stay open with drastically reduced numbers.

It has been a lot easier to write about the blizzard-induced housing and transportation crisis than the near-total evacuation of camp. Even though I have been part of this only two weeks, it is painful to end this extraordinary chapter of collaboration, cross-cultural learning, hard work, prayerful risk-taking and beauty.  I have a hard time imagining what transition will be like for those who have been doing this since spring.

I’ve never been great at sitting with not knowing what comes next in nonviolent organizing, so I anticipate it will not be easy for me this time.  Following the lessons of Oceti Sakowin Camp and Rev Karen Van Fossan, I will do my best to pray and listen well until I see where my foot should go next. I’ll do that alone and within community, trusting the next best local step will become clear.

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