Standing Rock Spawned a Generation of Water Protectors. Now They’re on the Move.

Blocking pipelines from coast to coast.

Joseph Bullington

Protesters picket outside of Wells Fargo because of the bank's connection to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

BIS­MAR­CK, N.D. — Forty miles north of where the Stand­ing Rock resis­tance camps once stood, Matt Lone Bear and Carter Gun­der­son crouch on the curb, chang­ing the brakes on a Chevy Blaz­er. As they wres­tle a worn rotor off the axle, they dis­cuss their plans. They’ll stick around until their court dates lat­er in June, then hit the road for a tour of the Stand­ing Rock dias­po­ra — camps that have sprung up across the coun­try to oppose fos­sil fuel projects, liv­ing on after the bat­tle against the Dako­ta Access Pipeline (DAPL).

There are water protectors in the spirit of Standing Rock, there’s a population center to draw on for mass actions, and it’s in the Northwest, where an anarchist-tinged direct-action culture thrives.

To the east, in Hunt­ing­don Coun­ty, Penn., the Ger­hart fam­i­ly and their sup­port­ers have formed Camp White Pine on fam­i­ly prop­er­ty, which lies in the path of the Mariner East 2 nat­ur­al gas pipeline. The pipeline’s own­er, Ener­gy Trans­fer Part­ners — the same com­pa­ny behind DAPL — has invoked emi­nent domain to cross the prop­er­ty, but con­struc­tion faces resis­tance in the form of tree sits and oth­er direct actions. Far­ther east, in Mah­wah, N.J., the Native-led Split Rock Sweet­wa­ter Prayer Camp stands in the way of the Pil­grim pipeline. The camp’s Face­book page declares sol­i­dar­i­ty with Stand­ing Rock & all who resist the black snake worldwide.”

Lone Bear and Gun­der­son, how­ev­er, think the next flash­point is in Taco­ma, Wash., where Above: Water pro­tec­tors hold­ing a cer­e­mo­ny on the banks of the Can­non Ball Riv­er were met by riot police who shot rub­ber bul­lets at point-blank range on Nov. 2, 2016. the Puyallup tribe and envi­ron­men­tal groups are resist­ing a liqui­fied nat­ur­al gas plant.

Taco­ma seems like it’s got the con­flu­ence of all these trends in Amer­i­can resis­tance,” says Gun­der­son: There are water pro­tec­tors in the spir­it of Stand­ing Rock, there’s a pop­u­la­tion cen­ter to draw on for mass actions, and it’s in the North­west, where an anar­chist-tinged direct-action cul­ture thrives.

Lone Bear and Gun­der­son make unlike­ly friends. Gun­der­son, 26 and white, grew up in the wealthy Min­neapo­lis sub­urb of Edi­na — Audi Ara­bia,” he calls it. Lone Bear, 30, a father of four and a mem­ber of the Hidat­sa tribe, grew up on the Fort Berthold Reser­va­tion, north of Bis­mar­ck. Their paths might nev­er have crossed had they not been locked in the same jail cell Oct. 22, 2016, after police sur­round­ed a prayer march south of the DAPL con­struc­tion area and arrest­ed 126 peo­ple. Held in an out-of-use rec room, they passed the time play­ing bas­ket­ball with a san­dal. And, says Gun­der­son, We talked a lot. We basi­cal­ly talked about every­thing you could talk about.” Two days lat­er they were arraigned on charges of crim­i­nal tres­pass­ing and engag­ing in a riot, and released on $250 bail.

Dozens of these cas­es have been dropped for lack of evi­dence. When Gun­der­son returned to North Dako­ta for his June 22 tri­al, he refused a pre­tri­al deal — and 12 hours before the tri­al, he learned the charges had been dropped. 

Lone Bear went to tri­al June 29. He para­phras­es the judge, who had heard the pre­vi­ous cas­es from the mass arrest: Did you guys bring any new evi­dence? No? Well, we’re not going to go through all that again.” The judge found Lone Bear not guilty.

Sam Say­lor of the Water Pro­tec­tor Legal Col­lec­tive calls the prosecution’s strat­e­gy finan­cial war­fare.” They’re try­ing to extract as much pain” as pos­si­ble, he says, so they can get pleas.” The goal, he thinks, is to dis­cour­age future protest and recoup some of the mon­ey spent polic­ing the resis­tance. The Mor­ton Coun­ty State Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Of the 750 or so peo­ple arrest­ed for try­ing to stop the pipeline from cross­ing the Mis­souri riv­er, more than 400 still face crim­i­nal charges, says Saylor. 

Still, the spir­it of Stand­ing Rock has spread through­out the coun­try — and repres­sive polic­ing and sur­veil­lance meth­ods have fol­lowed. In May, The Inter­cept report­ed that local, state and fed­er­al police coor­di­nat­ed with a mer­ce­nary secu­ri­ty group called Tiger­Swan — hired by the pipeline com­pa­ny to sur­veil, infil­trate and thwart the #NoDAPL move­ment. Tiger­Swan is cur­rent­ly mon­i­tor­ing the oppo­si­tion to the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Pennsylvania.

A Tiger­Swan Sit­u­a­tion Report,” dat­ed Oct. 3, 2016, reads: Exploita­tion of ongo­ing native ver­sus non-native rifts, and trib­al rifts between peace­ful and vio­lent ele­ments is crit­i­cal in our effort to dele­git­imize the anti­DAPL move­ment.” A Feb­ru­ary 27 com­pa­ny report brags about their proven method of defeat­ing pipeline insurgencies.”

For Lone Bear, in light of the Tiger­Swan rev­e­la­tions, it’s all the more impor­tant to stand togeth­er. That’s why he’s head­ing to Taco­ma. A lot of Native peo­ple at Stand­ing Rock were from Wash­ing­ton state. I feel like I need to return the favor.”

Joseph Bulling­ton grew up in the Smith Riv­er water­shed near White Sul­phur Springs, Mon­tana. He lives now in Liv­ingston, where he works as an inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist, part-time ranch hand and the edi­tor of Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times.
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