'This was a battle won'
Photojournalist Russel Albert Daniels (Diné/Ho-Chunk) shares his powerful words and images from Standing Rock, where he was on-site earlier this month as news came in that the Dakota Access Pipeline had been denied a crucial permit to dig under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe.
Water protectors respond in celebration to the announcement from Chief Arvol Looking Horse that an easement for the pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe had been denied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, effectively halting the pipeline project for the time being. (Photo by Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.)
The sun was shining on the Oceti Sakowin Camp when I arrived.
Despite freezing temperatures, thousands of U.S. military veterans poured into camp that day--Sunday, Dec. 4--to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The veterans were called upon to lend support and relief to front-line water protectors from the government’s forcible eviction threat many feared would lead to violence.
I quickly discovered the unified energy that has kept this community together--the prayer and ceremony.
Volunteers erect a wall for a winter shelter. Temperatures are expected to fall to minus 30 degrees. Boxes of donations have poured in from across the globe. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.
Volunteers were busy delivering supplies, building structures for winter shelter, chopping firewood and organizing veteran actions. Numerous kitchens and mess halls bustled with hungry water protectors and large pots of coffee simmered near the Sacred Fire, where hundreds had gathered in prayer and song.
I overheard a blizzard was on its way.
By midafternoon, camp leaders around the Sacred Fire received an announcement from Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the 19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, that an easement for the pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe had been denied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Indigenous U.S. military veterans march peacefully through Oceti Sakowin Camp. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.
Hearing this news, the midday crowd burst into roars of joy and song. Though tempered by a deep skepticism, the celebration echoed throughout camp long into the night.
Months of grassroots organizing, unprecedented support from across the globe and non-violent direct action had paid off.
According to numerous water protectors and tribal leaders, this was a battle won--evidence of their prayers answered.
As I walked through camp that day, I wondered what this triumph would last and what it would mean in the months to come.
Vehicle headlights illuminate the side of a tipi while in the distance massive floodlights from a nearby Dakota Access Pipeline construction site keep the camp bathed in light through the night. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.
It seems obvious to me that energy development is driven by governments and production companies interested in extracting fossil fuels only, with little interest in protecting the environment and no interest whatsoever in protecting the sovereign rights of Indigenous peoples.
The powers behind the pipeline are determined to finish the last phase, regardless of the Army’s easement decision. And it’s a good bet President-elect Donald Trump will reverse any official decision against the pipeline.
But I also know that the movement and community happening here at Standing Rock will not give up on this fight to protect the water and land from oil and corruption. They are unified, determined and highly organized. They will defeat this pipeline and any others on the horizon.
Russel Albert Daniels is a photographer specializing in reportage and portraiture and works on documentary projects. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and more. See more of Daniels’ work at www.russeldaniels.com.
More photos from Daniels' trip to Standing Rock in early December.
Two dogs wait out a blizzard on what’s known as “Media Hill” in the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.
Volunteers deliver supplies needed to keep the camp going through the winter months. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.
A young horseman rides through the snow along N.D. Highway 1806. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.
Water protectors gather for a peaceful action on N.D. Highway 1806 south of Backwater Bridge. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.
Water protector Harold Diago from Miami, FL, waits with others for a peaceful action along N.D. Highway 1806. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.
U.S. military veterans march peacefully along N.D. Highway 1806 south of the Backwater Bridge near the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.
A view looking southeast atop Media Hill in the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.
Water protectors warm up in their car while checking for cell service during a blizzard. Russel Albert Daniels, Dec. 4, 2016.