A local political consultant and social engineer recently returned from North Dakota, eager to head west again as an ally to the native residents there and a protector for clean water in the movement to reroute the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Jessie Dryden was spurred to join the movement by local issues with clean water, the impact of the pipeline and fossil fuels on our environment and the potential consequences in the area from a pipeline that crosses underneath the Mississippi River at Keokuk, Iowa, running parallel to the river before terminating at a refinery in Illinois. Dryden’s expertise and background is grounded in sustainable practices and promoting peace through diverse groups communicating their ideas together.
"I felt the call to be present in a spiritual sense, too," she said.
When Dryden arrived at the Seven Council Fires campsite in North Dakota on Nov. 11, she was immediately struck by the spiritual power in the camp, coupled with a surreal separation — a camp filled with about 10,000 people from all over the world, peacefully praying together under colorful flags visible in the daylight — and the constant presence of powerful floodlights at night, a "militarized" response from 76 sheriff’s departments, with snipers along the ridges and facial-recognition equipment constantly recording people’s faces.
Despite a Monday deadline to leave, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their supporters said they will remain at The Seven Council Fires campsite, after celebrating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision on Sunday to deny the permit to install a section of Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The group waited to see if President-elect Donald Trump would overturn the permit denial and the backing from President Barack Obama’s administration.
Authorities said they would not forcibly remove members of the camp, but Dryden said the intimidation factor was ever-present. She talked with journalists who lost video footage, campers who had trouble using their phones and a reporter from Canada who had the SIM card removed from his phone when authorities found he was covering the events at the camp.
Tribe members and their supporters said the pipeline project would harm the water source for the tribe and disturb cultural sites in the area. The four-state project is mostly complete, except for the portion that was slated to run under Lake Oahe. Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Joe-Ellen Darcy said in a release that her decision reflected the need to "explore alternate routes." The measure doesn’t fully rule out passing the pipeline under the reservoir or north of Bismarck, N.D.
As news of the permit denial spread through the camp, cheers of "mni wichoni" — "water is life" in Lakota Sioux — and drumming filled the camp. Dryden said the decision was a small victory on the way toward building communication between groups and arriving at a peaceful conclusion to protect clean water and the tribe’s sacred spaces.
The demonstrators’ jubilation differed from reactions expressed by Energy Transfer Partners officials, who said the denial of the permit was a politically-motivated measure to delay the project until Obama leaves office. Trump is a supporter of the project, but it was unclear what steps his administration could take to reverse the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision or what a time frame would be.
Dryden said the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners company would continue with the pipeline project regardless of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ denial of the permit to run the pipeline under Lake Oahe. Company representatives said in a release that they expected to complete the project without rerouting the pipeline: "Nothing this administration has done [Sunday] changes that in any way."
Dryden plans to return to the camp soon to join the daily efforts to "hold the space in prayer." She said the tribe’s youth have stepped up to lead the camp, making sure that everyone there follows rules that outline peaceful actions like forming a human shield in front of the prayer groups each day. For Dryden, the diversity within the camp underscored the need for all the stakeholders involved with the Dakota Access Pipeline project to come together in peace.
"We just need to forge that path together," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at email@example.com