Chad Oliveira couldn’t stand it any longer. He had been hearing about the plight of the water protectors of the Standing Rock Reservation since October.
“It was bothering me,” he said. “I didn’t see a lot about it except on social media. Weeks went by. After the election, I decided I had to go see for myself.”
The Standing Rock protests, also called the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, began in spring 2016 to stop construction of an oil pipeline from western North Dakota to southern Illinois, crossing beneath the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, as well as under part of Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles North Dakota and South Dakota. The people of Standing Rock, often called Sioux, are members of the Dakota and Lakota nations.
Many in the Standing Rock tribe consider the pipeline and its intended crossing of the Missouri River a threat to their water and to ancient burial grounds. In April, tribe members established a protest camp near the path of the pipeline, attracting thousands of people. In late October, armed soldiers and police with riot gear and military equipment cleared an encampment that was directly in the pipeline's path. Police use of water cannons on protesters in below-freezing temperatures drew national media attention.
Oliveira, a 42-year-old self-described hippie, posted his plans to travel to Standing Rock on Facebook in November and was surprised by the outpouring of local support. “The response was pretty incredible, some from people I didn’t know,” he said.
He drove to Puyallup, Milton, Covington and Auburn to pick up donations of money, food, blankets, hand warmers, warm clothing, flashlights, gloves, hats, propane and firewood. In Spokane, he picked up Dawn Dearmin, who was on his swim team in fifth grade, to make the trip with him and deliver donations from her side of the state.
They spent a night in Bozeman, Montana, before dropping down into Wyoming to avoid roadblocks in South Dakota. With his pickup and canopy fully loaded, Oliveira underestimated his mileage and ran out of gas before crossing the state line. A trooper delayed the trip for three hours to make sure there was no driver impairment after Oliveira mentioned he is approved to use medical marijuana in Washington.
Oliveira and Dearmin arrived at the reservation about 10 a.m. Dec. 4. “On Flag Row, there was a line of cars with people from all over: Arizona, California, New Mexico,” he said. “We stopped at the area where the veterans were gathered. Some of the people had been there for five and a half months. We gave our supplies to the Elders. I gave my heater to a water protector.”
He estimated there were between 7,000 and 10,000 people at the protest, served by at least five mess tents, some army tents and some wood structures. “It was really uplifting to go in and see people working together, genuinely helping each other,” he said.
The day of their arrival, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement for construction of the pipeline to continue under the Missouri River. Oliveira said there was confusion in the camp after the announcement.
“None of them believed it,” he said. “They aren’t leaving.”
It was already windy and cold when Oliveira and Dearmin arrived and a blizzard was on the way. “We stayed less than 24 hours,” he said. “We didn’t want to use any of their resources.”
More support from the Key Peninsula came from Jeffrey Jay and Liz Franklin, who traveled to Standing Rock earlier in the fall. “We made a journey to show solidarity with those on the front line at a time Sioux Indians said they needed this,” Franklin said.
“We need to pay attention,” Oliveira said. “It’s happening in our country. These are our citizens. They are being hurt.”
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