Regular caravans to North Dakota
By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
As temperatures along the border between North and South Dakota have plummeted and winter has settled in firmly in the region, the conduit carrying supplies, vehicles and people between Carbondale and the besieged Standing Rock Indian reservation has grown and deepened.
According to Tim Brogdon of Carbondale, a lead organizer of caravans that have for months been headed for Standing Rock, “The weather is absolutely brutal.”
But, he added, the level of support from the Roaring Fork Valley “is even more intense, it just keeps getting bigger.”
He said that locals Russ Criswell and David Avalos, who returned to Carbondale from Standing Rock on Dec. 20, temperatures at the area where three camps house “water protectors” fighting against an oil pipeline had fallen to 35 degrees below zero at the end of last week.
The water protectors, as they call themselves, since last April have been protesting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been routed through what the Standing Rock Sioux tribe say are sacred lands to the Sioux nation.
In addition, the tribe believes the pipeline, if it ruptures or leaks, would pollute the Missouri River, which is the tribe’s only supply of water, not to mention water that serves millions of users downstream in other states.
Weather a hindrance
Brogdon, who has made several trips to the Standing Rock area to deliver loads of supplies and help out in other ways, said the weather has moderated somewhat, with temperatures getting up around 20-degrees above zero in recent days. But forecasts predict another storm in the near future, which could dump as much as 18 inches of snow on the region and bring another round of deep-freeze, Brogdon said.
He said there are as many as “somewhere just under 1,000” people camped out, building makeshift winter quarters and working to keep things organized at three camps that remain at the site.
Among other efforts, he said, camp organizers are hoping to get their hands on Mongolian yurts — sturdy, tent-like structures made of yak hides — which are known to stand up well to severe winter conditions.
Also recently returned to the Roaring Fork Valley, Brogdon said, was Aspen native Moses Greengrass, who reported that the connection between the valley and the reservation has taken on some surprisingly visible aspects, such as the fact that he saw a number of people wearing knit caps bearing the legend, AVSC, for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.
Greengrass, according to Brogdon, plans to head back up to Standing Rock soon with yet another load of firewood.
“Six cords of wood will last a couple of days,” Brogdon remarked, after explaining that the donations of winter clothing, building materials and other goods have been welcomed warmly in the camps.
Brogdon, who was supposed to hit the road again last week, was stopped by the onslaught of heavy snow and cold temperatures here in the valley.
Which, he said, was OK, because “I can do a lot more good organizing things down here than I can up there. Still, he said, he plans to depart next Monday, with former KDNK station manager Steve Skinner, this time with a truck donated by Pete Voorhees of Aspen Property Management, and a snowmobile from Carbondale business owner Jacob Woods, which is earmarked for use by the medics in the camps.
Relief efforts broaden
The number of people from this region signing on to the relief effort has been growing steadily, Brogdon noted, specifically spotlighting work by political activist Sonja Linman, who has been collecting winter gear and helping to organize convoys.
In particular, Brogdon noted the help offered by a newcomer to Carbondale, Gabby Bedeian, who moved here from Pennsylvania about three months ago and has dived into the Standing Rock support effort.
“She’s become my absolute foundation, organization-wise,” Brogdon said, explaining that Bedeian has helped organize the collections of goods in the valley and has spent weeks at Standing Rock, where she reportedly became an indispensible organizer.
“She really helped run that encampment, that compound,” he said, referring to the Oceti Oyate camp (the others are called Sacred Stone and Rosebud), adding that Standing Rock Sioux elders Phyllis and Amos Bald Eagle have declared her to be “the only one that does any real work.”
The support for the Standing Rock effort has broadened around the country as well as in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Numerous other pipeline projects through Native American tribal lands have become the focus of protests.
In addition, the Standing Rock cause has, in some cases, become blended with others, such as the upsurge of disaffection and demonstrations against president-elect Donald Trump.
Last weekend, singer Fiona Apple, at a Standing Rock benefit concert in Los Angeles, sang a parody Christmas song, “Trump’s nuts roasting on an open fire,” sung to the tune of the Christmas standard, “Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire.”
According to a story published by The Huffington Post, the song brought down the house at the concert venue.
Among the recent developments related to the Standing Rock situation, have been indications that the Dakota Access Pipeline company (DAP) and Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), which is building the pipeline, both may be in legal hot water.
According to an online article posted by Clark Williams-Derry, who works for a think-tank known as Sightline Institute — which watches over energy, economic and environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest — the two companies have been accused of lying about a supposed Jan. 1, 2017 deadline for completion of the pipeline.
The article charges that the companies have been telling federal judges that the deadline represents possible financial ruin, as it is tied to delivery contracts for oil that is to flow from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to a pipeline junction in Illinois.
At the same time, according to the article, the two companies have been telling reporters that the deadline is not that big of a problem, and that the delivery contracts are tied to dates later in 2017.
The pipeline itself is about 95 percent finished, except for the short stretch that is to be routed underneath the Missouri River.
Williams-Derry, in his article, argued that the companies have to be more honest in their pronouncements, or face a backlash from investors.
On a different front, several hundred water protectors who have been arrested by state and county police are now headed for trial, and according to online accounts have not been able to obtain adequate legal representation for their defense.
According to a report by Democracy Now!, the broadcast and online news organization run by veteran journalist Amy Goodman, a prosecutor in North Dakota is trying to convince a judge to exclude any testimony about the pipeline itself, as well as anything about the reasons behind Native American resistance to the project, many of which have to do with Native American sovereignty.
Published in The Sopris Sun on December 22, 2016.