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Ashlanders join Standing Rock protest

Ashland residents have joined in the fight to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across historic tribal lands about a half mile north of the Standing Rock Reservation on the west bank of the Missouri River in North Dakota.

They've contributed money, supplies and their presence to Water Protectors, a coalition of Native American tribes, environmental groups and citizens protesting against the 1,134-mile oil line since last spring.

Ashland teacher Louise Paré, who brought supplies and prepared meals at the protest in September, said pipelines often leak and threaten water supplies for millions of people on waterways.

Paré lived for 12 years in Bismarck, North Dakota, about 40 miles north of Standing Rock, and taught a few times at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. She moved to Ashland in 2005.

“I came (to the protest) because I have to be there. It’s because of water and how oil leaks always happen and poison the water,” Paré said. “It’s such a sea-change moment because the tribes across the country have been divided historically and this is the first time in 100 or more years they’ve come together and dropped their differences. All their flags are flying, like the U.N., 120 different nations. This movement is grounded in prayer and spirituality, non-violent.” 

Paré will give an hourlong Standing Rock report at noon Sunday, Nov. 6, at Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, 87 Fourth St., Ashland. She will address how water issues there tie in with Oregon’s and will give a visual presentation of her time there.

Traveling to Standing Rock Reservation with elders from the Nez Perce, Warm Springs and Klamath Tribes, Ashlander Shane Smith brought food, blankets, wood stoves and $1,800 he collected from local donors, including funds raised through the Native American Student Union at Southern Oregon University and from members of the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission.

They camped on the front lines, in the path of where the pipeline is being built and where Water Protectors were trying to “peacefully and non-violently set up a camp based on their 1851 treaty rights,” Smith said.

They were confronted by 300 police in full riot gear, plus pipeline company officers who “surrounded us all day, using every non-lethal device to disperse people and tear down the camp, which they succeeded in doing," Smith said.

The group spent five hours there, “which was chaos, like being in the eye of the storm, with the elders wanting to be there, conducting prayer services while others erected blockades and were dealing with violence from the police, which was verbal abuse at first. The police became aggressive and violent, with two helicopters and a plane swooping down on us," Smith said.

"They flew all night, harassing the camps and people. They were armed to the teeth with batons, shotguns and automatic rifles, as well as beanbag guns and sound weapons to create mass confusion and smoke bombs with pellets to create chaos.” 

Water Protectors set up blockades against the pipeline builders, using vehicles and debris. Smith and his group helped feed camp medics, who were set up nearby, aiding protesters who came in with welts and bruises from rubber bullets or rashes from Mace, he said. One man had his horse shot out from under him with rubber bullets, Smith said. 

“During all this, the elders were deep in prayer, including prayers for the militarized police,” Smith said. “The camp worked very well, in a spirit of solidarity and peace. It was not an unorganized riot. The spirit was very powerful and peaceful. All the violence was coming from the North Dakota police and corporate militia.”

The project carries a significant spiritual dimension for all participants, Smith said, noting, “For myself, I feel that once we defeat this pipeline, we can go to other places and stand up for the rights of the indigenous community and the Earth. This is a jumping-off point that is part of a larger, spiritually based movement to protect future generations and water.”

Smith plans to head back to Standing Rock on Tuesday. He can be contacted at 541-631-8730.

Ashlander Oshana Catranides also volunteered at kitchen duty in September at Standing Rock, participating in prayer walks after pipeline crews disturbed graves on Lakota treaty lands, she said.

“The mood was definitely hopeful, welcoming and accepting of all races and nationalities, although that increased the volatility of emotions,” Catranides said. “There was gratitude and empowerment, as people set aside past prejudices and fixed on the goal of protecting water for future generations.”

Without her conducting any formal fundraising, people gave her $2,400 for the trip, she said.

A group of locals supporting the Water Keeper protest has a Facebook page named Solidarity with Standing Rock — No Dakota Access Pipeline — Southern Oregon.

Meredith Pech, deacon of Ashland’s Trinity Episcopal Church, was in North Dakota and getting ready Wednesday to join 300 protesters on the front lines, wearing clergy attire to underline their religious purpose and to make the use of batons and spray less likely.

“I went because I was called to stand in solidarity with Native Americans as keepers of the water and earth,” she said in a phone interview from Standing Rock. “I’ve worked with the Paiute in Burns. Our history is that we make agreements and definitely don’t honor any of them in any way, so this is an opportunity for us to make it right.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Louise Paré