SACRED STONE CAMP, NORTH DAKOTA, U.S. — A cold wind swept furiously through the Sacred Stone Camp, the site in North Dakota where activists and supporters have settled in camping tents to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. People walking on the camp’s dirt roads pause as the wind sends pebbles up to slap their legs.
At the clothing donations tent, Lissa Yellowbird-Chase sorts through bins and cardboard boxes. Winter clothing is an urgent need, she says. The nights are getting colder and are expected to get colder still as winter approaches, and the winds will only intensify, she says.
Since August, Yellowbird-Chase has been driving three hours every weekend from her home in Fargo, North Dakota to the camp to donate clothing she gathers from her community. Many people have come from far away to stay at the camp through the winter and for as long as the pipeline construction continues, so there’s a great need to help them keep warm and healthy, she says.
There are many other volunteers like her who travel to camp to contribute, she says.
Others send financial or in-kind donations that are often coordinated via social media.
“I’m doing this until the very end,” Yellowbird-Chase says.
Sacred Stone Camp has grown to hundreds or thousands of people — the number shifts daily — as supporters from around the world continue to join the members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, an indigenous nation based on its reservation within North Dakota, and other tribal nations within the U.S. in the fight against the pipeline.
Members of the Standing Rock tribal nation worry that an oil spill from that pipeline could contaminate the Missouri River, which is their main source of water.
But the looming change of seasons could pose a new challenge for the camp. Winter in North Dakota can be harsh. Heavy snow, ice and rainstorms are common, and temperatures often remain below freezing for weeks or even months on end. As the camp prepares for the cold, people are taking on specific jobs to ensure that their movement continues.
An engineer by trade, Paul Freeman, along with friends, brought a water filtration truck from Tennessee, more than 1,000 miles away, to make the river water potable for camp residents. The truck currently provides water to the small kitchens that have been set up at the camp, he says. In September, he started a page on GoFundMe, a fundraising website, which continues to furnish money for maintenance and supplies. He has since received more than $2,600.
Freeman, with a team of workers, is building a straw bale barn, using those donated funds, that will provide an insulated space to park the truck and keep it from freezing during the winter, he says. The space will also be a gathering area for people to stay warm and enjoy hot tea or coffee.
“I feel that I was magnetically drawn here; it was pulling on my heartstrings,” Freeman says. “My whole life has just been preparing to get here. So now I’m here, and so it feels really good.”
Freeman is also building domes to serve as small housing spaces in the camp, and he just completed a second Ecoshell dome, designed for use as housing in developing nations. Each dome costs a little less than $500 to build and is about 20 feet in diameter. These domes are all funded by online donations. Freeman, working with a team, can build one in a day, he says, and he hopes to continue building more to provide shelters at the camp.
Online donations have also helped supply a medic tent, says Stephen Campbell, a retired registered nurse who joined the movement. Donations come via cash, or supplies that arrive “by the truckload,” he says. Campbell says he has more than 20 years of experience working in emergency rooms, but he’s seldom seen a facility better staffed or equipped than the Sacred Stone medic tent.
“The response has been overwhelming,” he says.
Regina Randall believes people contribute services and supplies because they recognize the significance of this movement.
The camp’s official GoFundMe page has received more than $1.5 million since April.
Randall arrived at the camp in September with six others who brought food donations.
She has since coordinated her own fundraisers to keep supplies coming, and she travels back and forth from New York to transport funds and goods.
Randall has helped the operation grow from a donations center to include a kitchen and a dining hall. Many people drop off food contributions at the camp, and online donations through a GoFundMe page have totaled more than $5,000.
Randall expects to stay at the camp at least through January. The winter will be no obstacle, she says, as long as there are people dedicated to preserving what is sacred to them.
“We’re blessed here,” Randall says. “That’s something the world needs to know, that prayer is our main priority here.”
This article was published through a partnership with Global Press Journal.