In an effort to keep water protectors safe and warm at Standing Rock in the midst of the #NoDAPL movement, two Pacific Northwest natives have joined forces to bring shelter to the camp.
Paul Cheyok’ten Wagner, a Native American from the Saanich First Nations of Vancouver Island, is the inventor of what has been coined the “tarpee,” a low budget contemporary teepee made from heavy duty polyethylene tarp and 16-foot-long two-by-four poles.
During his first visit to Standing Rock a few months ago, Wagner experienced the cold first hand — which led him to invent the tarpee.
“I realized people are going to freeze, they’re going to burn out.”
“I realized people are going to freeze, they’re going to burn out, their morales are going to burn out,” he said. “People are going to leave.”
Wagner started praying to the spirits for a solution to deal with the reality of the harsh North Dakota winter.
“I should’ve built a model first, but I just was doing it on faith,” he said. “It’s my concept, a spirit spoke to me about it.”
When I talked to Wagner last week, 30 tarpees had already been built, with six more under construction to be finished that same week. The goal is to finish the 60 tarpees they already have material for by the time winter sets in.
“It’s all been done by volunteer labor though, like in Seattle,” he said.
Wagner’s efforts have been boosted by Gofundme donations, as well as a crew made up of volunteers from Seattle, and wood burning barrel stoves made by local Georgetown bicycle fabrication company Cyclefab.
Akram Ziada, from Leavenworth, is part of the tarpee crew, he also started a Facebook group out of Seattle for ride-shares and donations to Standing Rock.
“So far the people from Seattle have brought out here at least five or six [pick-up] truck loads full,” Ziada said. “We’ve brought out a lot of the building material and supplies for the tarpee project.”
Ziada said he comes from a family of activists, and when he noticed how many people from the Seattle area wanted to help, but didn’t know how, he felt compelled to change that.
“They had lots of donations and it’s not like they could just mail them, it would cost hundreds of dollars,” he said. “I thought ‘there’s gotta be a way to set something up and get people involved.’”
Wagner and Ziada joined forces to not only get tarpee materials out to Standing Rock, but donations as well — everything from blankets to stoves.
The tarpee project has three or four drivers with truckloads of donations arriving this week, all from Seattle.
Although North Dakota’s Gov. Jack Dalrymple has ordered the water protectors to leave camp, citing the harsh winter conditions as a safety risk, the tarpee is performing quite well in the weather.
“Seattle, Washington state in general, has been one of the largest solidarity supporters for donations and volunteers out here,” said Ziada. “There’s been many amazing people from many amazing states, but Seattle seems to be one of the strongest ones.”
So far the Gofundme page for the tarpee project, formally known as “Winter Shelter for Standing Rock!” has almost reached their goal of $50,000.
Although North Dakota’s Gov. Jack Dalrymple has ordered the water protectors to leave camp, citing the harsh winter conditions as a safety risk, the tarpees are performing quite well in the weather.
On Monday night Ziada reported via Facebook that winds were reaching 35 mph and the temperature was negative one degrees Fahrenheit. But inside the tarpee was a different story.
“I’m here in bed, in my tarpee, just in boxers and no blankets melting my ass off,” Ziada said. “Governor says evacuate, my ass. Come make me.”
We’ve updated this post to specify Paul Cheyok’ten Wagner’s tribal affiliation.