Letter from Standing Rock

I came into North Dakota quietly yesterday under cover of an overcast sky and fog, and decided to hold off going into the camp after dark. The local news has been more extensive than what we have seen — and shame on all the media, national and local, for failing to cover this story! — showing scenes of the camp and giving more details on local activities.

I spoke with the bartender at this hotel and she talked about the vitriol toward the Indians on Facebook and her own negativity about the protectors coming up to Mandam (about 30 miles north, near Bismarck) a few days ago and stopping traffic. She knows a local, rural police officer who is being called up because those who have come in from around the state are exhausted. She did not say so — they are so polite! — but I am sure she did not approve of what the protectors were doing, even though she understood that the pipeline people were overkilling this in how they were handling it.

A youngish-looking man next to me was on a two-day layover because of the weather. He pilots a Cessna 182 following the pipelines between Iowa and Canada checking for incidents or leaks. Nothing has happened that he recalled. He checks the farmers in particular because this is the season when they lay tiles on their dirt to protect it from erosion, and often that operation is near a pipeline. He said all of the crude in the pipes in this part of the Midwest goes to refineries near Gary and Chicago.


The drive across North Dakota was through a vast, flat black dirt area of large neat farmlands, mottled here and there by small stands of birch and other trees and the farms and silos waiting for the winter winds. I was struck by how neat this area and Minnesota were compared to our area, and the genuine niceness of the people. Yet at the same time in Minnesota in particular I was driving next to huge electric lines — the new 135-footers they are trying to bring down to Pleasant Valley these days — and how they were built right alongside and often through developments, as though they went hand in hand.

The news from the camps is one of cheerful anticipation, not a resignation but a readiness to meet the winter on its terms. The protectors also want to protect the visitors. I do not think they will get violent when the Army Corps of Engineers comes to remove the camp next Monday, but if the ACE leaves it to the local authorities or the company then it may get violent and very messy.

I am staying at the casino ten miles away tonight and tomorrow, and have to leave early on Wednesday because ten to 14 inches of snow are coming on Thursday. That should put a crimp in the ACE’s plans! Last night the casino had a big concert fundraiser for the protectors.

I am worried about my cargo — the chocolates and hay, mainly — because of the rain, and will delay unloading if that is what the Oceti decide.

It was quite amazing what Rae did at Lucky Chocolates, on virtually no notice, creating 50 pounds of a new small chocolate bar she calls Standing Rock Bark. Each box has a note in it explaining the ingredients and their relationship to the cause. She is remaining open in

Saugerties, in a little shop as you go into the municipal parking lot.

I stopped in Mankato, Minnesota, earlier at the memorial to the 38 Sioux who were hanged in 1862, the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The memorial, created in 1998, still draws resentments from some of the old farm families whose great-grandfather families were killed by the Indians in that war. But it something that the state also accepts and embraces, for they (like Wisconsin it seems) have a kind regard for the Native history after all.

I came to Standing Rock because Chief Gus High Eagle came through the Hudson Valley in 2013 with his Unity Riders to ride their beautiful horses in support of the Two Row Wampum paddle down the Hudson commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first agreement between Native Americans and Europeans near Albany in April 1613. (I did some original research on that and included it in my first history volume.)

That August I watched High Eagle, Haudenosaunee Chief Oren Lyons and Pete Seeger standing on the dais at the Two Row festival in Beacon, and later Pete and I talked and he told me of Toshi’s passing the year before.

In the flat black vastness of time we lose our heroes and our icons, but we are never left without them in the new manifestations that arise. Perhaps among our new heroes are the children who walk the rain-drenched fields of Oceti Nation today.

One thing’s for sure. We haven’t made a good thing of it ourselves in our ways of life. But thank you so much to those of you who contributed to make this trip of mine possible.

We advance by small degrees. I will be delivering more than $1000 in cash in addition to the chocolates and hay when I arrive there later today.

A funny thing happened about 30 miles from the North Dakota border in Minnesota. I stopped at a rest area and asked the attendant how far it was to Bismarck. “Well, it’s as far as it’s going to take you to get there,” he said. He pointed to a distance sheet on the wall — 250 miles, it said.

We talked and when he figured out my background he said his son had taught at West Point for three years, a major, so he knew about the Hudson Valley. I told him about my books and he got interested and soon gave me a check for the first volume! He said he didn’t want to spend the full $80 because it would take him a while to finish that one. Just let me know, I said, and we departed friends.

I am socked in by a storm at Cannon Ball, N.D., and cannot leave before

tomorrow. I was going to try, but heard some horror snow stories in the lobby here in the casino. It’s hard for anyone to get even the eight miles to the camps, and some pickups with chains are going off the road. A guy coming from Missouri said he hit South Dakota at nine last night and just arrived at ten this morning. The weather said maybe three up to twelve inches more today, and of course the drifting in these flatlands is bad. Cars all over the road.

Hey, at least I have a room!

Actions by the governor are generating some consternation. Unlike

the Army Corps of Engineers, he is sick enough to send in the troops to remove all these folks. Mary reported that legal moves are afoot to get an injunction against both him and the ACE. There are many people here from the camps or trying to get to them, and I am talking with them.


The scene at the camp yesterday was very moving, the row of flags — more than 100 of them — on the muddy road in, the camps on either side, a central tent with a young man giving announcements. Two people need a ride to Bismarck. Food is coming for any who come here; it’s here now. A constant stream of announcements like that.

I talked to a young Oceli couple who are working with his father to bring supplies in for “the visitors,” those coming in support of the protectors but not used to the severe winters. That is where I left our contribution, a large green tent partway filled with the hay, the chocolates, the coffee, the butane burner, the sleeping bags and other small things that I had brought. I had done a slow-cooker meat loaf and made sandwiches for myself while I was here, and I gave those to them, seven large sandwiches wrapped in foil — and immediately the woman opened one and began eating it, and got her young husband one, too.

I drove around part of the camp and learned where certain — oops, have to go. My time may have expired. Will get back to you all.

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