I’ve never traveled anywhere as remote as The Standing Rock Reservation before. I left the San Francisco Bay Area at 7am on Saturday morning, and after 1000 miles and 18 hours of diving, I pulled over at a hotel for 4 hours of sleep and a shower. Unlike driving US 101 from Santa Cruz to Humboldt, once you pass Reno it’s mostly open space and sky, cities being the exception to the rule. When I left my hotel, it was still another 14 hours of open prairie, gold and silver sunlit fields rolling amidst pockets of purple and blue shade and snow, before I finally arrived at Standing Rock.

Sunset Standing Rock Reservation

The sun sets on a long cold day, Standing Rock Reservation, ND

It was well after dark as I approached- the glow of hundreds of fires lit the clouds orange, accented by the drifting smoke and occasional patches of bright northern stars. Traffic slowed to a crawl on the entrance, but it didn’t take long to cross the bridge and into the final approach of Camp Oceti Sakowin. Flags line the side of the road, brought by people from all over the world, flapping defiantly against the relentless wind. Camp streets fed off of the main entrance (Flag Row), twisting and feeding a fresh stream of food, firewood, and people into the camp.

Tesnts teepees snow

Teepees, tents and Media Hill, covered in snow and campfire smoke, Camp Oceti Sakowin, ND

At the suggestion of a friend, I landed at California Camp, a community within the larger camp oriented around a central kitchen, run by two very special ladies from Humboldt County. My first meal in camp was served to me there, a steaming plate of spiced rice and beans, along with a cold, shredded meat dish I can only relate to as something like a course pate- both were wonderful.

After dinner, the sounds of voices crying out in prayer, accompanied by drumming, drifted over the camp from a gathering place deep in the sprawl of flapping shelters and snow. One of the Sacred Fires burning in the camp was surrounded by people gathered to keep warm, listening to the prayers being offered and breathing in the cerimonial smoke of wood and green cedar. As I approached, an elder began to speak about the camp, it’s purpose, and the need to set a clear intention for being there. It was also a beautiful welcome, and reminder, that the land we were sharing is very old, rich with tradition, and constantly calling for awareness, respect and prayer.

Black snake NODAPL Art, Standing Rock

Artwork on a dumpster showing the “Black Snake” DAPL Pipeline.

I slept that first night in my SUV, and awoke to a snow covered landscape of tepees, yurts and large tents, each lined by rows of vehicles and scattered people walking determinedly through the snow. Everywhere I looked, there was work in progress. Structures were forming up, people were dragging sleds of supplies and donations, and smiling eyes and faces peeked out through winter clothing when you passed close enough to say hello.

man teepee firewood

A man stands in front of his teepee preparing firewood for the coming storm, Camp Oceti Sakowin, Standing Rock, ND

This first day was all about settling in. I got my press pass, delivered donations to different locations all over camp, ran errands and helped out with small projects, and set up my supply tent next to my SUV. This took all day. While I’ve lived in the snow and cold for years of my life, I was reminded how much 20 degree weather and 20 mph winds will slow everything down. Taking a glove off for too long can put a serious slowdown in your day, as freezing fingers (or toes) make the easiest tasks a serious effort.

The tents and shelters of Camp Oceti Sakowin under snow.

The tents and shelters of Camp Oceti Sakowin under snow.

After I finished with my errands, I sat at the sacred fire again, and listened to an Apache and Lakota elder share their experiences and insight. I recognized the passion in their voices, the desire that people hear the message they had to share, and I met their eye with hope that was able to hear them through the filter of my life and culture.

Dinner was back at California Kitchen, with people queued up in a twisting line among many more already settled into every available chair and empty space to eat. The conversation was wonderful. Everyone I spoke to was warm, interesting and kind. Young and old, faces of every shape and shade shared their calling to this camp, where they call home, and their journey to make it here.

veteran cooking standing rock

A veteran prepares food in a shelter during the veterans rally of December 2016

I can’t think of another time in recent memory that I met so many interesting people. Upon reflection, the decision and successful trip to get here filter out a tremendous number of people. Those who have arrived are engaged, passionate, and committed to building a better world. I only spoke with a small fraction of people, and wish there were more hours in the day to meet them all.

In every instance where people have spoke to a group, I’ve been surprised at the appreciation and gratitude that exists for each and every person. The sentiment is that if you have made it here, you have already started making a difference. I’ve never been in a place where that is the foundation of the community. No one is directing you through the day. No one is watching to see what you brought, how much you helped, or if you are strengthening the community. It is assumed that you are making a difference, and the effect is powerful.


After spending my first full day getting settled, I headed out yesterday to try and get a sense of what was going on in camp, and to see how I could help out. After walking around camp photographing for a while (no small task in sub zero temperatures), I ended up finding one of the HQ tents for the Veterans. Contrary to what I expected from military command structure, I found 6 vets of mixed age, huddled in a surplus tent around a wood stove, rapidly seeking solutions as many Veterans almost froze to death the evening before.
Tents in Camp Oceti Sakowin, Standing Rock North Dakota

Tents in Camp Oceti Sakowin, Standing Rock North Dakota

In addition to Veterans for Standing Rock, Veterans for Peace also organized a gathering this week, and was met by others coming solo and in small groups. Clearly, many Veterans heard the call, and decided to head up to assist the Water Protectors (the term for people standing up for water rights- protesters is never used). Unfortunately, most of them believed accommodations and support would be in place for them upon arrival. The result was that Veterans were walking around with no idea where to get a hot meal, where to sleep, and where to get warm clothing to deal with the sub zero temperatures.
I fell in with a young woman who was taking charge, introduced myself and what I was trying to do, and we agreed I could follow her as she went about her day. She was organizing a convoy of vehicles to head into Fort Yates on a supply run, seeking people with trucks and larger 4×4 vehicles who could bring back the many things needed in camp. After finding chains for a few of the vehicles, I saw that they were still short of cargo space, and volunteered to use my Nissan Pathfinder. We pulled out of camp just before sunset (3:34pm?) for a slow drive South on 1806 towards Fort Yates.
Sunset driving South on Highway 1806, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota

Sunset driving South on Highway 1806, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota

A few miles out of camp, a Bureau of Indian affairs truck pulled out and blocked the last 7 trucks in the convoy, leaving me and the two lead vehicles as the only to get through. Presumable they were stopped for public safety or concerns over road conditions, neither of which seemed like anything more than harassment given the task we were on. It was yet another indication that the presence of volunteers at Standing Rock is not universally encouraged, as can also be seen by the recent announcement by Lakota Chairman David Archambault.
The sunset over the gently rolling hills was a curtain of pink and purple, with the setting sun casting a vertical column of orange fire up into the sky. Sitting wide over the sun was a giant rainbow, blue and green emerging from a sky already swollen with orange, pink and purple.
Sunset on the Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota

Sunset on the Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota

We arrived at a small grocery store in Fort Yates, closed early for the day due to the blizzard freezing the area. We entered a nondescript door to the right of the building to find a large commercial space that had been transformed into a supply depot. Word had reached someone at camp that thousands of donations had piled up at the local post office, overwhelming them and their capabilities. A local business owner donated an empty building for the cause, and a bus of 25 volunteers from camp Oceti Sakowin arrived two days earlier and began unloading the trucks full of supplies.
Packages, cards and letters from all over the world had found their way to this depot, and were being sorted by the volunteers into different categories and rooms. We began loading portable space heaters, sub zero sleeping bags, cots, medical supplies and an assortment of other donations. I noticed a swat riot shield leaning against the wall next to a Kevlar armored body suit. There were countless mini first aid kits, gallon jugs of Milk of Magnesia (for treating people who were pepper sprayed), and thousands of survival blankets, all filling boxes and rooms to the ceiling.
I interviewed a number of the volunteers, all of whom had answered a public request in camp and had filled a school bus to head down. They had been sleeping in cots and cooking meals together, warm with a sense of purpose, shared experience and gratitude. They came from all over the world, and had organized themselves into a effective group, natural leaders rising to the task and accepted by the group for their vision and direction.
man holds sleeping bag

Derek Hasha delivering a sub zero sleeping bag to a waiting truck.

By the time I had finished the interviews, the other cars had long since headed off. I gave one of the volunteers a ride back to camp, and together we made the slow trip through the ice, snow and wind. In the pitch dark, there is a certain beauty to watching snow blow across the road, illuminated by the headlights of a vehicle. It pushes past in a long and steady stream, white ghostly whisps changing to thick flowing rivers, yet dry and cold enough not to stick to the road.
I unloaded supplies at the medical tent, and enjoyed a dinner in the company of the nurses, EMT’s and other volunteers who made up the primary care tent. The were using a yurt, wood burning stove in the center, and walls lined in shelves full of bottles, packages and bins for the injured and sick. Like the supply depot, each person volunteering at the tent was engaged, working long hours, and grateful to be in a place where their work is valued and desperately needed.
Doctor treating patient

Camp Doctor Sonia Shishido takes care of a medic who burned his hand rescuing people in a teepee fire.

I came back to my camp and transformed the Pathfinder from transport to workspace, and dumped data from my cards. As I reflected on the day’s events, I remembered the people I met, the work that was done, and began thinking about the clarity of purpose I had seen in all of them- the veterans who were finding solutions when camp leadership was unable or unwilling to do it- the volunteers who were helping to get supplies sorted and into the hands of those in need- the medics who were treating people for smoke inhalation, suicide watch, cuts, sickness and PTSD.
I don’t feel the same clarity in telling the story transpiring all around me. I feel a responsibility to share what’s happening, but in some ways i feel less sure than I did when I was at home, but for different reasons. Sure, I know the bigger events happening, and I also have a good idea what’s going to happen in the next few months. And before I move on to the ambiguity, let me be crystal clear about what is obvious here. There was no victory. Drilling and construction are still happening. The sheriffs department, private security and national guard are increasing their presence, building barracks to house thousands of people, and will wait until one morning just before dawn, after the satellite trucks have left, after the veterans have gone home, after most people have stopped thinking about Standing Rock, and will roll through camps with dogs, clubs, tear gas, rubber bullets and full riot gear, crushing the remaining people standing up for their water rights. The pipeline will be completed under the eye of our new President, and will at some not too distant point leak oil into the drinking water for millions of people. The oil will be exported for foreign sale, making a few people billions and doing nothing to stabilize local energy markets.
The shell of a burned out vehicle lies off 1806, buried in snow.

The shell of a burned out vehicle lies off 1806, buried in snow.

As for what I’m not sure about, I don’t know how much to share. It’s hard to distill the facts from the rumors. Some are easy enough. To the 15 people who sent me the video of the woman talking about planes spraying chemicals over camp all day, thanks, but that’s not happening. When the leaders of the vets rally left days ago while their guys were high and dry, we noticed and won’t forget. When a man registered at the Media tent with a Rolling Stone credential, and 3 days later seen in action footage attacking Water Protectors, we know you are walking among us. But, allegations of financial corruption are harder to pin down. While I spoke to people who said they had camp security enter their tests on the premise of searching for contraband, yet left with their tanks of propane, I’m not sure if I should believe them.
The Backwater Bridge on road 1806, blanketed in December snow.

The Backwater Bridge on road 1806, the site of violent attacks by law enforcement.

On one hand, I’ve never been to a place with such a high concentration of amazing people before. The generosity under adversity gives me hope for the future of the human race, as I know there are thousands of people who will stop at nothing to take care of their community. I can’t deny the call I felt to come here, a call I heard one elder say was a direct result of the prayers made every day in camp. On the other hand, I’m not sure how camp survival is affecting the global power dynamic. I’m not sure what will happen to the thousands of indigenous peoples who are living in third world conditions, as second class citizens, and without a rallying cry to gather public attention besides the fact that they continue to live in horrible poverty, in a country that has taken their land, and turned its back on millennia of culture and wisdom tradition.
Tomorrow is a new day. Despite the things I can’t see, I am grateful beyond words that I’m here, sub zero temperatures and all. I’m grateful I get to question, to watch, to help out, to make friends, and to share my thoughts with you. Please trust I’m staying warm, staying dry, and have the gear to be safe. Until we speak again, peace be with you.

Despite the cold, fatigue and reluctance to emerge from a mountain of blankets, I woke up feeling alive and invigorated following the success of the supply run the previous evening. I headed out into camp and began looking for people I had met the day before.

In a place as large, diverse and complex as Standing Rock, having a clear sense of purpose is a beautiful and precious thing. A frigid and horrible night for many veterans had rallied people to take action, and the abundance of donations and the donated time getting them where they needed to go meant that each sleeping bag, space heater and pair of socks helped another person avoid the dangers of Camp during the the winter cold.

firewood Camp Oceti Sakowin

A pile of firewood at Camp Oceti Sakowin

As I headed around and checked in with people, asking what was needed, a friend running a donations tent asked me if I could volunteer. I spent the next hour sorting through bags of donations, separating things into their respective groups.  There was a priority on insulated, waterproof/windproof jackets and pants (with very few items meeting that demand), and as I worked through the donations, sorting them into bags of like items, I felt a bit out of place. Every few minutes, the power was cutting out, dropping the tent into darkness and stopping the work. As I moved sorted bags into one corner and opened unsorted from another, the clarity of the previous day’s work left me feeling claustrophobic in the back of a dark tent. I felt strongly it wasn’t the right place for me to spend my day and I headed back out into the cold.

Continuing my rounds, I ran into a filmmaker named Todd who I had met a few days prior at dinner, and we shared updates about camp. Todd had been in camp for months, and was shooting and editing pieces for different media outlets, in addition to his own website, Media Bridge Dispatch. He invited me to follow him as he headed over to Camp Media in Cannonball, and offered to introduce me to the team.

Situated on the Standing Rock reservation a few miles South of Camp, the Cannonball Gym and Community center had been converted into an emergency shelter for those in need, and was also home to the group of volunteers who were running an official Media center for Camp Oceti Sakowin. When we arrived volunteers were packing up cots used the night before and stacking them along the back wall. People sat on the wooden bleachers, bundled in layers of clothes, talking in small groups, very aware of the uncertainty of their situation.

After meeting with the people in charge, I was invited to set-up my workstation to edit photos and video from. It was a relief to finally be meeting the people I’d wanted to connect with coming out, and would be able to help tell the stories I could feel happening all around me. My first project was to to edit footage shot a few weeks prior when 500 clergy of various faiths came out and marched together to support Camp Oceti Sakowin. I took notes on the interviews, and was moved by the many religious communities who had sent representatives so far and at such cost to this remote place.  It gave me hope that a tide was turning and the universal principles at the heart of the Standing Rock movement we’re being recognized and identified with by people everywhere.

I returned to camp that evening, shot some stills and video at dusk, and went to bed feeling incredibly grateful to have found a way to contribute. I knew I would finish the Clergy edit the next day, and could move on to editing the video I had shot at the supply depot a few days prior. Despite being an outsider, I had been welcomed into the team, and would be able to help inform people around the world as to what was happening in this isolated place.

As I headed to Camp Media the next morning, I began thinking about extending my stay. I had planned on leaving Saturday (3 days away), returning the Pathfinder and rented equipment on Monday. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt the connections, access and opportunity I was finding would make the additional financial commitment worth it. I was doing the work I had come so far to do, and had been supported and encouraged by many people to this purpose. I had only just settled in, and I began to see that by extending my stay, I could cover the unfolding story happening at camp, and the transitions taking place as the Veterans returned home.

As I began finishing up the clergy edit, a meeting was called for everyone in the media room. We gathered around and listened as a message from the tribal elders was shared with us. I listened with sadness as their request became clear. Camp Oceti Sakowin was refocusing its energy, and all non self sustaining, non essential people were being asked to leave. Two thirds of the portable toilets were being removed. Kitchens were closing. Another blizzard was scheduled to hit on Saturday, and people were being encouraged to evacuate before the snow and freezing temperature further endangered lives. A medic had died the previous night of a heart attack, and there was serious concern the stress of the situation might take others as well.

In 10 minutes, I went from thinking about staying for another week to being asked to leave. It was an emotional u-turn that left me with a serious decision. I finished editing the clergy project and decided to head back to camp, listening for direction that would lead me to the right decision. On my way back, I stopped at hill to the South of camp, and climbed up to take in the view.

Camp Oceti Sakowin Cannonball River Standing Rock

Prayer flags fly from a hill South of Camp, looking towards the hills North of Camp Oceti Sakowin

Struck in the frozen ground was a short marker, affixed with strips of colored fabric and blowing in the wind. I wondered if it was a sacred place, somewhere people had long been coming in prayer, gazing out as I did over the frozen Cannonball River.  Snow covered the landscape, and the only sounds were those of the wind, dancing across the ground under the expansive sky. It was beautiful, and yet totally incongruent with the violence sustained in the opposite hills. Though I couldn’t hear it, I knew a drill bit was penetrating deep into the dark earth, driving under the Missouri River, protected behind barbed wire and patrolled by law enforcement whose oath of protection was directly at odds to the threat they protected. How could I leave while so many things were left undone?

Camp Oceti Sakowin dusk sunset Standing Rock

Camp Oceti Sakowin at dusk, blanketed under snow.

Once back in Camp, I headed to California Kitchen to check in with some friends, and see what they were planning to do. While there, I was introduced to Patty Joseph, co-organizer of the kitchen. I had been hoping to meet her for a story I was working on for the Eureka Times Standard, and was grateful we were able to speak about the kitchen. She introduced her many children who were there helping out, and told me of the origins of the kitchen and the generous support that had come out of California. (Many of you have already read the article and interview so I won’t repeat it here, but you can read it here if you have not).

Patty Joseph woman in kitchen

Portrait of Patty Joseph in California Kitchen, Camp Oceti Sakowin

I also sat down with her son, Thomas Joseph II, and he began to tell me about the community of Hoopa where he was from. Located about an hour East of the Humboldt Cost, there remains an active an ongoing relationship with the land they live on. Like many Native communities, there is a high rate of unemployment, and the relationship and respect for the land comes from their history, sustained by the food they gathered and grew, and most importantly the fish in the rivers nearby. The choice to honor and respect the land wasn’t political, but fundamental to sustaining life. He told me that the previous year there hadn’t been a salmon run on the Trinity or Klamath River, and as canned salmon was the major source of protein throughout the year, many families would go hungry. Yet, these same families had generously donated much of what they had left and sent it to Standing Rock, supplies they had no way of replacing.

Listening to these stories, I felt the privilege of my life, and the one waiting for me back in Humboldt. While I felt called to see what was happening at Standing Rock out of curiosity and outrage of injustice, my life was still sufficiently insulated from the hardship and injustice this camp was formed to illuminate.

The conversation turned to the request that people leave camp, and I was grateful to hear what Thomas thought. He told me that he believed the elders weren’t telling people to leave, but to look inside themselves and ask where they should be. He told me that the elders had asked the Kitchen to remain and provide food for the tribal council and other essential services. He also told me that I was welcome any time, and that I could take my meals with the kitchen as long as I remained in camp. I watched him closely as he spoke to me, his eyes bright and lively. While he left me to make my own decision, I could feel the invitation and encouragement should i choose to stay.

Preparation for the evening meal had just been completed, and everyone in the kitchen stood for a prayer. As I had been cooking my own food to avoid burdening the camp, the sense of belonging and inclusion was emotionally powerful. Thomas’s sister sang a Paiute river song, and the waves and peaks of her voice filled filled my heart with a feeling of respect and reverence, underscoring the complexity of my decision.

After dinner, I walked to the Tribal Council Fire, set in a large open space and surrounded by seven tepees belonging to the elders of that council. It was the first time in over 150 years that this fire had been lit and this council convened. I was told charcoal is kept after the flame of each council is extinguished, and used to light the fire the next time it is lit. Between the song I had just heard, and sense of history and significance of the fire I was warming myself by, I knew I was only just getting to know the camp and its people. The moon shone brightly in the night sky, and I could feel the temperature dropping ahead of the coming storm. Despite scooting closer to the fire, I could feel my toes freezing in my boots.

When I awoke the next morning, the moisture from my breath had frozen the outer side of my down comforter into an icy shell. I struggled out of my sleeping bag to start the car and it didn’t want to turn over. The starter sounded like it was grinding in slow motion before finally catching, the engine sounding terrible. The thermometer read -18 (who knows what with windchill). I’d stayed up for a while the night before thinking about everything that was going on, and decided to sleep on it and make a decision in the morning. Now that morning had come, I felt how precarious my position was.

While I was mostly self sufficient, my safety net was also very thin. All my water had frozen. I was using the engine of my car as a generator for heat and to power my electronic devices, but I I didn’t know how much longer before my battery would freeze or a belt would snap. While I had a workstation at the community center to edit on, it was brutally hard to shoot in -20 degree weather, and I knew I hadn’t gotten much for stills and videos as it was. I also knew it would cost around $1000 to stay out for another week, and having just moved to a new place and not started my business yet, I made a tough decision.

I broke down my supply tent, donated the last of my propane and food, and began saying my goodbyes. I hugged the wonderful people I’d met, and drove down to Cannonball where I packed up my workstation. By 1pm I was sitting at the restaurant in the casino, and began writing my article for the Eureka Times Standard. I caravanned with friends from Santa Cruz out of town, and that night made it to a hotel near Sturgis, South Dakota. All day and hours through snow and storm got me to Salt Lake City the next night, another full day to Reno and another back to Santa Cruz.

I had plenty of time to think on the drive home, and have had a lot more in the last 40 since. Almost everyone I knew who left when I did came home very sick. California Camp closed down a week after I left and has setup in Southern Oregon near another pipeline build. Camp population dropped from around 7,000 while the Veterans were around to about 1000. I’ve stayed in contact with many people I met, and have continued to ask the question that drove me in the first place- “What’s going on at Standing Rock?”

I felt a responsibility going out to see firsthand. I felt like I owed it to myself, and the people who supported my trip, to shed some light on what was going on. Beyond that, I tried to go up with an open mind. I wanted to be of service and help those in the know get the right stories out. I don’t think I expected to change things, but the feeling of unfinished business has made me wonder. Maybe it’s because the issues at stake won’t be resolved with this pipeline, whatever the fate. Perhaps I have too much respect for the people who gave food and money they couldn’t afford to support the camp, to go back to a life oblivious to these realities.

I remember a few days after I returned, I got frustrated speaking to someone when they called me an activist. Standing up for clean water and protecting your land from Corporate violation isn’t activism, to me it’s human decency. The normalization of violation and the othering of integrity is unacceptable to me. It was a similar frustration when I found out the editor at the Eureka Times Standard changed the title of my article (without asking me) to “Locals make stand at pipeline protest”, after specifically having a conversation with her about the importance of not using the word protest in the article.

It may seem to some that it’s semantic, but to me it’s symbolic and fundamental. To frame Standing Rock as a protest is to position it against something, versus it being FOR something that is being threatened by those who would seek to exploit for personal profit. But this reversal is exactly the way this situation is being framed in the media.

While doing research for this dispatch, I spoke with friends on the Media team in Camp to see how things are going. I heard that they had managed to get a drone up in the air on December 29th, but that it had been shot down and the operator arrested.  But, the footage had been livestreamed back to camp, and would be released in the next few days.  Needless to say, construction continues.

This isn’t an isolated situation without connection to the greater country. In the last two years, there have been over 300 oil spills in North Dakota, according records obtained by the Associated Press. None were reported to the public. The Missouri river brings water to millions of people, far beyond the Standing Rock Reservation, and the issues aren’t isolated to this remote place in North Dakota. Now that President Trump has approved the completion of the DAPL and Keystone XL pipelines, the power of profit and greed at the expense of public health and liberty threatens us all.

I wish I had a better way to end this dispatch.  I’ve been sitting with it for weeks now looking at different ways I might write about it or put it in perspective.  Meanwhile, it falls deeper back into my memory, and current events call much of my attention.

To those of you who supported my trip, thank you.  I have been honored to carry your donations and well wishes with me.  It has meant so much that you trusted me with this task, and for the time that it was mine to carry, I hope I have done right by all of you.

As you may know, there are still people out at Standing Rock. If you would like to contribute to their efforts, I recommend the following three areas:

  1. If you would like to see a drone back up in the air, an Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran I met at Camp, Terrence Daniels, has started a GoFundMe page (  to directly support getting a drone back in the air to show what’s going on. You can see him discussing the complications faced in camp during this interview with The Young Turks

  1. If you would like to support the Medical Fund in camp, you can donate here:

  1. If you would like to support the legal defense fund in camp, you can donate here:

At the time I would not recommend donating to the general camp fund.  If you are inclined to donate it’s best to get the funds directly to the people who need them.  There have been repeated allegations that donation money was diverted from reaching it’s intended destination.

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