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Seminoles stand with Standing Rock Sioux in pipeline battle

Martha Tommie holds the Seminole flag high as water protectors protest the DAPL on a recently bulldozed area in North Dakota. The sign on the bulldozer reads “water is our first medicine.” Photo courtesy Martha Tommie)
Martha Tommie holds the Seminole flag high as water protectors protest the DAPL on a recently bulldozed area in North Dakota. The sign on the bulldozer reads “water is our first medicine.” Photo courtesy Martha Tommie)

Seminole Tribal citizens joined forces with thousands of Native Americans from the U.S. and Canada to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their effort to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across the Missouri River – the tribe’s main source of water – in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Martha Tommie, Theresa Frost, Joe Osceola Jr. and others stayed at the 80-acre Sacred Stone Camp and brought plenty of provisions to keep the large impromptu encampment going strong. Frost and Tommie’s group left from the Brighton Reservation in a caravan of vehicles loaded with food, water, tarps, tents and propane. Osceola left from Hollywood and loaded his SUV with supplies on the road to North Dakota.

The Seminole flag flies over the Tribal citizens’ area of the Sacred Stone campground in North Dakota. (Photo courtesy of Martha Tommie)
The Seminole flag flies over the Tribal citizens’ area of the Sacred Stone campground in North Dakota. (Photo courtesy of Martha Tommie)

“We understand the fight for clean water,” Osceola said. “They know it [the pipeline] will breach sometime; they just don’t know when.”

The camp, which has existed since April, has no running water or electricity and relies on the use of expensive portable toilets. The camp also has a school and an emergency clinic. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people were there during Labor Day weekend and organizers said it was the first time so many Tribal Nations have come together in one place. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said about 250 tribes were represented.

When Frost’s group arrived at the encampment after the 2,100-mile trip from Brighton, they were welcomed with open arms. Camp organizers announced their arrival and made a speech about the Seminoles’ unconquered status.

“You could feel the medicine; it was so strong there. There was not one negative or bad feeling in the camp,” Frost said. “Knowing we were there gave people so much hope, it was awesome. People had such great things to say about our people.”

The battle to prevent construction of the DAPL has been waged on the ground and in the courts.

In July, the Standing Rock Sioux filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. challenging U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant DAPL permits to cross the river. The lawsuit contends the project violates federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, and will disturb sacred Tribal sites off the reservation.

On Sept. 2, the tribe filed court papers that identified the locations of burial grounds and sacred sites on private land near the reservation. The following day, a brigade of bulldozers dug up two miles of the land in preparation for the pipeline and destroyed the sites. Protestors, who call themselves water protectors, confronted DAPL’s attack dog-wielding private security guards. The dogs bit some people and the guards used pepper spray on others.

Frost was present during the confrontation, but was unharmed. She said “her heart just crumbled” and she is still crying over it.

“There was an old lady in Indian dress, sage in one hand and medicine bag in the other,” Frost recalled. “She wasn’t scared; that woman was so brave. Young boys followed her and she told them to knock the fence down. She walked over to the bulldozers and they brought out the dogs. They didn’t attack her but she didn’t flinch. I learned right there that I wasn’t as strong as I thought I could be, I was thinking about my kids back home.”

Tommie is still stunned. She expected they would peacefully talk about water and how many lives will be impacted by the pipeline, but she never thought she would witness anything like the confrontation at the DAPL site.

American Indian Movement founder Dennis Banks, left, with Joe Osceola Jr. at the protest site against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Tribal reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. (Photo courtesy Joe Osceola Jr.)
American Indian Movement founder Dennis Banks, left, with Joe Osceola Jr. at the protest site against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Tribal reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. (Photo courtesy Joe Osceola Jr.)

“I was standing on enemy lines and they turned out the dogs,” she said. “It was traumatizing. I was staring down a Rottweiler and prayed it wouldn’t get away. I thought about my grandbabies’ future when I was up there. I have to look out for them. We are able to stand up and fight, sitting back and not doing anything isn’t right. I fight for them to have a good life.”

A temporary halt to construction on a portion of the pipeline was issued by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on Sept. 6, but in a ruling Sept. 9 against the Standing Rock Sioux, the judge allowed construction to proceed. Moments after the ruling, however, three U.S. departments — Army, Interior and Justice — issued a joint statement that the construction would not be authorized for now at Lake Oahe, which serves as a reservoir near the Missouri River.

The statement read: “The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

In a Sept. 13 memo to employees, Kelcy Warren, chairman and chief executive officer of Energy Transfer, the company building the DAPL, wrote that the company is committed to completing construction.

“We intend to meet with officials in Washington to understand their position and reiterate our commitment to bring the Dakota Access Pipeline into operation,” Warren wrote.

The $3.8 billion 1,172-mile pipeline is slated to carry about a half-million barrels per day of Bakken crude oil across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. The lawsuit claims the pipeline, which will cross the Missouri River less than a mile upstream from the reservation, could impact the drinking for the 8,000-member tribe and millions of others downstream who rely on it for clean water.

Joe Osceola, Jr. went to North Dakota because they needed supplies and support from other Native Americans. When he arrived, he went to the center of the bustling camp. The organizers required everyone to sign in so they knew how many people were there. Osceola met Standing Rock Sioux Councilman James D. Dunn, who was surprised someone would come from so far away.

“He told me they were supposed to run the pipeline near Bismarck but the people there didn’t want it,” he said. “So they moved it close to the Indians.”

Osceola joined the crowd Sept. 3 as they walked to the pipeline site. Along the way he met American Indian Movement founder Dennis Banks. They marched together for a while, but Osceola didn’t go to where the bulldozers were working.

“I’ve been all over the country to a lot of Native American conventions,” he said. “But this was a whole lot different. They said it was the first time in history so many tribal nations have come together in one place. It felt great and it made me feel proud. There are so many Native tribes that really care about the environment and this country doesn’t take care of it. They think it’s okay to dump stuff into the rivers and air with no consequences. I don’t believe non-Indians understand how Native people think about the environment; we have only one mother earth. When that goes away we will have nothing. When there is no more water, what are you going to drink? Oil?”

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Sam Osceola and Alvin Buster, second and third from left, grab a bite to eat with others at the Sacred Stone Camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. (Photo courtesy Martha Tommie)
Sam Osceola and Alvin Buster, second and third from left, grab a bite to eat with others at the Sacred Stone Camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. (Photo courtesy Martha Tommie)
Behind Joe Osceola, Jr., in foreground, “water protectors” demonstrate against the DAPL in North Dakota. American Indian Movement founder Dennis Banks holds a staff as he leads the crowd. (Photo courtesy Joe Osceola Jr.)
Behind Joe Osceola, Jr., in foreground, “water protectors” demonstrate against the DAPL in North Dakota. American Indian Movement founder Dennis Banks holds a staff as he leads the crowd. (Photo courtesy Joe Osceola Jr.)
From left, Theresa Frost, Annette Jones and Martha Tommie display their support in North Dakota. (Photo courtesy Theresa Frost)
From left, Theresa Frost, Annette Jones and Martha Tommie display their support in North Dakota. (Photo courtesy Theresa Frost)
Martha Tommie holds the Seminole flag near the Missouri River in North Dakota. (Photo courtesy Martha Tommie)
Martha Tommie holds the Seminole flag near the Missouri River in North Dakota. (Photo courtesy Martha Tommie)
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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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