Rumors threaten Standing Rock and activist unity against the Dakota Access Pipeline

By C.S. Hagen 
CANNON BALL – Rumors, like the Wiindigo, are never full. They prey on the weak, devouring their kill, always hungry, gluttonous yet emaciated. 

The legendary, cannibalistic being strikes mainly during lonely winters. According to Algonquian lore it stalks the northern forests around the Great Lakes. Like rumors, the Wiindigo is difficult to kill, as its powers rise with every victim it devours. 

The rumors surrounding Standing Rock’s fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline are not unlike the Wiindigo legends, Winona Laduke, a long time activist said. Laduke is an economist, and two-time vice presidential candidate for Ralph Nader’s Green Party. She is also the executive director for Honor the Earth, a non-profit advocate for indigenous environmental support.

“The winter of the North Country is unforgiving, and here on my own Round Lake, the Winndigo once came and ate a man and his family,” Laduke said. “That man became the Wiindigo. That is the time now, crazy actions occur. A man on my reservation starves his three horses to death, despite many friends. At the Oceti Sakowin Camp, a woman ties her dementia plagued mother onto a chair, and leaves her, without help. It is a time when we do things we regret.” 

No excuses for such strange behaviors, Laduke said, but part of being human is to be weak. 

“In the midst of this there is no question that there is chaos, there is no question that some people are infiltrators and some are profiting off the backs of this on the front line. And who is best served by all this? The answer: North Dakota’s energy empire, the Trump Administration, and, of course, Energy Transfer Partners.”

“Not afraid to look” sculpture overlooking Oceti Sakowin by Charles Rencountre (with Charles Rencountre and LaDonna Allard)- photo provided by Winona Laduke

From the beginning of Standing Rock’s fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, much emphasis has been given to remaining peaceful. Those arrested for civil disobedience such as disobeying police orders or trespassing, are forms of free speech, activists say. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault encouraged civil disobedience from the beginning, and was himself arrested after trespassing on August 12, 2016. 

While the majority of activists have been peacefully protesting, even while under constant threat from Morton County’s militarized police force armed with pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, some have fought back using taunts, razor wire, stones, and fire, according to authorities. Supporters attribute violent actions to agitators and federal infiltrators; the authorities use the violence as propaganda and make more arrests.

“When you are standing up against a billion dollar corporation, this is how they work,” LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard, who owns land the Sacred Stone Camp is on, said in an interview with The Young Turks. “They go into the communities and spread gossip and rumor. That’s what I am worried about. For me I will stand with anybody who stands with the water.”

Since early August, tens of thousands of people from across the world have travelled to Standing Rock, and a total of 696 arrests have been made. 

Some of the rumors include monies donated to Standing Rock’s fight. Others have used isolated actions by people inside the camps, such as the case of Kathleen Bennett, who allegedly restrained and abused her 82-year-old mother at Oceti Sakowin, as a reflection on the movement and the tribe as a whole. 

“For years, the dearth of infrastructure and poverty of Standing Rock have made it a poster child for what’s messed up in the US,” Laduke said. More than 80 percent of people in Standing Rock live below the poverty level, she said. 

“Every year it seems, people freeze to death on Standing Rock, and frankly no one noticed until now.” 

As of January 25, 2017, more than 300 GoFundMe accounts raised a total of $8,061,614 for activists and the camps. Suspicions have been raised by Morton County Sheriff’s Department on how the monies have been spent. State and county officials have made threats in the past saying those donating funds are supporting terrorist causes. 

Standing Rock issued a statement late December 2016 saying that monies it received have gone toward funding legal fees, camp infrastructure, waste management, and outdoor restrooms. 

Standing Rock supporters point to approximately $6 million donated to the tribe that is unaccountable, and are demanding that all expenditures need to be documented and made public so not to tarnish the movement. 

“The stench of malfeasance doesn’t smell any better just because it emanates from an ally,” activist Joshua Smith, from Iowa, said. “I do have to say they are still on the forefront of the legal battle challenging DAPL in court. Lateral violence is when two different factions within a given movement criticize the other in a manner which creates division and also provides those opposed to the movement reasoning to criticize us.” 

Monies have been used to bail people out, and with nearly 700 arrested, “that’s a lot of cash bail,” Laduke said. “There were drones purchased, each time the police shot down a drone, we purchased another one because someone has to keep an eye from the air. 

“A lot of people had to be fed.” 


Competing narratives exist now at what remains of the camps at Standing Rock. Archambault has asked activists to leave since shortly after December 4, 2016, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered Energy Transfer Partners to halt work on the Dakota Access Pipeline, concurrently ordering an environmental impact statement to be done along parts of the pipeline’s route. 

Some say the Standing Rock Tribal Council sold the activists, or water protectors, out. Others say Archambault is looking out for the safety of his tribe. Either way, Archambault’s tone has changed since the warmer, summer months. The fight is no longer at Standing Rock, but in Washington D.C., he says.

“This pipeline is not going to kill our nation, this pipeline is not going to destroy America,” Archambault said recently on The Rock Report. “This one pipeline where people refuse to leave is not going to be detrimental to our nation.”

Water protectors’ job at Standing Rock is done, he said. The tribe has stopped supporting activists camped near the reservation, along the north side of the Cannon Ball River near to the Missouri River where the Dakota Access Pipeline plans to dig under Lake Oahe. 

“I’m not asking it to end, I’m saying that the fight is not here.” 

On February 2, Archambault posted to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Facebook page, saying that he had met with Governor Doug Burgum, whose stance against the tribe is much different than his predecessor, Jack Dalrymple. 

“There is great contrast to the previous state leaderships, these visits show that he is willing to work for all citizens of North Dakota, including tribal communities. I commend the governor for his efforts and look forward to finding solutions with him.” 

“You are a betrayer of your people,” a netizen said said on the tribe’s Facebook page. “Hang your head low. We all know you sold yourself out for money. May the demise of clean water haunt your conscience.” 

The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is just one of many fights across the nation and Canada, Archambault said. The DAPL controversy became high profile for a simple reason. 

“Standing Rock. Water is Life. Taglines. It’s easy. We can have all the water in the world and we’re not creating a better future for our kids. Water is a source of life. It is not life.” 

Allard feels betrayed, she said on her Facebook page. She said that she is not a leader, but began her fight against the pipeline because her son, Philip Levon, is buried near the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

“It has been a hard night. All I can say is we must pray hard. How do we find that unity again? How do we stand together against the Black Snake? We must stand together. I don’t have the answers. All I have is prayer.” 

Allard has been suffering from ill health, and on the day police officers and agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs entered her land at the Sacred Stone Camp, along the south side of Cannon Ball River, she was en route to a hospital with her husband, also in poor health. 

News that agents entered her land on February 2, after she denied them entry, surprised her, she said in an interview with The Young Turks. Allard and family own more than 300 acres on the south side of Cannon Ball River, where her Sacred Stone Camp is still set up. She heard rumors that Archambault authorized the federal incursion onto her lands because he said he also is a land owner there. 

“At no time did Chairman Archambault own any portion of this land,” Allard said. “What are they talking about, the Archambaults own land here? They do not.” Archambault’s wife, Nicole, is Allard’s cousin, who owns land to graze horses nearby, but not on the Sacred Stone Camp.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe disagreed. “There are two tracts of land: Army Corps of Engineers holds title to one, and the Tribe holds majority ownership of the other. Sacred Stone Camp leaders were made aware of the need for an assessment earlier this week and agreed to a site visit.” 

Allard went home and rifled through land leases, of which she personally owns three acres. The rest of the land is owned by family members, and a tribal trust – held in trust by the United States government. 

“The Archambaults hold no trust here. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe holds trust here, that does not mean the Archambaults hold land here.” Without warrants, Archambault had no right to authorize the “raid” into Sacred Stone Camp, she said. 

“The chairman did not become Trump, and Trump still does not understand his position. I am still trying to figure out how to make peace with this. There should have never been the tribe against the water protectors. We should be standing together in a unified front. What we have is gossip and rumor dividing the people. It’s like when the fur traders were here, and the fur traders again started to gossip and rumor to divide the people. And that is where we are again.” 

She sleeps little at night, stays up worrying and praying.

Another rumor circulating around Sacred Stone Camp include a pending threat of forced removal by federal officers.

The fight is growing, Allard said, and it is not only about water or sacred lands any longer. North Dakota politicians have submitted legislation to give state government more control over reservation land and mineral rights, to run over protesters on public roads, to lessen the responsibilities of corporations to report oil spills, and to criminalize ski masks in public places. 

“I will stand, and I will not back down.” 

This summer, Allard plans to start a summer camp for youth to teach history, how to live responsibly, and how to heal. 

“I don’t need any people to come and defend me, I need people to come and defend the water. I also need people to support the tribe hoping the tribe makes better decisions, and that the tribe will stand in a unified fashion with the people.

“I must stand because my son stands with me. I have no choice.” 

Last Child’s Camp 

When attorney Chase Iron Eyes moved with approximately 80 people to a western hill forming Last Child’s Camp, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Morton County condemned the group as rogue. He was arrested along with 76 others, and was released on February 3. 

He was charged with a Class C felony, inciting a riot, and his legal team is looking into the validity of the charge. Iron Eyes came out of the Morton County Correctional Facility looking tired; months at the camps and it’s apparent he has lost weight. 

“It’s no secret that Morton County, that the North Dakota law enforcement, National Guard, North Dakota media, even the governor of North Dakota, going back to Mr. Dalrymple to Burgum, and the North Dakota legislature, are colluding to villainize, dehumanize, and present the narrative that the water protectors are unlawfully camped in the area north of the Cannon Ball River, and that we are violent, that we are unruly, and indeed they are charging me with inciting a riot. But it’s clear to America, I feel, that Donald Trump is inciting a riot.” 

“Last night, a group of campers moved materials onto private land,” the Standing Rock Tribal Council said. “This group’s actions do not represent the tribe nor the original intent of the water protectors.” 

The tribe still leads the fight, but their opposition has widened to include water rights, hunting, land rights, treaty rights, not just for Standing Rock, but for all tribes, the council said. 

“It is this tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux, whose land is most at risk,” Archambault said. “It is also our court case at risk, but in reality, all our treaty rights are at risk. If we want to be treated as nations then we must behave as such. In the past few weeks at camp, I see no reflection of our earlier unity, and without unity we lose.” 

Last Child’s Camp was cleared; its tipis handed over to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. 

“We will fight these charges,” Iron Eyes said. “We will hold accountable Morton County and all who have brutally violated our rights. This is an SOS. Vets, warriors, and others who can stand with us in peace and dignity to exercise our inherent, treaty, constitutional, and other birthrights. Come stand with us.” 

Veterans, once again, are hearing the call. VeteransRespond, an organizer and advocator of healing to communities impacted by social injustice, is planning to return to Standing Rock. 

“VeteransRespond is in the process of organizing a return mission to Standing Rock at the wishes of LaDonna Brave Bull Allard,” the group’s GoFundMe page said. “All funds will go directly towards a rental van to transport Texas and Colorado veterans to Standing Rock to help with cleanup efforts as well as serve as a de-escalation and medical response force if needed.” 

VeteransStand also created a second GoFundMe account, and plans to return. 

“In the past two weeks the turmoil and uncertainty at Standing Rock has increased significantly,” the group said on its Facebook page. “We have had thousands of volunteers reconfirm their dedication to the cause, and readiness to help. The success of our fundraising campaign will ultimately dictate our overall potential for a boots-on-the-ground presence, but our learnings from the first mission in December have allowed us to create the right infrastructure to move quickly.” 

The time of the Wiindigo creates confusion, difficult to keep eyes on the more important issues of Native American treaty rights and stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline, Laduke said. 

Signs in the snow outside of the Standing Rock camps – photo by C.S. Hagen

“In the time of the Wiindigo, confusion, and fear prey on us all,” Laduke said. “We forget who are the enemies and who are our friends and families. Let us pray for clear minds. I plan to live through the time of the Wiindigo, and when I look back at the time of Standing Rock, I want to remember the unity, the courage, the outpouring of love for our Mother Earth, our Mni Wiconi, and how we faced the enemy.”