Mass Media Standing Rock
Jenni Monet

After A Month of Conflict, Mass Media Arrives in Force at Standing Rock

Jenni Monet

STANDING ROCK, ND — A circle had formed around a long table at the top of Media Hill, the gentle perch where wireless communication thrives in the mostly digitally challenged Oceti Sakowin Camp. Seated at the table before a crowd of cameras and microphones were various activists and tribal leaders. A press conference was underway. It was streaming on Facebook LIVE. The gathering of media at such an international scale represented one of the most organized events like it since the movement here began.

“Thank you for seeing us,” said Eryn Wise. “A lot of people don’t.” The Jicarilla-Apache/Laguna Pueblo water protector was among five panelists addressing dozens of members of the media on Saturday, November 26. The group included a smattering of advocacy bloggers, freelance journalists, and staff reporters with such elite publications as Vogue and The Washington Post. The day before, Wise was posting Facebook LIVE events from the encampment on behalf of The New York Times

Since April, when the movement to try and stop construction of the $3.8 billion dollar Dakota Access Pipeline began, media presence at Standing Rock has mostly consisted of activists with cell phones streaming Facebook testimonies to their friends and followers. 

By Jenni Monet

Their voices have helped galvanize the movement, and on Sunday, November 20, it shined an essential light on what brand-name media has mostly ignored: mounting tension, a violent and militarized police force, and prayer actions by demonstrators who insist they are unarmed. 

On the night of the 20th about 400 demonstrators were hosed down with water in sub-freezing temperatures by Morton County Sheriffs deputies. Water protectors on the front lines opposite police say concussion grenades were also used. During the stand-off, which lasted for as long as six hours, major media attention was starkly absent. Instead, Facebook LIVE feeds broadcasted the unfolding drama, where at one point a quarter-million people had tuned in to watch what has largely been described by many as warfare. 

The day’s mass gathering on Media Hill suddenly represented a critical new shift in the anti-pipeline occupation: exposure.

“It’s been overnight that it’s come to this,” said Dave Archambault II. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman has grown a mustache and a light goatee. On this day, he also wore a baseball hat ; an altogether different look from the suit-wearing persona Archambault presented during his October media-blitz in New York. 

“We’re not violating any laws,” said Archambault. That message was among his primary points to address at the press event. In less than a month, the struggle at Standing Rock has intensified, in large part, under a media blackout. 

Three weeks ago, on October 27, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department along with a coalition of out-of-state deputies and soldiers with the North Dakota National Guard performed a militarized sweep on water protectors at the 1851 Treaty Camp north of the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Since then, dramatic clashes with police have evolved into a routine theater of arrests—more than 520 since August—along with police shooting water protectors with rubber bullets, tear-gas, mace, and ironically, water, the very resource that the activists have vowed to defend.

The Missouri River remains the primary focus of the growing movement. The ribbon of water is the tribe’s primary supply along with millions of others downstream. The tribe worries the pipeline will rupture eventually and contaminate the river. Energy Transfer Partners, operator of the pipeline, has refuted these claims, saying they are unfounded. 

On this day, the press conference focused conversation on Friday’s eviction notice issued by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The federal agency was rescinding its permit to the thousands camped out at the Oceti Sakowin camps. As of Saturday, there’s believed to be as many as 10,000 people living in the community of teepees, RV’s and winterized tents and yurts. 

“Suggested forced removal and state oppression; this is nothing new to Native peoples,” said Dallas Goldtooth, a lead organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

“This is where our people have been for thousands of years,” added Nick Tilson, another movement organizer with the Indigenous Peoples Power Project. “We’re not going to move unless it’s on our own terms ‘cause this is our Treaty land…pure love for our land; pure love for our people. And so there’s no place for fear.”

The messages conveyed at the top of Media Hill on Saturday were a deliberate attempt to craft a narrative that has been covered, in large part, by smaller publications for months, including Indian Country Today. It was also a direct attempt to dispel a storyline repeatedly crafted by Morton County, that some of the water protectors are violent criminals. 

“While the violent faction within the protest group is a minority, it is a real threat to law enforcement,” read a statement released on Saturday by Morton County Commissioner Cody Schulz. “

“The hostile actions law enforcement have endured include being shot at, having molotov cocktails, rocks, sticks, bottles, cans, and feces thrown at them, having buffalo stampeded at them, being spit on, and being verbally assaulted,” the statement read.

In the battle over the Dakota Access pipeline, fought on the ground and in the courts, it’s also been one waged by all sides— the tribal nation, the police, the energy companies, and the government —in the court of public opinion. 

As time turns towards the transition of power in the United States, the focus now has become one focused on federal involvement. Morton County has called on U.S. Marshals to assist in the encampment eviction on Army Corps land. Water protectors continue to repeat calls for President Obama to intervene. 

“President Obama, when you came here [in 2014] you promised you would protect tribal sovereignty and spiritual belief,” said Thomas Lopez, Jr. a Standing Rock tribal member and organizer with the International Indigenous Youth Council.

“You promised you would protect our sacred way of life. And here we are protecting that sacred way of life. And where are you?”

“You are in silence.”

Silence has mostly veiled this historic moment at Standing Rock. Whether elite media remains interested in the struggle could determine its outcome. 


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wiseoldsnail's picture
Submitted by wiseoldsnail on
while it's a good thing that corporate media finally deemed it important to show up, there is no guarantee they will report what's really happening . their narrative is often a repeater of police : dishonest narrative we all will still rely on independent media to tell us the truth

kleduolc's picture
Submitted by kleduolc on
My grandfather not long ago received a gold medal from congress for his service in WWII as a Sioux code Talker, and no one knew of his participation. And my other relatives resting places have been disturbed for ever so the greatest nation on this planet can kill it's occupants. However those who have the spiritual investments since before birth will not have to see what the real decision makers will offer through the thunder beings. Provided people stay to true prayers and respect the spirit strengthening ways of each other. The aboriginal spiritual ways and spirit of community must come first for us, we must be accepting of self and to build out. At some time the hallowed ground of those that desecrate our peoples' final places of peace will become points of sorrow for them. It would seem their own greed works away from their good and our prays of forgiveness help the people remain strong to do the right things for all. I remember how many times I was told how stupid the Indians were that sold Manhattan for 3 belts of wampum. How funny huh? They built over how many resting places? So in the last thought I wonder where my grand father's gold medal helped at against the rubber bullets at DAPL PO PO?

tjpratt's picture
Submitted by tjpratt on
Help me here...“We’re not violating any laws,” said Archambault. Are they not on Private land?

Paul Berry
Submitted by Paul Berry on
Former Sec of Labor, Robert Reich calls the events and media silence "shameful" and a "scandal" and he advocates the most direct solution: revoke the DAPL leases. August, 2016 to the present is the real "public outreach and participation" portion of this project, and what have we seen? The development of an international movement, visits by dignified, respected leaders throughout the World, organized protests and actions in cities in the USA and abroad, diplomatic statements at the level of the United Nations, active protests by hundreds of clearly unarmed, peaceful protesters on site, and to quote this article: "hostile action law enforcement have endured include being shot at, having molotov cocktails, rocks, sticks, bottles, cans, and feces thrown at them, having buffalo stampeded at them, being spit on, and being verbally assaulted,” in other words, active resistance, and judging by videos, provoked active resistance. It is a blessing everyone, according to all sides, is still alive, and everyone involved should be concerned for the condition of Sophia Wilansky, and look with outrage and shame at razor wire and concrete barriers strung across a highway in the heartland of this country. Enough, dig it up and go away. The Republican Senators who own this pipeline can sue the Federal Government for allowing them to proceed without a proper EIS, print up the money they need to pay themselves and the contractors to dig it all up and go elsewhere. I do not know the details of the Cultural Impact portions of the proper EIS, but if what we have seen does not meet the level of significant negative impact, we should maybe consider modifying the threshold. Dig it up and go away. Who, in their right mind, would accept boring a high volume oil pipeline under their municipal water reservoir? It is that simple, dig it up and go away.

bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
No DAPL is at the doorsteps of the ACLU (Am. Civil Liberties Union) and in its request, we are asking for assistance to "Tell the DOJ to investigate possible constitutional violations and suspend police use of federally supplied military equipment." 250,000 signatures are needed and presently there are 238,000+. Please visit their website to sign on and help push this forward at Heartfelt appreciation goes to those from around the world who have signed on to help stop this infringement upon Constitutional rights of all Americans.

Tommie Jay Wass...
Submitted by Tommie Jay Wass... on
// While the violent faction within the protest group is a minority, it is a real threat to law enforcement,” read a statement released on Saturday by Morton County Commissioner Cody Schulz. “ “The hostile actions law enforcement have endured include being shot at, having molotov cocktails, rocks, sticks, bottles, cans, and feces thrown at them, having buffalo stampeded at them, being spit on, and being verbally assaulted,” the statement read. // this is troublesome. though it is true that there was a herd of buffalo stampeded in their general direction and i'm sure they get "verbally assaulted" , i have not seen any photographic evidence of any of these other allegations of violence by the water protectors against the proxy army working for energy transfer partners. numerous claims of such violence have been made by officials from the morton county sheriff on up to senator heidi heitkamp but not one shred of photographic evidence to go with the allegations. on the other hand, there is abundant video of people engaged in prayer ceremony being assaulted by the proxy army. the DAPL must be at least rerouted if not scrapped completely. that land belongs to the oceti sakowin according to the fort laramie treaty. they don't want it coming across their land and that should be the end of the discussion if the treaty is to be honored.