Some protesters plan to lend solidarity to campaigns, including fight against meth addiction, a proposed telescope in Hawaii and other oil pipelines
People line up in their cars as they leave Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota on 6 December. Photograph: Stephanie Keith/Reuters
For months, Julie Richards has been planning for the battles that would come the moment that she was no longer needed at the Standing Rock encampments. When that day came, the 43-year-old Oglala Lakota woman knew that she needed to take the fight back home.
“I have a crew ready to go back to my homeland, to set up a camp like this, and move against meth,” she said in November.
Richards’ home is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. She founded Mothers Against Meth Alliance (Mama) there five years ago, when her own daughter got hooked on the drug .
On Friday, as she prepared to pack up her tent in the Standing Rock encampments – her home for many months – her thoughts turned to an addiction crisis whose origins she sees in the gas and oil boom of the American west.
“We’re going to do a Mama awareness tour and recruit more warriors, then we are going to set up a Mama headquarters on Pine Ridge,” she said, envisioning “a Mama’s safe house for women and children affected by meth.”
A week after the Army Corps of Engineers denied a final permit for the Dakota Access pipeline to drill under the Missouri river, the thousands of indigenous “water protectors” who travelled to North Dakota to support the Standing Rock Sioux are trying to figure out their next steps.
Few believe the pipeline is truly dead. Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s company, has gone to court over the permit denial, and the president-elect, Donald Trump, is openly supportive of the Dakota Access pipeline and fossil fuel extraction in general.
But with another winter storm bearing down, and with the tribal chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux asking people to leave, many are taking the opportunity to move on. Where one week ago, the road to Oceti Sakowin, the main encampment, was packed with cars, busses, and trucks bringing supplies and reinforcements, today the traffic is heading in the opposite direction.
“There’s time for people to take a breath and rest and get ready,” said Dave Archambault, the tribal chairman, in an interview on Friday .
Though Archambault said that he agrees with his critics that the permit denial was just one battle within a larger war to defeat the pipeline, he argued that the next stage would be fought in the courtroom and in Washington DC, not on the banks of the Missouri river.
“There isn’t really a purpose for the camp to be in this location now,” he said. “You don’t want to put people’s lives at risk if you don’t have to, and we don’t have to.”
For many water protectors, the break is an opportunity to refocus on other campaigns around the same issues: indigenous rights and protecting the environment.
Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor The Earth, left Standing Rock to drive to Minnesota on Friday, where she planned to testify in front of state lawmakers about the dangers of Enbridge’s Line 3, a proposal to replace and expand an old pipeline that carries tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Wisconsin.
Line 3’s proposed route goes through the freshwater lakes and rivers in northern Minnesota that contain the Anishinaabe’s hunting and fishing grounds The pipeline, Houska said, “threaten[s] the survival of our most important cultural identifier”.
But Houska was still planning to return to Standing Rock, in part to help defend the several hundred protesters who have pending legal cases from various mass arrests.
“This fight is not done,” she said. “This is a very temporary hold.”
Others at Standing Rock discussed travel to Hawaii, to help block the construction of a new telescope on Mauna Kea, which Native Hawaiians say is a desecration. One group planned to travel to Wyoming to join a campaign to stop the culling of the Yellowstone buffalo. A sign in camp tried to recruit people to help stop the Sabal Trail pipeline in Florida – it promised warmer weather.
Archambault, too, has considered getting involved in other indigenous campaigns. He said he planned to travel to Oak Flats, Arizona within the next few months to show support for the San Carlos Apache, who are fighting a proposed copper mine on land they say is sacred.
After receiving so much support from other tribes, the chairman said, “If there’s anything Standing Rock can do to assist in a cause, we’ll be the first ones.”
For Richards, while meth is not strictly an environmental battle, it is inextricably linked to the fossil fuel economy and the crises facing indigenous people.
“It’s practically the same fight,” Richards said of the campaigns against meth addiction and crude oil pipelines. “It’s all connected.”
Meth took hold of Pine Ridge, she said, at the same time that the oil boom in the Bakken Formation of North Dakota kicked off. The influx of male workers and money created an opening for gangs and the drug market.
“It all points back to Bakken.”