Environment

How the Standing Rock Camps Are Coping with the Massive Blizzard

Despite incredibly harsh conditions and a request from a Sioux leader that non-Sioux campers leave, many are staying put.
December 6, 2016, 10:15pm

Last week, Standing Rock "water protecters" won a major victory against the company attempting to build the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near native land, when the Army announced that it would not grant a required easement. That meant that the DAPL, denounced by critics as being potentially ruinous for the Standing Rock Sioux's water supply, would have to be rerouted. It was an unexpected bit of good news for activists who had been fighting for months to get more or less this result. Then it started snowing.

Temperatures in the area have dropped into the single digits as of Monday, and driving winds make it feel much colder. Two feet of snow has fallen on Standing Rock in the last two weeks, and though the thousands of indigenous people and their allies who have camped out to block the construction of the DAPL have been preparing for winter, it's still a tough task.

On Monday night, veterans that a VICE freelance reporter was camped with kept an all-night watch in shifts, checking in on people in tents to make sure they were OK. In the morning, search parties were organized to clear vehicles and tents and get people together in common spaces in order to account for them. On the roads outside the camp, some cars were stuck in huge snowdrifts. Rumors of deaths and near-deaths circulated in the camp, but were denied by representatives from the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council.

"Our medical teams continue to show exceptional capacity in mitigating the effects of the weather with our winter emergency planning," said Noah Morris, a member of the council who was there until Monday. He added that there were "no significant injuries," but said that the council "continues in our condemnation of the illegal closure of Highway 1806, which has only made all of these efforts more challenging."

Photo by Cheree Franco

Last week, North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple ordered campers to evacuate the area, warning that emergency services would not be provided to those who remained. After the Army decision to block the easement, Dave Archambault III, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, made a similar request for different reasons, asking all non-Sioux to pack up and leave, saying "their purpose has been served" in an interview with Reuters.

But despite all that, there are some in the Standing Rock camps who are staying, said Morris. The abysmal conditions of the roads are forcing some to remain put, and others don't trust that the fight is actually over.

"Folks see that the police have set up huge barracks and won't leave till DAPL does," Morris said. "They know they can't set camp back up on January 21"—the day Donald Trump will take office.