DAPL activists hit hot springs

Tell of strictly ethical North Dakota demonstration. No drugs, alcohol or weapons allowed.


Max Miller

Recently arrived DAPL demonstrators on their way to soak in Saratoga's hot springs Monday.

Zenergy, Charis Thompson, Moonshine and Candace Jefferson are adamant about the fact that they are not "protesters." Still reeling and exhausted from a violent police crackdown the night before, the four spent Nov. 21 unwinding in the Saratoga hot pools on their way back to Southern California. Each had spent between one and three weeks standing in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota.

The Standing Rock Sioux are trying to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which the tribe says has disturbed their burial grounds and will endanger their drinking water. Other indigenous groups as well as environmentalists have also rallied to the cause in recent months. Zenergy said the number of people in the demonstration encampment was tough to judge because the group expands and contracts almost daily, "like a heart," but that around 3,500 to 4,000 people were typically on site.

"Prayer vibrates way stronger than physical abuse," Thompson said of the coalition's preferred tactics. "(We are) innocent people trying to protect our land and our water on this planet," she summed up the group's goals.

"(The encampment) is a beautiful, living, breathing thing, and it's working," Jefferson agreed.

The four described an ad hoc community focused more on preparing for a harsh Dakota December than on executing nefarious schemes. "There are people volunteering in the kitchen, there are people donating clothes," Jefferson said. She herself helped constructed a yurt for people to warm up in, and Zenergy delivered 100 tipi poles for shelter-construction.

So many outsiders (including celebrities like Neil Young) have been flowing into the encampment that tribal leaders set up an orientation class for newcomers. Themes stressed include the Sioux's strict prohibition on any drug or alcohol use and the importance of non-violent resistance.

Weapons, too, are strictly forbidden, according to Zenergy. "(In orientation) they tell you that if you have anger in your heart, you're not ready (to demonstrate)," Jefferson said.

As evening fell Nov. 20, anger in many hearts ignited a firestorm of violence that left over 200 protesters injured according to the Bismark Tribune. "I could not believe the way the military and the police and private security treated us," Zenergy, whose father was a chief of police in Oklahoma for 13 years, said. "You would watch these military or police just randomly shoot rubber bullets, spray (demonstrators) with tear gas," he went on.

Police claim demonstrators were throwing rocks before they attacked the group with water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas and mace, but Moonshine, Thompson, Jefferson and Zenergy said they saw no rock-throwing.

The Intercept reported that at least 26 demonstrators were hospitalized following the crackdown, including a woman who underwent surgery on her arm for a wound from an apparent concussion grenade, an elder who lost consciousness and a woman who got shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.

When attacked by police, Jefferson said she tried to remember the humanity of the officers and their families. "You're a human being spraying me with water in the freezing cold," she reminded herself as temperatures dipped below 25 degrees.

Thompson added that she held no animosity to those police who were just doing their jobs, saying, "We understand that." "We're not anti-DAPL workers, either," she clarified.

"We would try to tell (officers) 'When you go home, and you're with your wife and your children, remember how you treated women and children today," Zenergy said. For now, the four have jobs to return to, but they hope to go back at a later date.


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