On the heels of returning from protests at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, more than 100 Fort Lewis College students, staffers held a short rally in opposition to the controversial oil pipeline Sunday night in downtown Durango.
As students chanted behind him, Fort Lewis College professor Anthony Nocella said students learned that in a vibrant democracy “it’s important to be healthy activists.
He added, “You have to be engaged as an activist in a nonviolent way.”
The gathering at Main Avenue and College Drive featured about 15 of the protesters who had caravaned to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.
Occupying positions at all four corners of the intersections students chanted: “Who do you stand for?” “We stand for Mother Earth.” “Who do we stand with?” “We stand with Standing Rock.”
On Tuesday, a caravan of more than 50 people affiliated with Fort Lewis College embarked on the 16-hour drive to the protest camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where thousands of “water protectors” representing hundreds of tribes have stood since summer against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The 1,170-mile pipeline would transport 470,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to other pipelines in Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux say the pipeline threatens their drinking water and cultural lands and tribal burial grounds, while the developers, Energy Transfer Partners, say no sites will be disturbed and drinking water will be safe.
For the past week, students have been protesting the pipeline on the front lines, taking part in tribal ceremonies, and surviving the harsh North Dakota winter.
“Oh man, it was cold,” said FLC student John Moya.
Moya said a few things surprised him about the camps at Standing Rock: It was larger than he imagined, the community was welcoming, and the protests brought people from not only all over the country, but all over the world.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said.
Damon Young, a junior at FLC, also said his personal experience at Standing Rock was “the opposite of everything that I’ve heard in the media, or at least what little coverage there is.
“It was a real big sense of community and love, something I can’t put into words,” he said. “I learned to embrace all of this in a loving manner. Sometimes people are not aware of their spirituality and connectedness to this world. But it becomes apparent as soon as you step into that camp. You’re awakened spiritually inside. I didn’t want to leave.”
Sidney Kibotie also criticized media coverage of the protests. He said police were armed with riot gear, but rallies were peaceful and no one was armed.
“What we found is that it’s a very spiritual place,” he said. “It’s a really empowering atmosphere among the camps and people there, and the nonviolent approach to this situation, that’s critical to their lands and their water and people.”
Last Friday, federal authorities said they will close down the protest camps by Dec. 5.
“I do not take this action lightly but have decided that it is required due to the concern for public safety and the fact that much of this land is leased to private persons for grazing and/or haying purposes as part of the corps’ land management practices,” Col. John W. Henderson, district commander of the Army Corps, wrote to the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
After the announcement, protesters have vowed to remain at the camps throughout the winter.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Herald Staff Writer Patrick Armijo contributed to this report.