Jan. 21 – Feb. 15, 2017
Opening reception Saturday, 1/21, 7-9pm
STANDING ROCK – Ola I Ka Wai
“Three days that would change everything for me…these images tell the story of my short time at Standing Rock.
Several months ago I’d come upon a few articles covering the events at Standing Rock and the plight of the Water Protectors. To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention in the beginning. A few weeks passed and the story gained a little more traction but something started to feel off about the whole situation.
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. A good friend, Alexis Dyer, pictured in the image of a woman wrapped in the blanket of her people, is a member of the Pechanga Band of the Luiseño Indians. Years ago, I’d visited her home and reservation in Temecula, CA and was deeply impacted by the history and culture of the land and people. I reached out to get her perspective on the situation and let her know that I wanted to document what was happening at Standing Rock. As fate would have it, she was in the midst of making plans to join the Water Protectors as well. After that phone call, everything else just fell into place. Outer wear, sleeping bags and winter supplies were ordered for delivery to the site. Plane tickets were purchased. Fast forward a couple weeks later and I found myself at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.
When I arrived on November 17, there were three separate camps at Standing Rock totaling 9000 people all together: Sacred Stone, housing most of the tribal leaders (their kupuna) whose main objective is peaceful protest and prayer, Red Warrior camp including the original group of youth that initiated the movement and took the most action against their opposition (their camp has since disbanded per the request of their elders) and the Oceti Camp including the Yanktun Sioux tribe, appropriately known as “the friendly people”. The people of the Yanktun Sioux at Oceti Camp extended the invitation to join them at Standing Rock and this is where I spent most of my time.
During my short stay with these friendly people, I photographed the people’s day to day life and things were relatively peaceful the first couple of days there. As soon as I arrived, I happened up a group of women marching to a nearby roadblock to peacefully protest for the release of a fellow Water Protestor, Red Fawn. She’d been arrested on charges of allegedly discharging a firearm and being held on $100,000 bond. But the elders restrict weapons of any kind for those entering the camp and the gun may have been planted. The women marching were peaceful and sincere. There was no police activity, no water canons, no mace and no rubber bullets.
But then things began to change. The second night around 2:00 am, a plane resembling a crop duster, with no lights, flew over the camp spraying something over the camps. I saw scared burial grounds scorched and set on fire to force people off the land. There was an SUV parked at the top of a nearby hill with someone lying in the grass pointing what seemed to be a rifle in the direction of the camps. The SUV was later replaced by an armed military helicopter. And the day I left, local police used water canons on people in 19 degree weather as they gathered peacefully at a roadblock put up by police whose sole intention was to make it more difficult to gain access to the camp.
An elder at the camp taught me that the treaties signed back in 1851 and 1868 granted eminent domain to the Sioux people, specifying that the land could be sold, leased and traded. However, anything underneath the soil belongs to the people of the Sioux nation. So much of what the Dakota Access Pipeline has done is in direct violation of these treaties. This pipeline cuts through sacred burial grounds and threatens access to clean water for millions of people.
Even writing about this now, a few months later, it’s so hard to believe what I saw. Native people being forced off their ancestral, government appointed land. It felt too close to home. And with such minimal media coverage. They are protecting their water. They are protecting their life. MNI WICONI. Ola I Ka Wai. Water is life.
My hope in creating these images is to offer the opportunity to do more than just be upset by what’s going, to offer the chance more than a social media post stating that “I stand in solidarity with those at Standing Rock”. To date, this body of work has raised just under $14000. All proceeds from print and book sales are given directly to the Oceti people on the ground at Standing Rock.
And there is still more to be done. Despite federal intervention halting construction at Standing Rock, the fight isn’t even close to being over. As of January 18 and 19, 2017, Morton County police have again used water canons, rubber bullets and tear gas on the people at Standing Rock. They still need our help. Mahalo for your support. MNI WICONI, Water is Life, ‘Ola I Ka Wai. All images made with a 1964 Rolleiflex 2.8F on Kodak Ektar for color or Fuji Acros for B&W.”
If you would like to purchase prints with the current 30% off sale, visit link.
If you want to help Standing Rock, visit www.ocetisakowincamp.org to make donations.