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Tribal veterans join thousands at pipeline protest and victory

 

Adam Bearcub cups his hands to waft smoke dispensed with an eagle feather by tribal elder Barbara Aripa at a smudging ceremony Friday. - Scott Hunter photo

Smiles and tears accompanied song and prayer last week as members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation gave an appreciative sendoff to 10 armed forces veterans who were heading to an international protest to stop a pipeline being constructed in North Dakota from crossing under the Missouri River.

They were joining thousands of other veterans from Indian Country across America headed to the Oceti Sakowin protest camp on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation south of Bismarck, where Energy Transfer Partners was ready to drill under the river for a pipeline from Montana to Illinois to carry oil from the Bakken Oil fields.

Vincent McDonald served in the U.S. Army from 1991 to 1995, he told those assembled at the ceremonial arbor across highway 155 from the Colville's new government headquarters.

"From this day forward, I am also a water protector, 2016," he said.

The thousands of protestors in North Dakota labeled themselves "water protectors" early on their months-long effort to stop the pipeline.

"It's not political, it's our survival," Harvey Moses Jr. said. "It's what we've done ... and what we'll continue to do until we're all gone."

Those two were among the 10 veterans "deploying" from Nespelem Friday, along with Joaquin Marchand, Inchelium Councilman Larry Allen, Monte Joseph Sr., Adam Bearcub Jr., Edward Cawston, Michael Joseph, Ray Watt and Rick Desautel. 

"This is all about tribal sovereignty," Colville Business Council Chairman Dr. Michael Marchand said in a press release. "Tribes are trying to protect their sacred burial sites, sacred water, the people and the land. Tribal Nations and the United States Veterans are organized across the country to take a stand and really show the world what is important: water."

The veterans headed to the midwest Friday were not the first Colvilles to join the movement, which has reportedly been met with teargas, dogs, rubber bullets and water cannon in freezing temperatures.

Dan Nanamkin left his job as the Nespelem Community Center director to support the protest and has been posting about it regularly on his Facebook site.

Billy Drywater was present Friday to see the veterans off, after having returned about two weeks earlier from the protest camp.

Drywater said he had to go to North Dakota after seeing videos of old women and children being mistreated by guards and law enforcement. The former prize fighters wanted to "kick some ass" when he and Nick Washington and Alfredo Labro went there. But that intent was stopped abruptly when they arrived.

Drywater said everyone at the camp was forbidden to use violence, and was trained in regular classes in non-violent resistance methods. The water protectors, he said, were trained "not to have anything that could even be considered a weapon," and to "keep our hands open" not fisted.

The strategy paid off, at least for now.

On Sunday, the U.S. Department of the Army announced that it would not allow the pipeline to be drilled under the reservoir on the dammed Missouri just north of the reservation, but would look for alternative routes for the $3.7 billion project.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II called for the camp to disperse as a blizzard hit the thousands remaining at the camp.

"The camp has brought us this far," he said. "Now it is time we pivot to the next phase of this struggle. That will be lead on different fronts like in court, with the new Administration, with Congress, and with the investors."

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