Standing Rock activists wait out heavy snows with ‘fire cider’ and songs

Despite below-freezing temperatures and a victory to reroute the pipeline earlier this week, people were still out and about at the main encampment

The sun came out over the Standing Rock encampments on Wednesday, after two days of blizzard dumped a fresh blanket of snow on the tipis, army tents and shelters still standing here. But in North Dakota, the snow does not fall just once.

Fierce winds whipped through the prairie landscape, creating shifting snow drifts and momentary whiteouts. A steady stream of snow blew across the roads like rushing fog, and the flags that line the main thoroughfare through Oceti Sakowin, the main encampment, snapped and cracked like a lash.

Despite temperatures that hovered just above 0F and windchills at -20F and despite the fact that Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault asked campers to go home after Sundays announcement that the Army Corps of Engineers would not grant a permit for the Dakota Access pipeline to drill under the Missouri river people were still out and about at Oceti Sakowin.

The sacred fire that stands in the center of camp was still being tended, and singers lifted their voices against the wind.

The television trucks were gone, the lightweight summer tents were gone, and most of the hundreds of US veterans who traveled here to support the water protector movement were gone. But inside the canvas tent of the California Kitchen, stew was still being dished out, with frozen strawberries on the side.

Campers huddled around the wood stove for warmth, discussing how much longer they thought they could survive in this cold.

Outside, Semar Prom, a teacher at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley, worked with a small crew constructing a wooden building with a pitched roof. Once the structure is complete, the builders will be able to continue crafting wooden hogans away from the elements. The team had continued working throughout the blizzard, though Prom lost some of his tools in the snow.

This was Proms second trip to Standing Rock, after staying for a week over Thanksgiving.

I didnt want to come unless I was needed, he said. They need builders.

Though some people were leaving, Prom said that the shelters were for those who were determined to stay.

Despite the news, people still need to stay here, he said. Everyones still working, twice as hard now.

The healers yurt in the medic and wellness area might be one of the warmest places at Oceti Sakowin. The round Mongolian structure has a gaily painted red door and sheafs of herbs hanging from the ceiling. Light snuck through a small window at the apex of the round roof, but most of the healers inside wore headlamps as they offered hot tea and herbal remedies to the steady stream of visitors ducking through the door.

The wood stove may warm up visitors fingers and noses, but the proffered shots of fire cider apple cider vinegar suffused with ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, and other spices warm you up from the inside out. It burns going down, leaves a trail of heat through your chest, and is supposed to help boost your immune system.

You never forget your first shot of fire cider, Linda Black Elk said. The Standing Rock Healer & Medic Council has an entire building full of jars of the stuff, she said.

Black Elk is a member of the Catawba nation, but shes lived on Standing Rock Sioux reservation for much of her life. An ethnobotanist and healer, she has helped coordinate the Healer & Medic Council, responsible for everything from everyday aches and pains to the mass casualty event the night of 20 November, when hundreds of protesters were doused with water cannons and hit with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Linda Black Elk helped coordinate the Healer & Medic Council, responsible for everything from everyday aches and pains to the mass casualty event when hundreds of protesters were doused with water cannons and hit with tear gas and rubber bullets. Photograph: Julia Carrie Wong for the Guardian

Water cannons may have been unexpected, but Black Elk and her team have been preparing for blizzard conditions. As the storm howled on Monday and Tuesday, medics went tent to tent checking on people.

There were a few cases of hypothermia, Black Elk said, but most were resolved by moving people to warmer spaces. One person was taken to Bismarck but did not require hospitalization.

As she sat on a low bench in the toasty yurt, Black Elk expressed her pride in the volunteer medics who kept people safe during the storm.

If you think of the lack of infrastructure and the situation were in, the fact that no one died and there were very few issues I would say we were as prepared as any local clinic or hospital, she said.

Like many of the water protectors here, Black Elk disagreed with Archambaults request for people to leave, and she is prepared to continue her work helping them make it through.

We always say storms like this separate the women from the girls, she said. A lot of the girls have left, and thats not a bad thing. But I do not think the warriors should leave.

Read more:

About the Author

Leave a Comment: