CANON BALL. North Dakota- Lebanon resident Vicke Kepling is now in the midst of the DAPL pipeline protests near the Standing Rock Indian reservation in North Dakota. She traveled there with a  group from the Ozarks and arrived as the camp is growing in tumult. The demonstrations have been going on all summer but recently have grown more intense as local law enforcement, supplemented by police across the state have cracked down on what they now call a ‘riot’. Last night, Morton County Sheriff’s Office deputies and officers from agencies engaged the “Water Protectors” as they attempted to remove vehicles from a roadway.

Kepling gives us a preliminary report:

“We checked out the camp and unloaded items for those of our initial ten from Springfield. We went into the wrong camp (not where our comrades were) and did some four-wheeling in the van to get to Oceti. While folks had told us stories, it is impossible to know what it was like until there. Photos are discouraged, and you know how hard that was for me. The rules included no drinking and no drugs, and I’m happy for that. This is war, folks. It’s the welfare of the people and future generations against the fascist corporations, and the law is on the WRONG side.

We checked into our hotel at 4 p.m. and met a journalist who provides material for the BBC and other independent news sources. We made plans to meet him for dinner at 5 p.m. When we walked into the restaurant, I saw what I thought was a familiar face from livestream videos from Standing Rock. I walked over and asked, “Are you Esha?” He replied affirmatively, and I told him how much I appreciated his videos. Dinner was delightful with Dave, and then Mindy and I decided to spend some time in the casino. I played $20 on blackjack and left with $25 after tips. I put $20 in the slots and won $50. Luck was on my side, and I decided to use it to give drivers more gas money. (A driver’s SUV took $140 to get to the camp one way, and I had only figured $200 for each driver.)

As the machine was noisily awarding me my $50, I overheard someone talking about a direct action that was going on “at the bridge.” I asked him more about it, decided to go, cashed out, and went to tell Mindy. The guy next to Mindy wanted to go with me, so we went up to our room so I could grab some warm clothes. Another Springfield member was worried, but I assured her and the others that I would be safe.

As I walked out of the hotel, I ran into Dee Snyder. I said hello, told him that I heard he was here, and asked if he wanted to to come to the action. “No, but I have a crew down there right now,” he answered. He thanked us for the information, and we headed out of the casino.

In haste, I had forgotten gloves, earplugs, and other items. Tec and I stopped at Oceti for gloves, and he gave me a charcoal filter to wear. Little did I know that I would need it.

The bridge where the conflict was occurring was just north of the main camp on Highway 1806(?). People had parked on the sides of the road. I found a spot and pulled in. Tec had to go back to camp to use the bathroom. (Yes, human things still play a role.) I walked towards the bridge. There were three areas–on top of the bridge and the two sides leading down to the Missouri River. I stayed on top of the bridge. It was 26 degrees, and the folks on the grass were slipping.

The scene was intense. The “law enforcement” officials had military machinery and bright lights emitted from the vehicles made it difficult to make out details. Water protectors covered the bridge. Some were close to the equipment, and some stayed back. A group of elders drummed and sang, some had a small fire burning on the bridge for protectors who were cold, and one native held a megaphone and addressed the officers. “Shame on you,” the crowd chanted. “Mni wiconi. Water is life!”

It was freezing, and I danced to the drums to keep my feet warm. Tec brought me hard warmers. I just met this man and was grateful that he was doing what he could to help me. I had grabbed my “bomber” hat with fuzzy ears and was able to hold the charcoal filter to my mouth with the flaps.

I took pictures. That’s what I do. I didn’t have my camera but used the heck out of my phone. I hope the quality is decent. While I didn’t get to the front of the front line on the bridge, I was right behind the front line. The “law enforcers” shot tear gas to the side of the bridge, and the gas encompassed the bridge. It was very hard to breathe, and I made myself breathe through the filter. My eyes were burning, and I kept them just open enough to see to move towards the back of the bridge. Medics were organized and had rinse for those who needed help. The “law enforcers” (taxpayer funded, might I add) shot freezing water and rubber bullets towards the water protectors. It was brutal to watch. When someone was hit with a rubber bullet, other protectors helped the victim get to safety. The water sprayed at the protectors turned to ice, and I’m sure many experienced hypothermia. Concussion grenades were thrown by the “law enforcers” into the crowd on the bridge. One felt as if it went off about ten feet behind me. My ears rang.

I stayed for hours, and my feet began to numb. My phone ran out of juice, and Tec and I went to my van to warm up our feet. As we exited, more people were going in. I knew Mindy would be worried and decided to call it a night. Once back at the hotel, I learned that one of our Springfield riders was hit with rubber bullets and was taken to medic. Without phone coverage at the camp, communication is difficult at best.

I went to the bridge not knowing what to expect. It felt like war. I have been involved in many protests, but I have never felt the calling to take activism to this level before. This issue is different to me and others. I honestly believe that our country is at a pentacle of change and that this is our time to stand up for humankind over corporations. The little voice inside my head reminds me that it is always time, but Standing Rock is an important event in our lifetime. Many thanks to all of those who have battled, who have supported the battle, and who will battle for natural resources in the future.”

Mni wiconi!

The Dakota Access Pipeline or Bakken pipeline is a 1,172-mile-long (1,886 km) underground oil pipeline project in the United States. The pipeline is being planned by Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of the Dallas, Texas corporation Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. It would begin in the Bakken oil fields in Northwest North Dakota and would travel in a more or less straight line south-east, through South Dakota and Iowa, and end at the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline is due for delivery on January 1, 2017