U.S. veterans from across the country are joining indigenous protesters in numbers at Standing Rock after the Trump administration gave Dakota Access the go-ahead to continue drilling across the Missouri river for their oil pipeline.
Cannon Ball in North Dakota has been witness to large protests ever since several indigenous protesters and Native elders expressed concern last year about possible oil spills, the pipeline’s affect on nearby water supplies and the tribal rights of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who discovered the construction of the pipeline was planned through a sacred site, as reported by the Hill. In December last year, nearly 1,000 U.S. veterans camped with the protesters at Standing Rock, finally leading then-president Barack Obama to issue an order to halt the construction of the pipeline.
But with the coming of Donald Trump, that little victory seems to have taken place ages ago. The new president has allowed militarized police to deal with the protesters in order for Dakota Access to continue building the pipeline, something which hasn’t been particularly well received by U.S. veterans. This week, scores of veterans, many of whom had also visited the site in December, returned to put their bodies on the line to protect the Native protesters from the forces of the militarized police, according to the Guardian.
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Elizabeth Williams, a 34-year-old air force veteran, who arrived at Standing Rock with a group of vets late on Friday, told the Guardian that she and her colleagues are willing to use their skills to become a shield between the protesting activists and members of the privatized police.
“We are prepared to put our bodies between Native elders and a privatized military force. We’ve stood in the face of fire before. We feel a responsibility to use the skills we have.”
While there is no clear estimate on how many veterans might be arriving at Standing Rock, conservative estimates say anywhere between a few dozen to several hundred might already be on their way to North Dakota. Matthew Crane, a U.S. navy veteran who is helping coordinate a return group with the organization VeteransRespond, said the reason that many U.S. veterans were coming to help the protesters deal with the police was because it is a humanitarian issue.
“This is a humanitarian issue. We’re not going to stand by and let anybody get hurt.”
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Jake Pogue, a 32-year-old veteran who was instrumental in setting up the first camp at Standing Rock last spring, echoed the sentiments of his peers, saying that they had all come in their capacity as “protectors.”
“We’re not coming as fighters, but as protectors. Our role in that situation would be to simply form a barrier between water protectors and the police force and try to take some of that abuse for them,” Pogue said.
Dan Luker, a 66-year-old veteran who visited Standing Rock in December and returned this month, said that several veterans who had been to Vietnam or the Middle East were coming to Standing Rock to “heal” their old wounds.
“This is the right war, right side. Finally, it’s the US military coming on to Sioux land to help, for the first time in history, instead of coming on to Sioux land to kill natives.
“I don’t want to see a twentysomething, thirtysomething untrained person killed by the United States government.”
While the U.S. veteran turnout at Standing Rock so far is still small compared to the massive turnout in December – which included a ceremony where veterans apologized to indigenous people for the long history of U.S. violence against Native Americans – the sheer solidarity expressed by the veterans goes on to show that the dissenting voices raising hell against Dakota Access Pipeline are far from being silenced.
[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]