Video: The Standing Rock ‘Water Protectors’ Who Refuse to Leave and Why

Thousands remain at the Dakota Access pipeline protest camp in Cannon Ball, N.D., despite the project's halt and brutal winter conditions.

Vanessa Red Bull, a medical provider at Standing Rock, told InsideClimate News that she won't leave the Dakota access pipeline protest camp until the last person leaves. Credit: Cassi Alexandra

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CANNON BALL, N.D.Many of the people who halted their lives to join the movement to fight the Dakota Access pipeline are vowing to stay at the protest camp through brutal winter conditions despite the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision on Dec. 4 to halt the pipeline. Standing Rock Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II pleaded that they go home after a powerful blizzard blasted the camp last Monday, sending temperatures plunging well below zero.

About 2,000 people remain in the camp, down from the nearly 5,000 who were there when the Army Corps announcement came. They are determined to keep their voices heard and stand guard as the political winds shift even stronger against them.

ICN’s Phil McKenna traveled to Cannon Ball, N.D. with videographer Cassi Alexandra, with help from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, to capture some of those voices—from a medic to a young member of the tribe to an elder, to veterans who were among a group of 2,000 who joined the protest last weekend.

They spoke of a resolve to stick together, to take care of each other, to remain vigilant until the fight is truly won.

Despite the Army Corps’ order for an environmental impact statement that could take months and may end in a reroute of the pipeline, Donald Trump has said when he takes office, he will ensure the pipeline gets built. “I will tell you, when I get to office, if it’s not solved, I’ll have it solved very quickly,” Trump told Fox News. ” I think it’s very unfair. So it will start one way or the other.”

To weather Trump’s incoming storm, the protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” stayed hunkered down for a real one.  In blizzard conditions, tents in the Oceti Sakowin camp were blown down or caved under the weight of snow. Tepees and yurts better equipped to handle the winter appeared undisturbed, their wood stoves puffing a steady stream of smoke as snow and strong gusts gave way to bone-chilling cold. The harsh conditions provided reprieve from helicopters and unmarked planes that had been circling low over camp for months, air traffic some fear is the source of cyber attacks on their phones and other electronic devices.

As temperatures dipped to minus 20 and another storm threatened to shut down roads for as much as a week, the fragility of the camp became clear. Tepees rely on firewood to stay warm but forests are hundreds of miles away. Historically, plains Indians sought refuge in wooded lowlands along rivers with an ample supply of firewood and shelter from the wind. Many such lowlands, like those along the Missouri River, have been flooded by dams like the one that forms Lake Oahe.

Lee Plenty Wolf, an Oglala Lakota elder who had been in camp for months and provided refuge in his tepee to this ill-prepared reporter, conceded on Thursday morning that his group within the camp only had enough wood to last two to three days. If another storm hit, he urged those around him to grab a sleeping bag and head to the gym in nearby Cannon Ball.

Lee Plenty Wolf, selected elder at Standing Rock

Vanessa Red Bull, paramedic at Standing Rock

Will McMichael, Veterans for Standing Rock

Jacquelyn Cordova, Youth Council for Standing Rock

Amanda Silvestri, Veterans for Standing Rock