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One Boisean's Firsthand View of the Standing Rock Protest: Beauty, Violence and 'Psychological Warfare'

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- Kash Jackson, on horseback, is a Navy veteran who came to Standing Rock to show his support for those protesting the construction of an oil pipeline through a sensitive area of North Dakota. -  - CELIA ESPINOZA
  • Celia Espinoza
  • Kash Jackson, on horseback, is a Navy veteran who came to Standing Rock to show his support for those protesting the construction of an oil pipeline through a sensitive area of North Dakota.
- Espinoza prepared dried corn to be used for a Lakota buffalo tripe stew called "tinega." -  - CELIA ESPINOZA
  • Celia Espinoza
  • Espinoza prepared dried corn to be used for a Lakota buffalo tripe stew called "tinega."
Law enforcement officers armed with tear gas, rubber bullets, armored vehicles, stun grenades and water cannons descended on anti-Dakota Access Pipeline protesters Nov. 20. During the nighttime engagement, at least 17 protesters were injured badly enough to be taken to the hospital.

Violent clashes between demonstrators and police aren't anything new at the protest site in Standing Rock, N.D., but this was the first time police had trained their water cannons on protesters in sub-freezing temperatures. Boisean Celia Espinoza, who had been at Standing Rock days before and stays in touch with friends she made there, felt her fellow protesters' pain.

"There’s nothing shielding them from the wind. The wind is unbearable," she said.

The Dakota Access Pipeline protests have been ongoing since April, as Native American stakeholders and thousands of demonstrators from across the country gathered at Standing Rock to demand the project be halted over safety and environmental. Area law enforcement, however, has come down hard against the demonstration, calling it an "ongoing riot."

Espinoza spent four days at Standing Rock, from Nov. 3-7. She was on a supply run, hauling winter gear, blankets and other necessities to the site. Though she described the weather at the time as "beautiful," the clothing and other items donated by concerned citizens in the Boise area were badly needed there.

"They were so excited we had underwear for them. Out there, that’s a commodity," Espinoza said.


Once she'd distributed her supplies, Espinoza was conscripted into working in the kitchen, where she prepared soups and tea for the demonstrators. She described those days as serene and "prayerful." Life at Oceti Sakowin, the camp where she stayed, was a mix of protest preparation and Native American ceremony, as she helped cook traditional dishes like buffalo tripe and elk stew. Her responsibilities grew in the short time she was there.

"I walked in to just serve. I was there to help serve and ended up running the kitchen during the time I was there," Espinoza said.


Lurking on the margins of daily life at Oceti Sakowin, however, was the presence of the police. Shortly before Espinoza's arrival at the camp, on Oct. 27, protesters and police battled over what authorities called "illegal roadblocks," after which Espinoza said she saw signs of psychological trauma among those who had been involved. During her stay, Espinoza said she saw helicopters swarming overhead, floodlights and a mysterious plane without running lights that would fly at low altitudes over the camp at night.

"To me it’s psychological warfare. That’s how I would describe that," she said.

Since returning from Standing Rock, Espinoza has worked to get the word out about what has been happening at Standing Rock, including a demonstration for media accountability related to coverage of the North Dakota protests planned for 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25 at the studios of KTVB-TV. She and others say the national media has not done an adequate job of communicating the human toll of the anti-DAPL protests.

"I really feel like what happened Sunday, it’s crucial to get out. There could have been a death. I think that’s something that does not get reported accurately," Espinoza said.

Meanwhile, she is making plans to return to Standing Rock—again, on a supply run, this time with a load of toys for children staying at Oceti Sakowin.

"We’re back next month for Christmas break. We’re doing a toy drive for kiddos whose parents are out there," she said.