Editor’s Note: Photographer and activist Avery White shares her first hand account from Standing Rock, North Dakota–site of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, which local Native American tribal leaders have been resisting for months due to the environmental threat the oil pipeline poses to lands they hold by treaty with the United States government.
I’m a photographer based in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the unchecked power of oil companies also threatens the life and health of our communities. Three weeks ago, I came to Standing Rock to bear witness to the strength and integrity of those risking their safety in a fight to protect the natural resources which are at stake for all of us.
The Water Defenders refers to the natives and their allies camped at Standing Rock, ND, who are insistent on being referred to as defenders or protectors over protesters. The Sacred Stone Camp was started on April 1st, and the larger camp, Oceti Sakowin, the main site of the movement which is currently accommodating the majority of native Water Defenders and their allies, was formed not long after. The community decided to take a stand after the pipeline rerouted directly under their main water source without consulting the Standing Rock Lakota, and they are asking the pipeline to be rerouted.
Last night, in the midst of a non-violent gathering on the bridge next to the DAPL construction site, Water Defenders were met with armed police, tanks, tear gas, water cannons, compression grenades and rubber bullets. The Water Defenders were unarmed and performing spiritual rituals at the front lines of the Standing Rock protests, and in spite of below freezing temperatures, the crowd of peaceful individuals were hosed with freezing water. The protectors stood their ground with strength and grace, chanting, singing, praying and locking arms. Along with many others, I was hit with rubber bullets, tear gassed and soaked. After a long, physically and emotionally difficult night for the Water Defenders, they’ve conjured up the strength and bravery to head back to the front lines this morning. Police stand by with guns and tanks as the Water Defenders pray.
Here are some of my photos from the past two days.