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Entering camp

The final 60 miles into the Standing Rock Reservation and the protester’s camp were nothing to fool around with.
The two lane road was desolate, the scenery eerie. When this land was first designated as an Indian reservation– an entity similar in rights to a sovereign nation– it was blanketed with hundreds of thousands of buffalo. Within a few short years, however, the illegal immigrants (sorry, but that’s what our ancestors were) completely killed off the herds in total violation of the treaty. Now the land is as barren as an airless planet, at least in the winter. A half-dozen cars lay dead in the ditch with a blanket of snow over them suggesting the metal carcasses had been there for a while.
Finally, after nearly two hours on the road, my pickup crested a hill and the protesters’ camp came into sight. The image was surreal, something out of a Mad Max movie set. Authentic teepees were interspersed with what I remember from my military days as a GP (general purpose), a medium dark green canvass draped over tent poles to create a 16-by-32 foot enclosure. Mixed in for good measure were an odd assortment of school buses, campers, yurts and at least one large geodesic dome. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of flags of different designs fluttered above it all.
A man at the entrance emerged from a modified GP and asked if he could help me.
Before leaving, Doug (the editor of the Solon Economist) helped make me a press pass complete with my photo and an official looking lanyard. From my experience with the newspaper, I know that if you flash it with confidence and walk quickly you can get into about any place. I show it to the guy and say I’m with the Iowa Press Association here to do a story and drop off a donation, pointing to the five tanks of propane in the back of the truck.
Everyone is welcome here, the man told me, especially those bringing propane but added, “I’d lose the press pass if I were you.” We don’t much care for the press here, he explained, we don’t feel they’ve been covering us fairly.
Later, I read the natives call it the 4Ds: drumming, dancing, drinking and dying. It seems the only press coverage they get is if one of the aforementioned activities is involved. Try to maintain your sovereign rights and protect the environment and all you get is images of drum circles aired on the television. It’s as if we invaded Canada and all the press had to report was lumberjack-looking men drinking beer and saying, “Eh.”
I explain that besides donating the gas, I’d like to volunteer for a couple of days and asked who I should see. He replied a good place to start would be at the meeting going on inside the geodesic dome.
So I made my way over to it, put on my orange hat and walked inside.
About 40 people were seated in low chairs in a circle with another 60 standing around the outside edge. Half appeared to be Native Americans and the other half caucasians. Everyone was dressed in serious winter clothing, unzipped in the balmy 40 degrees of the dome, kept warm by the body heat. I jostled politely but firmly to get to a spot where I could hear and see what was happening.
A man at the far end of the circle finished speaking on a topic I couldn’t quite pick up on in so short of time. From his posture and presence it was clear if he was some kind of leader. Next to him stood another man silent and serious, much larger than the average-sized “leader.” From his demeanor, I judged he was a right hand man to the leader or his security. Both were native-looking, dark featured with black hair, but then again that could make them Italian. The “guard” held a stick with feathers tied to one end.
“Okay,” the leader addressed the crowd. “We’ll end the meeting by going around the circle one last time.”
With that, the man started pointing the stick around the circle in a slow arc. He stopped and pointed at the first person with a raised hand.
Next week, the meeting, stay subscribed.