The number of veterans traveling to North Dakota to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline has swollen to over 3,000, an astonishing show of solidarity that aims to shield the water protectors from police violence.
Fellow veteran and prominent progressive Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) traveled to join the peaceful action late Friday, and reported that the Bismarck Airport was filled with veterans traveling to Standing Rock:
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) December 3, 2016
Lakota Sioux writer Ruth Hopkins also tweeted Friday that over 200 buses full of veterans were also scheduled to arrive throughout the night:
— Ruth Hopkins (@RuthHHopkins) December 3, 2016
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And author and activist Naomi Klein announced Saturday that she, too, would join the water protectors. "Headed to Standing Rock to learn, report, support, signal boost," Klein tweeted. "Stay tuned!"
The organizers of the action, Veterans Stand With Standing Rock, have already sent a delegation to speak with the Morton County Sheriff's Department, the National Guard, and Dakota Access Pipeline security. On Friday, members of the various groups spoke at the police blockade down the road from the Oceti Sakowin protest camp, said the Indigenous Environmental Network.
The organization said in a press statement:
Wesley Clark Jr., an organizer of Veterans Stand With Standing Rock, Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Brenda White Bull who served 20 years in the Marine Corps and is also a direct descendant of Chief Sitting Bull, delivered a message to representatives of the National Guard, the Veterans Association, Tigerswan Private Security, who is hired by DAPL, and North Dakota law enforcement.
Wesley, Kandi, and Brenda walked together across the bridge to have a discussion with representatives on the other side. The purpose of the discussion was to clarify that the delegation of more than 2,000 veterans comes in peace and will remain nonviolent and in prayer during their visit to Standing Rock.
"Further discussion was had about resolving tension between Water Protectors and law enforcement and also about the barricade on the bridge, which poses a danger not only to the camps but also the Cannon Ball community as it blocks the fastest route for emergency services," the group said. "An audio recording of the meeting confirms that North Dakota law enforcement will not be entering the camp."
"I felt [...] very personally more of a call of duty than I ever felt in the service to come and stand in front of the guns and the mace and the water and the threat that they pose to these people."
—Anthony Murtha, U.S. Navy veteran
The veteran action organizers are also to meet with tribal elders Saturday, reports Reuters, to discuss the group's plans to coordinate with the Standing Rock Sioux.
In addition to acting as human shields to protect the Indigenous activists, the veterans are "expected over the weekend to complete building a barracks and mess hall," the outlet reports.
The veterans are passionate in their mission to support the water protectors, with many telling reporters that they felt a call of duty to protect the Standing Rock Sioux.
"I felt it was our duty and very personally more of a call of duty than I ever felt in the service to come and stand in front of the guns and the mace and the water and the threat that they pose to these people," Anthony Murtha, a Navy veteran from Detroit, told Reuters from the Oceti Sakowin camp.
The U.S. Department of Justice also finally responded Friday to demands for action regarding police brutality against the Indigenous activists, it seemed, with a statement from U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch promising to send "conciliators" to "maintain the peace."
Lynch's statement reportedly followed phone calls between the attorney general and Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault II and Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier (who has described the water protectors as "evil").
Many water protectors were deeply disappointed by Lynch's statement. "What real conciliation looks like is giving us all our land back," said Xhopakelxhit, a member of the Nuu Chah Nulth, Coast Salish, and Cree who has been at Standing Rock since September, to the Guardian. "That's not going to happen."
Xhopakelxhit told the newspaper that she feared Lynch's statement was about "saving face with the American public."
Meanwhile, the threat of police violence continues to loom large. A water protector struck in the right eye with a rubber bullet may be permanently blinded, reports Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network—another frightening injury resulting from an encounter with the militarized local police.
For supporters who are unable to make the long trip to Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to stand with the Indigenous water protectors in person, Honor the Earth national campaigns director Tara Houska urges people to write to President Barack Obama to demand executive action against the controversial pipeline project:
"President Obama has been the strongest tribal president we've ever had," Houska told the New York Times in a Facebook live video. "He knows about Indigenous people. He's been to Standing Rock. He's physically been here. And so it's been really hard to see his inaction on this issue, and to see his—'let's let it play out over several weeks,' as a human rights situation is happening in the United States."