Standing Rock camps face another deadline due to melting snow, changing tactics

Local Episcopalians join tribe's call for march on Washington, D.C. next month

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Feb 17, 2017

Crystal Houser, 30, of Klamath Falls, Oregon, bags excess blankets for delivery to nearby communities Feb. 8 while helping to clean up the opposition camp against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Photo: REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

[Episcopal News Service] Standing alongside the road in Solen, North Dakota, Feb. 17 and looking out over the Cannonball River, the Rev. John Floberg declared the weather too hot.

“It’s 43 degrees,” he said during a telephone interview, as a car sped by at midmorning.

The day before the temperature was above 50.

Weather like that is enough to speed the melting of the more than 40 inches of snow that have fallen on the Standing Rock Sioux Nation this winter. It prompts predictions of ice jams in the Cannonball River next week. It’s enough to hasten the cleaning up and breaking down of the Oceti Sakowin protest camp that has been filled with people there to protect the waters of the Missouri and Cannonball from what they see as the threat of pollution from the nearly complete Dakota Access Pipeline.

Federal and state officials, as well as the tribe, have set Feb. 22 as the latest date for the camps to close. Reducing the size of the camps, or relocating them, has been a multi-week effort. Tribal officials earlier had said that the harshness of the winter made the camps unsafe. Now, they are worried about the safety of the several hundred still camped there when the snow melts and the Missouri and Cannonball run high. They are also worried that floodwater will sweep debris from the camps into the rivers, polluting them when the ultimate goal of the encampment was to prevent pollution. And, they are worried about talk of last stands and people staying until the bitter end.

The majority of the northeastern portion of Oceti Sakowin Camp has been cleaned up and many sections of camp have been cleared. “We are cooperatively working together to clean camp up in a good and timely way,” organizers said Feb. 16. Photo: Oceti Sakowin Camp via Facebook

However, Oceti Sakowin residents have been cleaning up the land and there is a systematic plan for that work. Camp residents and officials who wanted access to the camp to judge how much clean-up work remains held a tense meeting Feb. 16. Floberg and others are concerned about this next round of attempts to shut down the camps, hoping for a peaceful reaction from both officials and residents. What some call an over-militarized law enforcement response and instances of provocation by self-described water protectors at times have marred the months-long encampment.

Oceti Sakowin is flooded this week. Water is standing on the camp’s frozen ground. Just “squishy under your feet” in some places, said Floberg, but close to a foot of water in other places.

It is just enough to make the ground muddy but not enough to bog down the skip steer that he is using to help in the cleanup. Floberg, using the small, engine-powered machine with lift arms to move heavy loads, has recovered about 5,000 pounds of donated but unclaimed rice and another 5,000 pounds of flour that are salvageable for reservation food pantries. He loads such material into a trailer hitched to his pickup, which he drives in four-wheel drive low gear through 8 inches of mud up the hill to the highway.

“You keep feeling for momentum, but you don’t want to start spinning your wheels,” said Floberg, priest-in-charge of Episcopal Church congregations on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock, who added that “all of these skills I learned in seminary.”

The Episcopal Church has advocated with the Sioux Nation about the Dakota Access Pipeline since summer 2016. Local Episcopalians have also provided a ministry of presence in and around Cannon Ball, North Dakota, the focal point for groups of water protectors that gathered near the proposed crossing. That work and everything else that followed, Floberg said, “is our vocation as Christians.”

The work does not come without risk, he said, especially to the Episcopal Church’s reputation. “There is a risk to the reputation to our congregations in predominantly white communities around the state; how they will be viewed because of the actions we take here on Standing Rock,” Floberg said.

Then there are the practical implications of that risk. For instance, an engineer from the local power cooperative has been slow to help Episcopalians install an array of solar panels purchased with a United Thank Offering grant because he is “upset with the Episcopal Church for having gotten involved in this protest.”

Moreover, Floberg said, the Episcopal Church’s long-standing ministry to, among and with the people on Standing Rock has paid a price. “There’s only so many hours in the day so who’s not getting visited in the hospital?” he explained. “What else is not being accomplished or attended to that otherwise would have been?”

Floberg said he continues to be grateful for the support the local Episcopal community has gotten from the wider church in terms of both solidarity and donations.

The work of the Episcopal Church and local Episcopalians is taking place against the backdrop of a constantly changing legal and political landscape. The Army on Feb. 17 formally ended a month-old environmental impact study of the pipeline’s disputed crossing. That study was eight days old when newly inaugurated President Donald Trump called for a rapid completion of the pipeline. The Army gave Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners permission for the crossing on Feb. 8.

The lights of the drill pad built for the final portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline can been seen from Oceti Sakowin Camp. Photo: Oceti Sakowin Camp via Facebook

The remaining work on the pipeline involves pushing pipe under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe just north of the Standing Rock Reservation. The pipeline company set up a drill pad very near the proposed crossing point, which is upstream from the tribe’s reservation boundaries. The tribe has water, treaty fishing and hunting rights in the lake. Workers have drilled entry and exit holes for the crossing, and filled the pipeline with oil leading up to the lake in anticipation of finishing the project, according to the Associated Press.

The Standing Rock and neighboring Cheyenne River Sioux also are fighting the pipeline work in court, with the next hearing set for Feb. 28. Standing Rock officials have been saying for weeks that they must wage the fight against the pipeline in the courts, not on the land in North Dakota.

“Don’t confuse the Camp with the movement or its goals,” Floberg said in a Feb. 16 Facebook post. “Keeping the Camps open was never the goal. Keeping clean water is the goal. In this particular place and time, respecting Treaty Obligations is the main road to that goal.”

Related to the changing venues for the movement, Standing Rock has called for a March 10 march in Washington, D.C. Organizers are still working out the details but the plan is for people to gather on or near the National Mall and march to a place near the White House.

Floberg is amplifying the tribe’s call by asking Episcopalians to join that march. He has established a Facebook page, Standing Rock Rocks the Mall, where details will be posted. Floberg is also organizing a prayer service for the night before the march at Washington National Cathedral. Advocacy in congressional offices is also part of the plan.

Dakota Access Pipeline developers have been publicizing this infographic to show the engineering of the pipeline’s last stretch. Photo:

The 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline is poised to carry up to 470,000 barrels of oil a day from the Bakken oil field in northwestern North Dakota – through South Dakota and Iowa – to Illinois, where it will be shipped to refineries. The pipeline was to pass within one-half mile of the Standing Rock Reservation, and Sioux tribal leaders repeatedly expressed concerns over the potential for an oil spill that would damage the reservation’s water supply and the threat the pipeline posed to sacred sites and treaty rights. Energy Transfer Partners says it will be safe and better than transporting oil by truck or railcar.

Also on Feb. 17, CalPERS, the $300 billion California public employee pension fund, said it joined more than 120 other investors in calling on banks funding the pipeline to get it routed away from Native American land.

“We are concerned that if DAPL’s projected route moves forward, the result will almost certainly be an escalation of conflict and unrest as well as possible contamination of the water supply,” the letter says. “Banks with financial ties to the Dakota Access pipeline may be implicated in these controversies and may face long-term brand and reputational damage resulting from consumer boycotts and possible legal liability. As major shareowners of these banks, we are very concerned about the financial risks this poses to the investments we oversee and to those whom we serve as fiduciaries.”

The list of banks and investors, including four New York City public employee pension funds and a number of religious groups, is here. In all, the signatories control a total of $653 billion in assets.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is senior editor and reporter for the Episcopal News


Comments (15)

  1. F William Thewalt says:

    As a nearly 50 year Episcopalian, I am sorry the church feels compelled to support nearly every leftist agenda item that arises. I’d be happy if the church never took on another project against progress, energy, the environment, and the like.

    1. John Floberg says:

      Support of The Rule of Law is not a leftist activity. Supporting Treaty Rights is supporting the supreme law of the land as a constitutional standard.

    2. steven kaid says:

      I am sorry that you view survival as a leftist tactic. These people are just standing up for their rights. If there is anyone that can speak to the flaws of a government led and funded society it is a patron on a reservation.

    3. Bill Louis says:

      John, I completely understand what you are saying. I am disgusted with the Episcopal church’s need to support every Liberal/Progressive cause. I’ve given up trying to convince people otherwise. They will use Scripture to justify their position and even brand you as “un Christian”. The only way to get the Church;s attention is to hit them in the pocketbook. I’ve directed my giving away from the Diocese and support local church causes only. Apparently, Churches have no option but to support the Diocese via an assessment. If like minded congregants want to stop the insanity of the liberal Diocese they would stop or redirect their giving. I guarantee you it will not be easy. I have been literally shunned by some of the liberal “Christians” in my church. Did you know the Episcopal Executive Council just granted $500,000 to the Episcopl Migration Ministry to resettle “refugees’? Guess where that money came from. The arguement will be it’s the “Christian” thing to do. Meanwhile we ignore or pay lip service to the elderly living in poverty, homeless vets, orphaned children and hungry families.

      1. Ian Binns says:

        You do realize that the Episcopal Church is involved in multiple ministries at the same time, right? You make it sound like because the church gave money to help refugees doesn’t mean the church ignores everything else. Also, what’s with the quotes around Christian and refugee?

        1. Ian Binns says:

          Oops…bad typing on my part. Meant to say that even though the church is giving money to help with refugees it can and still does work with other ministries.

        2. Bill Louis says:

          “refugees” because we can’t or don’t know how to separate the good from the bad (see Europe) . “Christians” because they profess to be Christian untill someone doesn’t see eye to eye with them.

      2. Martin Walters says:

        Bill, my Episcopal Church congregation is small, but we have outreach support for the poor, homeless, hungry families, veterans, refugees, congregants that adopted orphans, Muslim and Jewish outreach and I am the person in our Parish that is heading up a Standing Rock Support Project. Sounds like you need to focus on your unbalanced church by heading up some particular efforts were upon you will feel its more balanced.

        1. Bill Louis says:

          Police had to arrest 50 people that refused to leave even after the deadline was extended. Then here’s what was needed to clean up the mess you all left.
          “Now the cleanup efforts begin. The camps span more than 1,000 acres, which had been, according to state officials, sensitive wildlife habitat. Now, because of an early thaw and thousands of “water protectors” it is a wet, muddy cesspool of human waste and hazardous fuels after protesters turned the native grassland into a dumping ground.”

          “According to the Col John Henderson of the US Army Corp of Engineers, crews have already removed some 250 truckloads of trash, but his agency plans to spend upwards to $1.2 million of taxpayer money to rehabilitate the area.”
          Nice job Martin!

    4. Jane Kirk says:

      Amen. I say move it into YOUR neighborhood if you want … but leave the Indians be. They’ve been moved and ravaged long enough to last FOREVER. Thank You God for the new Heaven and Earth that is just around the corner from ‘here’.

  2. christine grem says:

    I have divested in support of water warriors
    May every machine break down

    1. Bill Louis says:

      May those that left the disastrous mess behind be billed to reimburse the taxpayers the $1M they paid to clean up after the protestors .

  3. Ian Gamble says:

    These thoughts reflect mine and my Episcopal friends exactly.


  4. Pjcabbiness says:

    Are the protesters going to return to clean up the significant environmental mess that they left and repair the damage they caused to the sensitive topographical area?

  5. Christopher Johnson says:

    They left a ton of garbage for North Dakota to pick up. And news stories have surfaced that they left a great many dogs to fend for themselves. And yet they claim to love Mother Earth. These people are the worst conceivable hypocrites.

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