Standing Rock

Shelby native Rev. Rob Patton visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in November to join the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

SHELBY -- The threat of flooding as well as the use of force ended the protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation last week, but Rev. Rob Patton won't soon forget them.

The Shelby native, Vermilion resident and ordained pastor within the United Church of Christ was one of thousands of people who traveled to Standing Rock to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline will serve as a crude oil transport from North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

"There are so many issues gathered into this one time in history -- ecological, economical, morality, people's individual and human rights," Patton said. "I did it because there's an injustice being done, and if no one stands up for it -- particularly people in privilege -- it's not going to get righted."

Patton shared his experience at Standing Rock with the Shelby Area Democratic Club on Feb. 16. He left Ohio to journey to North Dakota on Nov. 15, 2016, and returned on Nov. 23, all in the name of standing in solidarity with the Lakota people.

"I got pretty outraged," Patton recalled. "So I said, who wants to go engage in some civil disobedience with me?"

Starting in August 2016 and ending this week, a significant mobilization of activists traveled to Oceti Sakowin, Rosebud and other camps on the remote patch of North Dakota prairie near the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers. The protests drew international attention and were widely credited with leading to a temporary halt in construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and protesters say the oil pipeline, which crosses the Missouri River nearby, will pose a grave threat to drinking water on the reservation and further downstream if it ever leaks. Construction on the pipeline, which will carry oil from the Bakken fields in western North Dakota, resumed this month with support from President Donald Trump, and the project could be finished this spring.

As Patton pointed out, drinking water contamination was not the only concern of those protesting the pipeline.

"For those of you engaged in a religious practice, think for a moment if the government said we're going to run a pipeline through your church, and it's going to go right underneath the altar," Patton said. "And we're going to put private and public police forces on your chancel and they're going to stand there while we do it and maybe even after we're gone.

"Think of the outrage that would cause in your community, and that is literally what is happening in North Dakota."

Patton traveled to Standing Rock armed with canned goods and $1,100 collected via a GoFundMe to bring to those already camped in protest. When he arrived at the camps, he was taken aback by the vast numbers of people who came with the same mission -- close to 3,000 people just in one camp, with license plates from all over, including Hawaii.

"What struck me mostly about the whole situation and the impetus for wanting to go was the force which showed up to enforce a private entity forcing their will on native people," Patton said. "And I won't go into the whole history of what we have done to native people in this country and all over the world."

According to Patton, local authorities and proponents of the pipeline project try to make the campsites "as miserable as possible" for the protestors. At night, authorities would turn work lights on pointed towards the encampment and aircraft would fly low over the tents all night long.

In the mornings, debriefing meetings were held at 7 a.m. before all-camp meetings began at 8 a.m. followed shortly by a new-arrival orientation.

"After the first day, we sat in meetings for three hours, we got warmed up, our hearts and bladders filled up, but I had never been on a larger high," Patton said. "It was just amazing to feel that sense of community from such a diverse and scattered group."

After the morning meetings, the camp prepared for "direct action," referred to as protests, and Patton geared up with goggles, a dust mask, ear protection against sonic cannons, and the numbers of his wife and a lawyer written in Sharpie on his arms. Protesters prepared for the worst, but all action was meant to be done in the name of a higher power.

"Everything we did, we did in prayer," Patton said. "Every meeting was opened with an indigenous prayer, but it was never closed because we were supposed to take that prayer out with us and continue everything in prayer, do it in a prayerful manner not only for yourself, for the water and everyone in camp, but even those across the lines from you pointing guns at you."

What struck Patton the most about Standing Rock was the realization of what communities can accomplish when working together. For example, three square meals were served each day to the entire camps, and all duties were performed like a well-oiled machine despite any type of registration or official announcements.

Patton's experience at Standing Rock also opened his eyes to another symbolic fight in North Dakota: the war against patriarchal oppression. All camp meetings were run by women, particularly women of native heritage. All gender identities, sexual orientations and skin colors were raised up and celebrated in Standing Rock.

It's the biggest lesson Patton took back to Ohio from Standing Rock: being poignantly aware of the impact of his white, male, heterosexual, middle-class, educated privilege.

"I wrestle with using my privilege in such a way that makes room for and lifts up those who weren't born with it, and exorcising myself of it by continuing to spread the news and help people be aware of it in themselves," Patton said.

"The sense of what people can do when they're of like-mind and motivated and their purpose is right and good was just amazing to me."

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