PORT TOWNSEND — A group of activists who took food and other supplies to protesters at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota over Thanksgiving week have returned to Port Townsend inspired to continue their work.
“I think within the group, we felt very successful,” said Megan Claflin, spokeswoman for the Pacific Northwest Stands with Standing Rock group.
“Now we’re just trying to figure out how to bring it home. It’s not like these problems are only in Standing Rock. We have things to do here.”
Members of the group are putting together a public presentation to share their experience with the community, Claflin said, adding that a date hasn’t been set.
The group, made up of about 30 people ranging in age from 7 to 70 years old, left Port Townsend on Nov. 21 in a caravan that included two buses, a 20-foot trailer and support vehicles and made its way to the Oceti Sakowin camp on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
The group — led by Daniel Milholland, founder of Thunderbull Productions, and Paul Magid, a co-founder of the New Old Time Chautauqua — brought more than $20,000 in donations and supplies and stayed for five days, Claflin said.
Protesters, who call themselves water protectors, have been camped on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation for months in opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) that would transfer oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region through South Dakota and Iowa into Illinois. The $3.7 billion pipeline would transport about 470,000 barrels of domestic crude oil a day.
The 1,200-mile, four-state pipeline is largely complete except for a section that would pump oil under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota, The Associated Press has reported.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe fears a leak could contaminate the drinking water on its nearby reservation and says the project also threatens sacred sites.
Protesters had requested supplies to help them get through the winter. Claflin said their group answered that call — through community donations, including from area farms and fisheries — and stayed to participate in peaceful protests and serve food.
“After we arrived, we were quickly dubbed the salmon camp,” Claflin said.
“One of our main missions while we were there was to supply food and a warm, welcoming place.”
Claflin said the donations allowed the group to provide hot meals to about 1,000 people.
“It’s a huge camp, so the kitchens that have kind of been set up were really feeling strained,” Claflin said.
“We just wanted to help by providing a place to get warm food and hot coffee.”
Claflin said that when the caravan from Port Townsend arrived at the Oceti Sakowin camp, about 5,000 people were staying there.
After news spread of police using rubber bullets and water cannons during clashes Nov. 20 and 21, the camp swelled to an estimated 10,000 people by Nov. 25, she said.
The Port Townsend group participated in a protest on Thanksgiving Day. Demonstrators assembled on state Highway 1806 and walked to Blackwater Bridge, where police and protesters had clashed earlier that week.
“People offered songs and prayers, and it was very peaceful,” Claflin said. “We were maybe 100 feet from police. They were behind a barrier in the middle of the bridge.”
The group then marched to Turtle Island, which is one of the Sioux Tribe’s sacred burial grounds and an area that tribal members say is threatened by the pipeline.
Tribal members performed a water ceremony there.
“There were police there, but they let them perform the ceremony,” Claflin said. “I didn’t observe any altercations with police during either of those actions.”
The group returned to Port Townsend last Sunday, Nov. 27, and is planning a return trip, Claflin said.
“We’re listening to the people in the camp and being mindful of what the camp needs,” she said.
Claflin said her biggest frustration now is getting information about what is happening in North Dakota.
“We’re listening to people who are there and then comparing that to what we’re seeing in the news or on social media,” Claflin said.
“It’s very different trying to get accurate information when you’re not in camp.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.