Earlier today I posted about a prayer circle I had the opportunity to witness while visiting the Sacred Stone Camp near Cannon Ball, ND. I believe prayer circles are a brilliant way for the water protectors to stay focused on their goals, while also protesting in peaceful manner. That is the good side of what I was able to see while visiting Cannon Ball. Now it is time for a post highlighting a bad side of what I saw and where I think that could lead.
This post will be different from what I normally do on this site. I will share three short experiences and tie them all together at the end. Before going on I will mention that even though I am sharing an experience from the water protector side of the barricade, the overall fear of violence I have applies equally to both sides. I’ll also note this post is much longer than I intended. But I think it is an important post to get published.
The first story I will share happened while I was witnessing the prayer circle. Perhaps witnessing is the wrong term. At this point I was done taking pictures and was standing with others in the circle and listening to the prayers/stories from women in the circle. I personally am not a spiritual person, but I did feel a lot of empathy for the water protectors cause as I listened to their prayers/stories.
About half way through the duration of the prayer circle there was a SUV that pulled up just to the south of the circle. Technically vehicles were blocked off by cones from coming this way, but a few other vehicles had been parked here as well. The driver of the vehicle was a man in camouflage jacket (it looked similar to the Goretex jacket that had just started to be deployed when I was in the Army). This man did not join the prayer circle. In fact he almost seemed to outright avoid the circle, even though I believe others from his vehicle did join the circle. The man brought out a native american tool of some type. I am not sure what it is for sure, at first I thought it was some sort of ornate peace pipe. It was very colorful and had feathers hanging off of it. As he proceeded to walk north towards the bridge he carried it as if it were a club; and from that time on it continued to look like a club to me, primarily because of the way he was wielding it. After he was on the north side of the prayer circle he held up what I now thought of as a club and let out what appeared to be a loud war cry towards law enforcement on the other side of the bridge. It actually seemed very out-of-place with the prayer circle going on. But I didn’t think too much of it, mostly because I was trying to hear the prayers in the circle over the wind.
The next short story I have is from just after the prayer circle. It was at this time I realized my bad knee couldn’t stand much longer so I was going to head back to my pickup and start the journey back to Aberdeen. Before doing so I took a few more pictures of the bridge from this vantage point on the state highway. I never did use any of the pictures, mostly because there were still a dozen or so people from the prayer circle standing directly in my shot. This series of pictures just never turned out to be good enough pictures to use in one of my posts. Just today when I was going through the pictures I would use for the prayer circle post I noticed something. On the very right side of a picture taken with my wide-angle lens was the man who previously did the war cry. He was obviously staring right at me in the picture and had a look as if I was somehow wronging him. Actually a friend of mine that looked at the picture today said he has a “what the f*ck are you pointing that camera at” look. But like I said, I didn’t realize I had taken a picture of him at the time, this was with a wide-angle lens, and would not have been pointing at him anyway since he was at the very edge of the picture.
In my post about the prayer circle I mentioned camp security had come out to let us know we were not supposed to be there. That was quite alright with me since I had planned on leaving anyhow. I did end up talking with someone for about another fifteen minutes, but then I headed back towards camp so I could get in the truck and head out.
Now I am at the front gate of Sacred Stone Camp. It is here I ended up taking a picture of an ambulance leaving the gate, which was in my post of Sacred Stone Camp pictures from yesterday. I also tried to take a picture of the flags going down the middle of the camp from outside the camp, but wasn’t able to get a picture I was happy with.
Before going on I should note I came into this knowing I wouldn’t take pictures inside the camp. Simply put I wasn’t sure of the legal ramifications of doing so. I knew I was OK taking pictures outside the camp, because that was out on a public highway. Inside the camp is a little bit more foggy. Technically the land is owned by the Army Corp of Engineers. But the land currently has a settlement and is clearly fenced off, making it unclear if I was legally OK to take pictures in the camp without permission and/or having subjects of pictures sign release statements. Because I didn’t even want to deal with that headache I decided the pictures I had taken outside the camp was sufficient for my needs.
When I got inside the camp I did decide to take one picture. That picture would be of the flags going down the middle of the camp. I think it is a cool sight to see all of the tribal flags on display. And I figured since it was a road I could follow the same photographer guideline I always follow when taking pictures in public.
Below is the picture I took.
The front gate was getting pretty busy at this time. It was around noon on Sunday and a lot of people were starting to arrive at the camp. In order to get this picture I jumped out right in front of the gate, clicked a few pics, and jumped back. I did that hurriedly in order to avoid being run over. Technically there was a small lull in traffic at this point, but I really didn’t want to trust anyone turning into the camp would stop before running me over.
After I got the picture I started walking towards my truck and was looking at my cameras viewfinder to see if I got the picture I wanted. It is at that time I heard shouts behind me from two different sources. At the time I wasn’t sure where the second shout was coming from, but the first shout was from tribal security. The tribal security guard ran up to me and asked what I was taking pictures of. I replied I was just trying to get a picture of the center of camp and showed him the picture I had just taken. He then asked where my press pass was. Press pass? I didn’t realize there was a press pass for the camp and informed him of that. He asked if I would go up the hill on the west side of the camp and get a press pass at the media tent. I told him I would and we parted ways. The camp security guard was courteous the whole time.
As I started walking towards the media tent I once again heard a shout from behind me, this time from the other source I couldn’t pinpoint earlier. About twenty feet behind me was a SUV with a guy that had jumped out and was yelling at me. He said “are you taking pictures of my license plate?” and “why are you taking pictures of my license plate” repeatedly. He was also walking towards me like he was looking for a fight. I then calmly replied that I was simply trying to get a picture of the flags. I repeated this three times as he approached me. Finally, when he was about ten feet away he gave up, mumbled something, and stormed back into his SUV and took off.
I don’t know if he just decided to give up because I wasn’t willing to have a shouting match with him. Or maybe he noticed I turned on the record feature of the camera around my neck and had unscrewed my mono-pod until it was almost off the camera (always have a plan when in a situation you think might be dangerous). Whether he gave up because I wasn’t playing his game, or gave up because he noticed I would be able to defend myself really doesn’t matter to me. What mattered to me at the time is that he went away. It was also at this time I realized this was the same man that had done what appeared to be a war cry towards law enforcement earlier.
It wasn’t until looking at the pictures today that I noticed the pictures I took of the flags does have his vehicle going down that very same road in the center camp. In fact when I looked at the picture I noticed his reverse lights were on. I do remember seeing a vehicle turn onto the road with the flags and driving straight through the flags when I went to take the picture. That means he had to have hit reverse as soon as I hustled in front of the gate to take this picture. It might have taken me ten seconds at most to get into the middle of the gate and take the picture. This guy was waiting for something like this to happen and must have hit reverse as soon as he seen me in the gate.
Now why did I share these encounters with this man? Because I fear it is people like him that will cause what people will call a modern Wounded Knee. There is a lot of emotion and tension that builds up in situations such as this. Some people are able to channel that emotion and tension in various ways, such as prayer circles or socializing. But some people are not able to channel that negative energy away, in fact they seem to be looking for any excuse to make the enemy pay. In this case I believe the man in question was trying to make me the enemy.
I believe the small majority of people such as the man from my stories will cause a true battle to happen during one of the protests. I also believe some of those in this small minority of angry people will purposely do something to force law enforcement to react with extreme prejudice. I also feel there is also at least one, if not more, of the law enforcement officers holding the line that would love nothing more than to end this conflict with a battle. I don’t think most law enforcement officers want that, but I am quite sure there is at least one who does want a true conflict/battle. All this situation needs to become a modern Wounded Knee is for one of the angry protesters that wants a battle to do something stupid and antagonize the law enforcement officer on the other end who also happens to want a battle. Once something starts things can become chaotic very fast, and law enforcement officers will be forced to protect themselves; especially if the other side has weapons (the camp says no weapons are allowed, but they can’t really be sure).
It is possible this man became more enraged because of pure coincidence by my shooting pictures where he happened to be. But this mans anger seemed to go very much beyond anything I was doing. Back in my days as a bouncer and my time in the service I remember seeing men like this, and they are a danger to those around them when given the opportunity to release their anger in a very physical manner. Actually it is for that reason I probably won’t visit any of the Standing Rock camps again in the future.
For the sake of keeping this protest peaceful I hope leadership at the camps are actively seeking out these angry individuals and finding ways to re-channel that negative energy. I don’t think kicking these people out of the camp would work, because there are multiple camps. But I do think a good leader can find ways to help these angry individuals. Hopefully those leaders can do something before something truly terrible happens.
PS. There is a small postscript to this story. I did make it up the hill to the media tent. Unfortunately there was something important going on in the tent and I had to wait to get my pass. I waited for twenty minutes. By that time I decided between my hurting knee and wish to get back to my family overrode the need to get a press pass. I walked back down the hill and drove back home. Unfortunately I never did get a press pass, so I never was able to get a briefing about what is OK to photograph at the camp. If I go back, which I doubt at this time, I will ensure I hit the media tent right away. If I did break any rules the camp has set up I apologize, I really didn’t know there was a requirement to get a press pass; and apparently some of the other photographers I seen there without press passes didn’t realize it either.