By Crystal Defatte
For our continuing coverage of the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), I spoke with Jess Mazour, a community organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, about her recent trip to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s camp set up in opposition to the DAPL.
CD: Thank you so much for agreeing to the interview. You recently got back from Standing Rock, how long were you there for?
JM: We left on Friday morning and got back late Monday night so we had 2 full days at the camp.
CD: What made you decide to go?
JM: I decided to go because this is a monumental moment in history and we are stronger when we’re united. We want to build relationships, support our brothers and sisters, and unite the fights in North Dakota and Iowa
CD: In your mind, what does uniting the fights in North Dakota and Iowa look like?
JM: Lifting each other’s voices, showing there is opposition all along the path of the pipeline, and bringing supplies up to the camp so they stay safe all winter long. We’re in this together so doing whatever it takes to stop this pipeline together.
CD: I think we can all get behind that. Could you walk us through what a typical day in the camp was like?
JM: Every day is different but while we were there we woke up to a bull horn saying “Wake up warriors. Time to support our brothers and sisters.” We started the day with a prayerful action. Then folks headed back to camp for food, do chores, meetings, etc. Chores include cooking, chopping wood, trash pickup, ceremonies, trainings, deliveries, taking people to showers, art making, etc. They hold daily non-violent civil disobedience trainings and community meetings. Dinner is served in the evenings at different locations around the camp. Then people attend ceremonies, sit around the fire, dance to drum circles, and head to bed early.
CD: It sounds like there was a lot of cultural immersion that came with all this. What kind of effect, if any, did seeing or taking part in those prayers and ceremonies have on you?
JM: I’m not a religious person but participating in their prayer ceremonies has made me more spiritual. We have to honor Mother Earth and protect our future generations. We can’t pass the culture of greed and extraction on to future generations
CD: How many people would you estimate were in the camp when you were there?
JM: Somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000
CD: Were there many people like yourself who came from outside the reservation?
JM: I would say 80-90% of the people there are Native American from reservations across the country (and world!)
CD: It’s quite impressive to hear people from all over the world are coming out in support of stopping the DAPL. What was your time like outside of the camp? Did you spend much time at the actual DAPL construction site?
JM: Yea, we participated in a march to the construction site that is 4-6 miles away from the Missouri River. We also helped build the camp that now sits in the path of the pipeline.
CD: It’s wonderful to know there is now an entire camp blocking the path of the pipeline. Will all 1,000 to 2,000 people in the camp you were at be eventually occupying this new camp or will there be a smaller population there?
JM: I’m not sure what their plan is for the winter camp. Right now they have 15-20 tipis and over 100 tents set up at the new camp. Tension is high. The cops could come evict the camp at any moment. Now is the time to go and help them defend the camp anyone is able. They are claiming eminent domain over the land. It is their land and they are stopping the pipeline to protect the common good of the people.
CD: Many have been standing up to the police and risking arrest in defense of their land. I’ve seen reports of over 80 people arrested that Saturday. Some of those arrests came at the end of a gun and with pepper spray. Were you there to witness any arrests made?
JM: We were at the march but hung back a bit so we weren’t arrested. They were pretty far away so we didn’t witness the actual arrests but could see the riot cops running after them. We heard it was at least 126 arrests.
CD: That’s double what Morton County (*the county that Standing Rock is in) was originally reporting! Did you at any time fear for your safety or fear you may be arrested, even though you were hanging back?
JM: Yea, you could be arrested at anytime while you’re there – especially on an action.
CD: What was the mood like back at camp after the 120+ arrests were made?
JM: Everyone was tense and praying for them to be safe. We didn’t know exactly what happened till later that day because anyone who was close enough to witness was arrested.
CD: What advice would you give anyone thinking of going to standing rock?
JM: My advice to people who want to go is be self-sufficient and volunteer to help in any way you can. Cook, clean, chop wood, set up tents, etc. You will make friends fast if you pitch in.
CD: Would you go back?
JM: Yes, I will be back. I’d like to go at least once a month.
CD: Is there anything else you or the people of Standing Rock would like the general public to know?
JM: This movement is prayerful and peaceful. Don’t believe what you see on mainstream media – go there for yourself and witness and be part of history. Oppression like this means we are on the right side of history. We must stay strong and peaceful.
CD: Thank you so much for your time and your activism. It is very much appreciated.
JM: Thank you for reporting on it and being part of it too!
CD: You’re very welcome, happy to be of service.
Crystal is a 32 year old mom with a passion for progressive politics and activism. She currently resides in Bettendorf, IA.