MORTON COUNTY — A movie star on Thursday joined the largest protest yet to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Actress Shailene Woodley, heroine of the Divergent movie series, was among a knot of sweaty runners who returned to the reservation after delivering a petition opposing the pipeline to Washington D.C.
Woodley and the runners ended with a symbolic lap from the Cannonball River to a site on Highway 1806, where about 225 tribal members and supporters prayed and sang to try to stop the pipeline from entering land bordering the reservation, heading toward the river.
The heavily policed scene resulted in 10 arrests of young men and women who attempted to sit on the gravel access being built from the highway onto private land. Most were charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, two with the more serious charge of criminal trespass for crossing the fence onto private land.
Woodley, dressed in black running tights and tennis shoes, her hair in a casual knot, drew little attention to herself and spoke quietly with organizers and protesters standing and sitting along the highway while police tried to keep the roadway clear. She said she had joined the run for two days and plans to stay with the protest for as long as it takes to stop the pipeline.
“I’ll be here until we win, a week or a year. I’m out here because I believe clean water is a right for everyone; I’m here because I’m a human being and I want to have children some day, so it’s also my responsibility to make sure that all babies, all children have water,” Woodley said. “The end is when they (the pipeline) pack up and leave. I stand in solidarity with these people.”
The 1,100-mile pipeline will carry about a half-million barrels of Bakken crude daily from the oil patch to Chicago, twice crossing the Missouri River. The U.S Army Corps of Engineers issued easements for the water crossings two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the tribe is in federal court, seeking an injunction with the aim of slowing or stopping the pipeline. The opposition has grown out of fear a rupture will harm the drinking water, water for millions of users downstream and disrupt the sacred sites.
While Woodley talked, prayer drummers and dancers moved in a rhythmical circle near the orange barricade set up by police. At least 15 Highway Patrol officers were on scene, along with five members of the Mandan Police Department, both departments assisting another 10 officers with the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
The scene was under the command of Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, who said the people arrested “wanted to be.” The sheriff said the police would remain until the company had secured access off the highway to the private land.
“We’re here to let the protesters have their say — they can have their voice —and so the workers can get their job done, too. That’s the goal,” he said.
One of the protest organizers, Mekasi Horinek, of Oklahoma Bold, said he was not happy to see 10 private security types apparently hired by Dakota Access “posted up” to the scene carrying .40 caliber Glock handguns.
“We’re here in prayer and occupying that site. We asked them to disarm; we’re out here to be peaceful and they’re armed,” Horinek said.
Protesters with the group Up to Us stood near the barricade singing “You know not what you do,” to the pipeline workers, while small children from Standing Rock listened and watched.
The runners led a chant of “We run for water! We run for our nation! We run for our brothers! We Run,” as protesters pushed up the police line and four more were arrested in the second series of arrests for the day.
Woodley said she wanted the futuristic Divergent role because of her beliefs about fossil fuels causing climate change and her fears that a water-starved planet could someday resemble World War III.
“I had that awareness; that’s why I did the movie. I can imagine a day when people are dying and paying for a drink of water. Every day, we choose the course we take and I don’t want that to happen and think I could have chosen to act,” she said. “Native Americans understand what we don’t, that water and the land is life. What happens to the water here on Standing Rock affects people in Los Angeles.”
She said North Dakota can expect more protesters and possibly more big names to join the Dakota Access protest.
“When people find out about this, it will be hard to keep people away. Everyone wants clean water,” she said.
Woodley, along with Ann Kleinhenz, formed Up to Us three weeks ago after watching how the Bernie Sanders campaign ignited the hopes and will of the next generation.
“We can’t let that die," Kleinhenz said. "That’s a voice that’s never been heard before and they have a lot of leverage right now.”
Joye Braun, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said it was no coincidence that many young people and children were among the protesters.
“They are so eloquent. They know they are here for water. They say they don’t want to die,” said Braun, adding that the protest continues to evolve and will stand until the tribes’ court hearing Aug. 24 and beyond.
She said numbers will continue to swell through the next several days.
Tribal councilman Frank White Bull walked among the tribal members and others out on the highway and said he supports the protest.
“Historically, the corps permitted the dam and gave us the water. Now, they say OK, we’ll put oil in it, deal with it,” White Bull said.