SPIRIT CAMP — It was lunch time and whoever was in camp was handed a plate of frank and beans, with a few chips on the side.
A fire of box elder and cottonwood crackled and smoked, and a warm breeze chased the soot from one person to the next.
It was quiet and serene Thursday at the camp founded to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will cross the Missouri River about one-half mile from where tents and tipis are pitched in the dry grass against budding bull berry bushes.
The camp just north of the town of Cannon Ball on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has been occupied for two weeks now. People are coming and going, sleeping in thin shelter, living off donated food and spending their days in contemplation, conversation and prayer. Willow frames for sweat lodges and a colorful prayer post stand beside the camp.
The pipeline will carry as much as 570,000 barrels daily of Bakken crude and pass under the Missouri River near its confluence with the Cannonball River just 1,000 feet from the reservation boundary.
People who come to the camp are in view of the proposed crossing and can pray as they are moved to for the water and the land they believe are threatened should the pipeline break and spill oil into the rivers.
The aim is to stop the pipeline, and LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal historian and preservation employee, has no doubt that aim will find its mark.
“We will stop it. We have prayer with us,” said Allard, who donated family land for the camp and is the closest of any landowner who would be affected. She said the area at the confluence is rich with history, ancient settlements and burials.
“We are not expendable,” she said.
The tribal leadership has asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a full-blown environmental impact statement, rather than a less rigorous finding of no significant impact, for where the pipeline will cross the Missouri. The corps has not yet issued any permits for that part of the 1,000-mile route from the Bakken to Illinois.
Kat Eng, from Winona, Minn., joined the camp three days ago to show her support. She was grimy, in need of a non-existent shower and becoming used to picking off pesky ticks, but cheerful all the same.
She said she’s been rising early to watch the sun rise from a hill overlooking the confluence and to listen to the birdsong. She is not a tribal member, but she belongs to Honor the Earth and tries to live what she believes.
“To me, it’s really important to support the indigenous people and all people who deserve clean water. That’s what we’re here to defend, and we want to feel what it’s like,” said Eng, who describes the evenings, when the drumming echoes out over the water, as especially meaningful.
About 30 people have been living in the camp, and Allard said the number will grow with warm weather when the school year ends.
Wiyaka Eagleman, of Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, lived in camp there for nine months in protest of the Keystone XL. He came to Standing Rock because of the harm oil companies can do to the water.
“We pray every day in camp. It’s all we need,” said Allard, who expects the camp will remain occupied for as long as it takes to stop the pipeline.
Activities to keep people involved are scheduled, including a gathering April 29 at the Grand River Casino near Mobridge, S.D. A ranking corps official will be there to take comments, and a women’s run, motorcycle ride and horse ride are also planned.
The Spirit Camp activities are updated daily on Facebook pages People Over Pipeline and No Dakota Access in Treaty Territory, pages that were started with the camp.