Standing Rock and How The Way We Search May Be Dividing Us

Jennifer Hasegawa
Dec 12, 2016 · 11 min read
Moon above the Missouri River near Bismarck ND


A week before leaving, I started listening to An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. The book is an exalted slap-to-the-face wake-up call regarding our textbook miseducation about the history of the indigenous peoples’ of what we now call the United States.

  • People are protesting that sacred sites have been, or will be, destroyed in building the pipeline.
  • People have set up a camp on a strategic piece of Standing Rock reservation land to obstruct and/or monitor the DAPL construction site.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read. And, BTW, It Isn’t Everything. Not Even Close.

In hindsight, I know that this understanding was not 100% accurate, despite my reading a LOT of content surfaced by Googling “DAPL.”

“It isn’t information overload, it’s filter failure.” — Clay Shirky

I deal with documentation that helps software engineers build apps, so my filters are pretty innocuous in the grand scope of things. However, when you’re using Google, the lens through which many people see the world, filters are everything. The filters need to be pretty fucking smart — and even more importantly, ethical, because of the scale of influence.

Arriving in Bismarck

A faint moon guided our plane into Bismarck. Bismarck was to be our home base for the next few days as we traveled to and from the Standing Rock reservation.

Freeway running past our hotel parking lot

Heading to Camp

A little research into our destination the next day revealed that the most direct route to the camp was closed. We’d have to take the more circuitous route shown in orange.

The Lay of the Land

My freedom vibe is quelled pretty quickly as we find out that we are required to obtain and wear media passes. We go to a tent outside of which a dozen people are already lined up for passes. To paint the picture accurately, these are not the mainstream media; these are citizen journalists.

The Water Protectors

We head down into the heart of the camp and within a few seconds, I am approached by a towering person with an eagle feather twirling in the wind from a freshly coiffed mohawk.

Team heading to the Oceti Sakowin Camp to conduct a day of interviews
Jean Roach, artist and long-time supporter of Leonard Peltier, with a portrait of Peltier that a friend painted for her
Chase Iron Eyes: American Indian activist, attorney, and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Myron Dewey, indigenous social media and film specialist and peaceful drone pilot
Dewey pilots drones to monitor law enforcement and construction activities
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network and key organizer at Standing Rock
Jessica Brown of the Heiltsuk Nation, British Columbia
Francisco ‘Pancho’ Ramos Stierle, Mexican-born former astrophysics student turned full-time community activist and humanitarian
Johnnie Aseron, Oceti Sakowin Camp media coordinator and master of keeping things real
Cheryl Angel of Rosebud Nation
Professor Shannon speaking about inter-generational trauma being passed via DNA
Mother and child activists tell us about a Water Protection action being planned for the next day in Bismarck
Citizen journalist tells the story of an encounter he recorded between an armed man in a cement truck and a group of Water Protectors
This geodesic dome is the camp’s center and hosts daily morning meetings where campers get oriented and learn of the day’s actions and initiatives


Here’s a collage of observations and experiences from my time spent in the camp:

  • They tell us that some meth heads came to stay at the camp, but that didn’t last long because there is no drug supply in the camp. If people who don’t live according to the goals of the camp arrive, the community will correct itself and ask those people to leave.
  • I’ve never been to the Peace Corps, summer camp, nor Burning Man, but an aspect of Oceti Sakowin Camp felt like a burgeoning hybrid of the three. In one of the morning meetings, impassioned, manic, and earnest young White women in flowing gauzy skirts and parkas declare the goals of their ongoing projects — running the cafeteria, setting up internet connectivity, and constructing compost toilets — and recruit volunteers from an eager crowd.
  • I hung out in what seemed to be the entertainment center of the camp, where I listened to a Native-American man sing a song for the crowd and then introduce his mother, who he delightedly put on the spot to speak. She stood at the mic and made an impassioned plea to the young women of the camp to wear blankets or ponchos to cover themselves as they are in prayer. She advised them to not go out alone after dark and not to knock on the door of men.
  • Beaded Hello Kitty coin purses and pendants are laid out for sale on a table outside a tipi.
  • A mountain of clothing overflows from a makeshift stall. A young White man jumps out of a pickup truck with three garbage bags and dumps even more clothing onto the pile. In the orientation meeting, one of the facilitators instructs people, “When you leave, take a bag of clothing with you. We don’t need any more clothing!”
  • As I wandered through the camp, a little boy popped out from behind a tent with a wooden stick in his arms. He points it at me like a gun and says, “Give me all your money!”

The Image That I Couldn’t Digitize

Rising above the camp is Facebook Hill, apparently named as such because it is the only place in camp where you have a chance of getting a signal strong enough to post a Facebook status.

    Jennifer Hasegawa

    Written by

    Poet and Information Architect

    Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
    Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
    Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade