Converging on Standing Rock: The people of Sacred Stone


On a windswept hill overlooking Cannonball River, Elizabeth Hallett sat in the warm interior of her idling silver rental car. She looked thoughtful and, at times, unsure. 

“I’ve always had a tremendous feeling for the Indians, which came from my mother,” Hallett said.

Fifty miles south of Bismarck, North Dakota and a thousand miles from home, Hallett’s eyes glistened as she relayed a story her mother had told her.

“My mother always, whenever she spoke of Native Americans, said they had a bad deal,”  Hallett said, “so I grew up with this sense of — maybe even the obligation — to do whatever I could for Native Americans.” 

Hallett lives in Ashland, Oregon. She turns 93 in February and traveled over 1,500 miles to the Sacred Stone encampment to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their protest of the $3.78 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.

As the protest goes on, people continue to pour into the Oceti Sakowin camp, even as the possibility of a harsh North Dakota winter bears down upon them. 

The Governor of North Dakota, Jack Dalrymple, issued a state of emergency for the Oceti Sakowin camp Monday, Nov. 28. Gov. Dalrymple demanded the campers leave, citing a lack of sanitation at the camp as well an approaching blizzard.

It is unclear whether or not the edict will get the campers to move. 

Clashes between the protesters and police continue to escalate and, even though the Army Corp of Engineers has given them an eviction date of Dec. 5, campers continue their work of winterizing their camp sites.

One Wednesday, the camp received a semi-truck full of donated hay for insulation. Almost immediately campers started unloading the bales with military-like precision. 

It was a near-silent operation, with most of the noise coming from the idling diesel engine.

A man named Wanderer was on the ground. Underneath the shadow of the tractor trailer, Wanderer ruffled bits of hay from his hair and scraggly beard. 

Wanderer grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida. He came to the Oceti Sakowin camp because of what he witnessed after the Deep Horizon oil spill. 

“The coastline looked like garbage. It destroyed the economy, people were getting sick from the water,” Wanderer said. 

His father owned 15 fishing boats and after the spill his fleet shrunk down to one. 

“Whether who you wanna believe in religiously or even spiritually, we’re all on this planet for one basic goal,” Wanderer said, “… and the fact that we have people who wanna put our lives up for profit — whether it be oil companies, whether it be the chemical companies or the food companies — we can’t keep letting that stand. We’ve gotta fight. We’ve gotta fight.”

That same day three semi-trucks carrying donated wood arrived. From over the loudspeaker a voice said the wood was for anyone. That is what the infrastructure of the Oceti Sakowin camp is based upon: you take what you need and you give what you can.

Kitchens spot the camp offering hot food and coffee for anyone who is hungry. There are donation tents with hats, gloves, sweaters and coats; anything needed to survive the North Dakota winter. All the people ask in return is help with work. 

“(Oceti Sakowin is) phenomenal,” said Jennifer Martel, coordinator of the Sitting Bull College Visitor Center on Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The camp is like a small town that sprung up overnight, “with people from all over the world — that’s the crazy part.”

Martel estimates that people from at least 22 countries have been through the Oceti Sakowin camp. 

Moji Agha, former psychologist and a self-proclaimed full-time activist, came to Sacred Stone because he saw similarities between the protest and something that happened in his home country of Iran. 

“Sixty-three years ago, (BP) had the audacity to say to the Iranian people that the oil underneath the soil, ‘because we extracted it, is ours,’” Agha said. “So, here is another oil company lording over … another oppressed people. So I said ‘hey, I need to go and stand with my brother and sisters.’”

The sky was a white haze and wind rattled the frame of the small car. Elizabeth Hallett wore a long red gown and a blue-knit hat. She looked out over the busy encampment. 

“I was not sure if I should come” Hallett said. She cannot walk for long or take part in any manual labor.

Despite her physical restrictions, Hallett is determined to help the people of the Sacred Stone encampment in any way she can. 

“[T]here is always the temptation of self-aggrandizement,” Hallett said, “… which for me, at this time of life, is very unattractive … but I feel drawn here.”


Nov. 30 3:36 p.m. — This story was updated with new information.