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Science & Environment

Dakota Access Pipeline Protests Continue On Thanksgiving Day

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In North Dakota, thousands of Native Americans and their supporters are camped out near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. For months, protesters have been demonstrating against the planned Dakota Access Pipeline. They say the oil pipeline would threaten nearby burial sites, and a spill could contaminate the Sioux water supply. The developer says the pipeline would be safe. Minnesota Public Radio's Doualy Xaykaothao spent time with the protesters and has this audio postcard about Thanksgiving Day at the camp.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Native American language).

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO, BYLINE: This is one of the many Lakota songs heard late last night in front of what is known as the sacred fire. It is not a ceremonial song. Those cannot be recorded. Daniel He Crows Thomas, from the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin, led some of the singing. Standing in near-freezing temperatures, he explains the gathering of native tribes and their allies.

DANIEL HE CROWS THOMAS: This is about a group of people from all over the world who are answering the call of Mother Earth and for the Mother Earth to say I've been calling you a long time but now you're hearing me.

XAYKAOTHAO: He says so many people have brought donations, food and medical supplies. His concern is for their safety.

THOMAS: The front line isn't about trying to be confrontational. It's not that. It's about trying to show that we are peaceful, nonviolent people.

XAYKAOTHAO: This morning at 4 a.m., Standing Rock Sioux tribal leader Terry Martinez was getting ready to lead a pipe ceremony.

TERRY MARTINEZ: I am from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. That's where I reside in Poplar, Montana.

XAYKAOTHAO: During the ceremonial prayers, he told the crowd about his injuries five days ago while demonstrating against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

MARTINEZ: And that canister hit me in the - by the eye. It was a smoke grenade, tear gas. And it hit me, knocked me - knocked it on the ground and I picked it up. And by the time I stooped over to get up, I was hit in the back. I straightened up and not even - I don't know how many seconds that it - it happened too fast, that concussion, the third one.

XAYKAOTHAO: The pipeline, if finished, would carry crude oil from central North Dakota to Illinois, some 1,200 miles. The people gathered here call themselves water protectors.

MALAINE STONEMAN: Every morning, we gather here at the sacred fire.

XAYKAOTHAO: That's Malaine Stoneman of Rosebud, S.D. She says what's happening here is a spiritual war.

STONEMAN: This is a spiritual playground where we make all of our relationships with all of the elements. So my message to you out there - pray for us. Whatever we're going through, you will go through also.

XAYKAOTHAO: No Thanksgiving meal will be served here, but visitors keep pouring in, bringing with them blankets and tents. Some are volunteering to stay through the winter. For NPR News, I’m Doualy Xaykaothao, at Camp Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.