Over the weekend, the US Army Corps of Engineers finally delivered some good news to the thousands of protesters camped out at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation: Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline would be halted.
The proposed pipeline would have carried crude oil underneath Lake Oahe, a dammed-up part of Missouri River and the main water source for the reservation. The Sioux tribe has repeatedly expressed concerns that the pipeline could lead to contamination of their water supply and threaten its water and treaty rights.
After months of the stand-off involving protesters (who call themselves Water Protectors) and police, the Army Corps announced on Sunday that it would not grant permission for Dakota Access LLC (DPL) to drill under the river. In a statement, it said that it would instead “explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
For the thousands of protesters—comprising of members of the Sioux Tribe, indigenous people from across America, non-indigenous allies, and veterans—camped out at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, the news came as welcome relief in the biting cold. It was the culmination of an intense struggle that involved shocking levels of police brutality.
Photographer Celine Guiout photographed and interviewed the women of Standing Rock a week before the Water Protectors were told that their months-long test of endurance and activism had paid off. “Women are definitely a driving force in this massive gathering,” she tells Broadly. “All the women I had the chance to meet throughout my stay were incredibly optimistic about the outcome and peaceful resolution of the current situation. These women were completely unmovable in their faith.”
All photos and interviews by Celine Guiout
Beatrice Menasekwe Jackson from the Tsimshian tribe in Ketchikan, Alaska, now living in Michigan
We are here because as women, we are caretakers of the water and caretakers of the earth. We want the Earth to be in good condition so the water that goes through our bodies helps our children to be healthy and grow up strong in mind, body, and spirit. We want them to have the balance that they need here in creation, so they won’t be torn apart by political parties by color, race, or gender. We’re going to make a more beautiful world for them.
I’m here also because my children can’t be here. I’m going to go home and tell them everything I’ve seen, so that when my time of not-travelling comes they will be able to go out and do that for me. Even though I’m a great grandmother, I took my own pension [from being a] retired teacher and made the journey. It’s all worth it, being here and sharing with the women our songs and the water prayers.
Bibi, from the Juaneño tribe in San Juan Capistrano, California
Why am I here? Oh my gosh, it starts way back when I was a little girl—it was born in me. You can’t take what’s in you away, and that’s your spirit, [knowing] your ancestors and your families have suffered enough. I have suffered enough. Natives are not going to take it anymore because you can’t take from us no more. You take away our land, you take away our pride, you try to take away everything. They have stripped us of everything, [but] not no more. We’re here till the end, and I have hope that we’re going to beat this. Ever since I was a little girl I knew I had a big important purpose in life and when it came time for this I knew it was it. Ever since I’ve been here there hasn’t been [anything] but good things happening. Miracles are happening at Standing Rock, and it’s not going to stop.
Cortney Collia from Kalamazoo, Michigan
For my personal experience in Kalamazoo, we’ve had the largest inland oil spill in the United States. It was years ago, in 2010, and that water still isn’t clean. They said they cleaned [it], but I work right along that river teaching kids and they aren’t allowed to go into the water anymore. If they do, they end up with a rash, and you can see a sheen on the surface still—the grass is dying and so are the trees. I work at a nature center and for education purposes I take the kids canoeing down the river, [but] I can’t let them splash around or swim like kids should in water. We are trying to teach them about the importance of taking care of nature and resources. Our bodies are 70 percent made of water and it keeps us alive, and having warnings [telling kids] not to touch the water is heartbreaking. I can’t let that happen to anybody else. So I made my journey here multiple times, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Vanessa Castle and her horse, Medicine Hat, from the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe in Port Angeles, Washington
I got here over a month ago—drove out here for nine hours by myself. I came out here for mine and the future generations; to protect the water and also to stand up for the rights of our tribes. As indigenous peoples, we are constantly battling with prejudice and injustice, and as a woman without any children in my family it was my turn to come and stand for what we believe in. I’m here to protect the resources that we have rights to.
Melaine Stoneman, from the Sicangu Lakota (Burnt Thigh Nation) tribe in Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
I have been here since day one. I run the women’s group that we have here, and my main point is to provide the women, children, and elderly [with] safety as an essential part here at Oceti Sakowin [Camp]. One of our great emphases now is to create all unity between all indigenous and non-indigenous women, and to unify in prayer to help stop the pipeline.
Faith Spotted Eagle and her daughter, Brook, from the Yankton Sioux (Ihanktonwan Dakota Oyate) tribe in Yanktown Reservation, South Dakota
Faith Spotted Eagle: I’ve been here on and off since April. I grew up along the river, I always jokingly say, “This is my river, so I’m sharing it with you.” The river has so much to teach and it has its own spirit and so we’ve been drawn to that spirit of the river water. I think that all of us had this dreams of doing what we can and we’ve been called to it in our lifetime, so the river and the land are helping us fulfill those dreams.
It really is bigger than us; it’s not even about us sometimes, it’s about my grandson’s grandchildren’s grandchildren—that’s what it comes down to. It’s so marvelous to watch him, because I think that’s my DNA, my blood, and that’s going to live on for generations. And it has to, because if we don’t stop all the oil industries and the climate change that’s going on… I can’t even imagine my grandchildren not being protected. So that’s why I’m here.
Brook: As indigenous people, we’re always thinking forward [to the next] seventh generation. The way that we understand it is that we protect our people—we’re indigenous, we’re tribal—and part of that indigeneity is that our relatives are not just human. They are also non-human. These are our rivers that have a spirit and are part of our nation, and our original mother that we all belong to. So I’m part of a women’s society. My role as a women in a women’s society I’m here to support in any way that I can with my elders. They are the original freedom fighters and they’ve always been freedom fighters, so right now we’re in training. We’re also fighting alongside them, so I’m here in service of my people.
Courtney and Amber McCornack, from Albert Lea, Minnesota
Courtney McCornack: We’ve been back and forth for months. I brought my daughter here and we have been building teepees with other women and donating them to the people that need them. I want her to stay connected to her intuitive side, which is what the Native American communities have been doing since the beginning. The sense of community here is truly amazing—true respect for each other and the most powerful prayers I have heard in my entire life from sundown to sunrise.
Urtema Dolphin, from London
I’ve arrived a couple of days ago from London—I arrived in the storm. I came because I’ve been following this issue for many months, and become more and more involved watching videos on social media. I just felt that I had to be here, and so I’m representing lots of people from all over the world. I’m bringing their prayers with me [and] spiritually they are all travelling with me. So here I am, ready to help.
Anonymous aunt and her niece, with tribal affiliations from the Desert Southwest, Apache, and Mexican tribes
We are here because Native people have been fighting for sovereignty on this land for over 500 years. This is a monumental event; unprecedented. We want to show corporate America that many people are not supportive of mineral extractions and we’re all about clean water and being healthy people. The only way to maintain that is standing up for what’s right. We have the kind of technologies to be able to have cleaner energy sources but that power is being held by the leaders and the privileged, so the rest of us get screwed in the end.
We are here to change that and support the people. It’s not only for our kids, but it’s also for the future generations. Even for the cops at the bridge, the water in me recognizes the water in them. Even if we’re on opposing sides, we still have the same communality which is our bodies are made of water. So I’m just going to keep praying and appealing to that.
Tosha Luger from the Hunkpapa tribe of the Seven Council Fires of the Lakota Sioux in Standing Rock
I was born and raised in these lands. I lost my husband and my father a year ago, very close to each other, and I was broken. I live on a ranch just south of here and I would go down to the river every day. It healed me—really, truly healed me. Being here is a very humbling experience and we must remain focused. This river goes all the way out to the Missouri River and all the way down to the ocean. That’s what we are protecting.
I was crushed when that girl’s arm got blown off… I myself ended up with a concussion, got tear-gassed and maced and stood in the freezing cold whilst they were spraying us with water cannons. They are telling us to go home, but they don’t understand that we are already home.
In order to change things, we must remain in prayer and peace. I feel so honored for all these people who have heard our prayers and have joined us in this, and I hope they will bring our healing and teachings back to where they are from and start changing the world, empower Mother Earth, and be more compassionate, kind, and empathetic.
On the road to Standing Rock.
Vanessa Castle and her horse, with other Water Protectors.
Beatrice Menasekwe Jackson leads a water ceremony.
Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock.
A furry security guard at the entrance of the camp.
Makeshift directions for the camp.
Cannonball River, a tributary of the Missouri River.
Two teepees in Oceti Sakowin camp.