Reflections on My Recent Visit to Standing Rock

Paul Cienfuegos’ October 11th, 2016 Commentary on KBOO Evening News


(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at,, or subscribe via ITunes. Listen to this one HERE.)


Greetings! You are listening to the Community Rights Report by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos, bringing you stories of We the People reclaiming our power to govern ourselves and ending the absurdity of corporations exercising constitutional “rights”.


I visited Standing Rock in North Dakota over this past week, and today, I’m going to share with you a few observations from that visit, as well as interspersing some music from the Azteca singers and dancers Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue - who serenaded the camp last Saturday.


A month ago, when Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, caught Dakota Access private security guards on camera encouraging their dogs to attack Native protectors, the Standing Rock encampment in North Dakota was jam packed with tents and teepees. Just finding a bare piece of ground on which to set up your small tent was a challenge. But when we arrived last Thursday night, perhaps just 10% of that original group of campers was still there.


The camp is in a major moment of transition now as Winter is approaching. It was very chilly on our visit, as the strong winds blew steadily across a mostly treeless North Dakota landscape. When the snows start to fall soon and accumulate on the ground, hundreds of Native protectors plan to remain through the severe North Dakota winter. They are pulling down many of their tents and replacing them with reinforced structures with woodstoves that can better handle the approaching weather.


I was quite surprised to learn that the Standing Rock camp is located not on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, but adjacent to it, on land leased to them by the US Army Corp of Engineers, at least until March 21st when the lease expires. No one is exactly sure what will happen after that.


I had conversations with many Native people at the camp. And one thing I kept hearing was how extraordinary it was to them that they were among hundreds of other Native nations from across North America. And also how complicated that is turning out to be, as each tribe has its own internal rules and customs, and the camp does not currently have a decision-making structure that includes representatives from each of these nations. Nothing of this scale has ever been attempted before.


Overall, it was a thrilling experience for me and my three travel partners, to witness this massive and ongoing Native uprising, grounded in ceremonial practice. I am convinced that what has been started here will succeed in stopping the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And perhaps will also be an historic turning point, when our nation finally cancels all new pipelines and other new fossil fuel projects. Hundreds of Native nations are now in the drivers seat to protect our waters and our climate. Mostly white environmental and climate action groups are learning how to follow their lead. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be alive.


But we’ve got a heckuva lot of work to do to reach this ambitious goal. For just 30 minutes after we exited the camp this past Sunday, police cars raced by us, heading back towards the camp at high speed. We found out later that their intended destination was the roadside area where the bulldozers had previously desecrated a sacred site. On Sunday, police in assault vehicles attacked Native people who were in prayer there, at the side of the road. The governor of North Dakota, and local county leaders, continue to allow these incredible racist police assaults against Native Americans. I have been unable to locate any news reports to confirm this story, but I trust my source. And yesterday, on Indigenous Peoples Day, at least 23 protectors were arrested as they once again blocked construction near the camp.


You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.


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