CHESTER — Ann Podlipny of Chester joined thousands of members of North Dakota’s Sioux tribe and activists from around the world at Standing Rocking Indian Reservation in December to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The 67-year-old was there when they received news that the plans for the black snake, or proposed 1,100 mile underground oil pipeline, had been temporarily halted in a effort to find a better route.
Celebration ensued, and when the drumming, singing and musical outburst eventually quieted, the peaceful protesters knew a pending final decision still had the power to rip through their unwavering efforts, Podlipny said.
Now, back at home, she wants to share her story in an effort to inform locals of the reality that still exists in the harsh environment 2,000 miles away, and that no one is too far away to stand in solidarity with the Sioux. She’s also collecting supplies for her planned return trip to Standing Rock in the spring.
Supplies of any kind are necessary — including staples like wood, medical equipment, food, oversize clothes and monetary donations for lawyer fees, she said.
“I’m told by people that I keep in touch with regularly that there are still 1,000 people there,” she said. “And they intend to stay there until (President-elect Donald) Trump makes a final decision (on whether or not the pipeline project will progress.)”
The Standing Rock Sioux believe the $3.8 billion pipeline project threatens sacred sites and a river that provides drinking water for millions of people.
Their protests attracted the attention of the world, and thousands poured into the reservation to stand with the tribe.
The retired Podlipny, a former teacher and social worker, had initially planned to make the trek from her Chester home to visit her oldest daughter in Missoula, Montana. But after months of following the happenings of Standing Rock in the news, she committed to making the 13-hour drive to the reservation afterwards with her 76-year-old friend Boris Soukonnikov.
“My number one influence in deciding to go was my mother,” she explained. “She had been very active with environmental issues for many years, especially when it came to water protection, anti-fracking, and water preservation in New York.”
With little else besides warm clothes in tow, she followed in those volunteer-minded footsteps and assimilated into the small city the Sioux and the protesters before her had established.
“It’s very well organized and highly precise,” she said. “You’re not allowed to just do what you want. There’s a real respect for native traditions and native ceremonies. The camp site is considered a sacred space of prayer and is dedicated to nonviolence. They have no guns, no alcohol and there’s no cursing allowed.”
The camp itself included hundreds of makeshift shelters and tents — varying drastically in shape and size — five kitchens, a donation center, legal aid station, two full-time schools, and a wellness tent that offered massages, acupuncture and traditional healing medicine.
By December, protesters were dealing with subzero temperatures and more than 4 feet of snow.
Full-time EMTs and a midwife worked near a fully-equipped carpentry shop where a 48-man heated and handicap-accessible bunkhouse for veterans was built in 48 hours.
Days were spent building, cooking, organizing supplies — which were constantly being delivered — or attending protest training.
“No one is allowed to go to the bridge where the protesting happens without training,” Podlipny said. “You learn what to do if you’re arrested, or come under attack. Before you go, you have to go to the legal aid tent so they can bail you out if necessary. It’s all very well thought out and organized.”
With no ruling in sight, Podlipny is planning another trip in the spring. But she may not be returning to the exact same piece of Sioux land.
“That area is going to get completely saturated when the weather changes,” she said. “Everyone may be forced to move to higher ground. There are other camps perched on hillsides, but it would still take a lot of rebuilding to accommodate everyone at a second location. They need all the help they can get.”
For anyone who wishes to donate to the Standing Rock effort, contact Podlipny at 603-370-1914 or firstname.lastname@example.org.