At the northern edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, several dozen cars, trucks, and vans pulled over alongside Highway 1806 by the Cannonball River. Some of the vehicles bore evidence of the places they’d recently been, streaked with mud or ice, and many had bundles of sage on the dashboard. At least one had NO DAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL rhyming with apple) painted on the door. Snow still covered the ground; the temperature hovered around 17 degrees. A single teepee had been put up. A small fire was burning, encircled by rocks and the 50-some people who gravitated toward it. They had come to take part in a four-day prayer walk to the town of Mandan, 40 miles away.
“This is how we used to gather every day at camp,” said Nathan Phillips, a member of the Omaha Nation and a founder of the Native Youth Alliance, the grassroots indigenous awareness organization that put out the call for the walk. And later: “This is how we gathered on the last day of camp.”
It was February 22, exactly one year after the governor of North Dakota ordered the evacuation of the camps, which for 11 months had maintained an occupied resistance against the pipeline. Oil has been flowing in the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline since July.
Most of those gathered had made their home in teepees and yurts and tents back when the resistance was at its peak in late 2016. They had weathered storms and blizzards and bitter cold and a muddy thaw; they endured surveillance by helicopter?and infiltrators sent by a private security firm?hired by the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. They reported surviving rubber bullets, LRAD sound cannons, mace, pepper spray, and dogs, too. They had put their lives on hold and on the line in order to defend treaty rights and sacred lands and, primarily, water. An earlier proposed path that ran just north of Bismarck was scuttled; now it would cross twice under the Missouri River, the primary source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux and an estimated 17 million more downstream. They were water protectors, not protesters, they maintained.
“When camp was here, it was the greatest time in our lives,” Sonny Wonase, a Standing Rock elder, said at the fire in February. “But this is a circle. We have been here before.” A year earlier, National Guard vehicles were parked on 1806 and law enforcement stood poised in riot gear on the roadside. “We gotta take this work and spread it throughout the world! Not only the nation, but the world,” Raymond Kingfisher, a member of the Cheyenne Nation, said in a closing prayer that day. He and Phillips sang and drummed as they joined a procession of the last water protectors of Oceti Sakowin, the largest of the three main camps, as structures burned behind them and snow and ashes fell.
At the start of the walk, Phillips had just turned 64 years old.?“DAPL stepped on my birthday cake,” he said. Phillips is tall and rangy, with shaggy, thinning hair and glasses. At camp, he was known as Uncle Nate, or simply Uncle. Phillips and his daughter, Alethea, then 17, arrived in November 2016, still grieving the recent death of his wife, Shoshana, Alethea’s mother, who had died after years of living with multiple myeloma. Two weeks after they arrived at camp, Alethea informed him they weren’t leaving. Her father didn’t argue. Phillips has a loose, jaunty demeanor and a rhythmic, lilting speech. When he outlined the events of the next several days, he gave the location of a Saturday night powwow as “that place they call the Radisson hotel.” When he described the recurring dream that gave him the idea for the prayer walk, he fell into a cadence. “I saw images of a springtime, a summertime, a blessed time,” he told the group. “The water talked to me. And a walk was always part of this dream.”
Some of those walking were from Standing Rock. Swan Americanhorse brought her children, including her youngest, who had spent her very first days living at the first camp, Sacred Stone. Some had gone on to fight the spiderweb of pipelines cropping up all over the country—Bayou Bridge in Louisiana and the Trans-Pecos in Texas, among them—and to wage divestment campaigns in cities like New York and Seattle against the banks and corporations that funded big oil projects. Some had never really left. Jim Northrup III, son of the?Anishinaabe author and activist, had been at Camp Makwa, a resistance camp opposing Line 3 in Minnesota, which transports tar sands oil. When Leoyla Cowboy’s partner of two years, Michael Giron, known as Little Feather, became one of six federal defendants?involving water protectors, she vowed to find a way to stay in town so she could visit him weekly (he is incarcerated in Rugby, North Dakota, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Bismarck); she and her daughter are now training as legal aides with the Water Protector Legal Collective.
Alex High Elk drove up from Cheyenne River Reservation; at Standing Rock he had sung songs and roused water protectors in the predawn hours for long days of ceremony and actions and work. “‘Good morning, relatives. Remember why you are here!’ That was me. ‘Standing Roooooock,’” he said, intoning deeply, dragging out the vowel like a radio DJ. He laughed; his friend Ghost Big Shield laughed, too. “They didn’t like it so much when I did it at 4:30 in the morning.”
Theresa Black Owl, an elder and sacred pipe carrier from Pierre, South Dakota, who was arrested in 2016?while in ceremony on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, hovered over a folding table making prayer ties with Kingfisher and Cheryl Angel, a longtime spiritual activist and Sicangu Lakota tribal member. Angel was splitting her time between this walk and another later that weekend in South Dakota opposing gold mining exploration in the Black Hills (Pahá Sápa in Lakota). “That is the lifeblood of the Sioux people,” she said. Someone else asked Angel when the march would start, and she corrected him. “It’s not a march,” she said. “It’s not a march and it’s not a protest. It’s a walk.”
“It’s just a prayer walk,” Phillips said, as the group circled up around the fire. “I don’t mean to say ‘just,’ but that’s what it is. We’ll carry prayers where that pipeline crossed our sacred grounds. We want to heal the land; maybe we want to heal ourselves, too.”
He raised a wooden staff adorned with nine eagle feathers in the air as he addressed his security team, volunteers who had stepped back into familiar roles guarding gates at camp. They were outfitted in head-to-toe camouflage, masked by bandanas printed with the word Resist, and bearing walkie-talkies. “I have a relative here who said he’d lead the way and scout ahead for us,” Phillips continued, his voice breaking. “You know, I’m from Vietnam times. I’m what they call a recon ranger. That was my role. So I thank you for taking that point position for me.”
Alethea stood beside him, in her green army jacket lettered MASH on the back—for Media Arts Serving Humanity, the radio station and media tent she’d volunteered with at Oceti Sakowin (she was known as “Red Sky on the Radio”). A stray puppy she’d found that morning in?Cannon Ball burrowed in her backpack, occasionally poking his head out to sniff the air. Kota, she’d name him, meaning “friend.”
Phillips hoisted the staff in the air again. “Let’s go!” he shouted, and the walk commenced up a little dirt embankment toward the highway. Across the road, the bare cottonwoods were trimmed with red prayer ties. At first there were no police vehicles in sight; earlier that day, Phillips had spoken with Morton County sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier who, he said, had directed them to stay out of the roadway. The water protectors serving as security stood in the middle of 1806 and urged the walkers to the roadside, where snow gathered in drifts in the ditches. They halted traffic when the walkers briefly swelled into the northbound lane.
Buffalo were lined up in the west hills, watching the procession below. The walkers passed stalled trucks of stone-faced men and women with North Dakota plates, possibly ranchers, possibly farmers, possibly people on the way to Prairie Knights, the Standing Rock–run casino. One woman rolled down her windows to shout “Still No DAPL!” into the cold air. Cheryl Angel carried a seashell full of smoking sage. Behind Phillips, a water protector named Danny carried an upside-down American flag that matched another upside-down American flag pinned to the back of his coat. Slowly, a group of prayer singers and drummers led the singing of the “Mni Wiconi” song, with its plain and reverent lyrics in Lakota: “Water is life.” On the road it rang out like a hymn, anthemic.
As the road curved upward, the 80-acre expanse of the former Oceti Sakowin camp came into view. The teepees and dome and yurts and tents and wigwams were gone. The flags of the hundreds of visiting tribes and nations that had flapped in the Plains winds along the main road had disappeared, as had much of the entry road itself, now just a snowy hump bisecting a vast, quiet swath of prairie. The sacred fire that had burned for months had long been extinguished. New fencing and “No Trespassing” signs had been put up, though the water protectors and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe maintain that according to the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, this is unceded land. Some of the fence posts bore seemingly fresh graffiti (We Are Still Here!). One by one, the walkers approached the gate, knelt, and scattered dried tobacco into the dirt.
“Right over here, that was home for thousands of people. When I saw it today I felt this pulling on my heart,” Amari Shakur said. He had come to Standing Rock from Los Angeles in November 2016. “This not just a Native issue, it’s a human issue. I’m black, and I’m Native. When I came here, I buried my heart at Oceti Sakowin. I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now, but we still have a long way to go.”
Alethea hung back. She and her father had returned to Standing Rock last September for a healing gathering of water protectors. “It was really emotional that first time, seeing camp emptied out,” she said. A few of them had made it over to the Oceti grounds that lay behind these new fences. “But then we were gathering sage and I looked over and I saw all this squash growing in our old compost pile. And I thought, you know, the land is supposed to do this.” She nodded at the “No Trespassing” signs. “What we did at Standing Rock doesn’t have to stay in here. They can’t contain it. We can pick it up and take it anywhere.”
A quarter mile down the highway at Backwater Bridge, the walk would conclude for the day. Here, on October 27, 2016, 141 people were arrested in the single largest mass arrest at the camps, and here, on the night of November 20, 2016, camp medics lost count of the number of hypothermia cases they treated after local law enforcement turned high-pressure water hoses on water protectors in 26-degree weather. (Kirchmeier later told the press that the protest group had threatened officers and “the water was used as a tool to help quell that situation.”) In footage of that night, ice crystallizes on razor wire as water protectors hold up plywood shields in defense. Audible in the background are the voices of water protectors alternately singing and shouting over popping sounds.
Sophia Wilansky, then 21, nearly lost her arm due to injuries she sustained from the altercation—she alleges that she was hit by a concussion grenade fired by law enforcement. (A member of the North Dakota Highway Patrol denied using concussion grenades to The New York Times, saying that tear gas, pepper spray canisters, and grenade-like stinger balls spraying tiny rubber pellets were used after protestors hiding behind plywood were thought be acting?suspiciously and refused orders to emerge.) Vanessa Dundon, a Navajo water protector, suffered permanent disability in one eye. Israel Hoagland-Lynn was shot in the back of the head with an impact munition, lost consciousness, and received 17 staples for a head wound. Dozens more were also rushed to hospitals. The Water Protector Legal Collective subsequently filed a class action lawsuit against Morton County sheriff Kirchmeier and other law enforcement agencies and individuals, citing “excessive force against peaceful water protectors” on the night of November 20, 2016, and the use of “rubber bullets and lead-filled ‘beanbags,’ water cannons and hoses, explosive tear-gas grenades, and other chemical agents.” Kirchmeier told The Bismarck Tribune?that the impact munitions described in the lawsuit were for the protection of officers: “When we’re put in the position of protected areas being overrun by numbers of people, these are lawful tools to quell the advancement.” On April 9?Kirchmeier and his fellow defendants filed?a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming, among other things, “individual law enforcement officers are entitled to qualified immunity as any right allegedly violated was not so clearly established at the time of the violation that a reasonable officer would have known that his actions were unlawful.”?“We’re confident the case will survive this initial motion to dismiss it,” Rachel Lederman of the WPLC, which is currently preparing its response, said by phone last week.
Now it was quiet, placid even, the sun going down for the day. In the middle of Backwater Bridge, Phillips said a concluding Four Directions prayer, raising his staff to the east, south, west, and north. In the north, three white trucks were spotted in the hills. Zeuse Larsen, on security detail, craned to get a better look. “No, no, no, stand there, right in the middle of the road,” Raymond Kingfisher told her, framing the shot with his phone. “Let’s get all them right there behind you.” Larsen turned to face him, planted her boots firmly in the road, and raised a fist in the air.
“It’s really important that people know when they step forward and put their lives on the line they are not going to be left behind,” said WPLC’s executive director, Terry Janis, who is Oglala Lakota and has focused much of his career on indigenous rights issues. “We will have their back; we are not going to leave them to face the weight of the criminal justice system of North Dakota alone. We will give them the best criminal defense that we have and we will be there for them regardless.”
By late March, 316 state criminal cases had already been dismissed in court, according to the WPLC. A team of pro hac vice lawyers (those licensed outside North Dakota) supplements local representation, said Moira Meltzer-Cohen, who now spends two-thirds of every month in Mandan; she was on her way to catch a flight back to New York City, where her work focuses largely on activist and mass arrest defendants.
“When you see a real militarized aggressive police response, that police action transforms movements by criminalizing and obscuring the original message,” Meltzer-Cohen said. “The message of the water protectors was that this pipeline is dangerous, and it’s environmental racism. But as a result of the police response, that narrative has become more focused on the alleged criminality of protesters.” According to the National Lawyers Guild, 58 anti-protest bills have been proposed in 31 U.S. states since the end of 2016, among them a bill introduced before the North Dakota legislature that would have eliminated criminal and civil liability for drivers running over protesters blocking public roads. It did not pass.?
The WPLC has grown to include those who have a personal stake in its work. Mary Redway, an environmental biologist from Rhode Island and a participant in the prayer walk, was one of the first and only defendants in state cases against water protectors to receive a jail sentence. She served four days for a charge of disorderly conduct, and after her release, she continued her work?at the WPLC, where she had begun volunteering?full-time after the close of the camps. Leoyla Cowboy, who is Diné, of the Tódikozhi clan, has been living in North Dakota since the fall of 2016, when she began making weekly trips to Standing Rock from Albuquerque, bringing large-scale donations (“Cars sometimes; stuff that was really on another level”). Eventually she decided to leave a coveted job with the Native American oral history program at the Center for Southwest Research in order to work at camp full-time. “I felt called to be here,” she said.
In late May, Little Feather is set to be sentenced; around the same time, so will Michael Markus and Red Fawn Fallis. Fallis’s case is the most widely publicized of the water protectors: A gun was discharged as law enforcement officers attempted to handcuff her on October 27, 2016, according to an arrest affidavit reported by The Intercept. Fallis’s defense team claimed in court filings that the gun legally belonged to a paid FBI informant who became Fallis’s boyfriend weeks earlier, according to media reports. The discharge of a firearm charge has since been dropped, though she is still facing two other charges.?Fallis, who was a close ally of the International Indigenous Youth Council, has spent more than a year total incarcerated in North Dakota.
“I have a special place for all the arrestees, but especially for the federal cases,” Cowboy said. “I hold them in my heart and spirit, and that’s why I’m so invested in this work. They’re my heroes, every single one of them. They gave up their livelihood, they gave up their families, they gave up their freedom, they gave up their physical bodies to protect us. That’s why we are still here to support them. And that’s why I’m walking.”
The walk paused by a small discreet marker by another ranch fence—the pipeline itself. The court-ordered Army Corps of Engineers environmental review was initially slated to be completed by April; both the Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have filed lawsuits, citing the Corps’s lack of consultation with the tribes and the threats to clean water. Here, Phillips said, “I’m gonna step over the pipeline and I would ask that you all cross over it after me. Make a prayer or jump over it, if you want to.” He lifted the staff aloft as he danced and prayed and sang.?
Highway 1806 crawled north over rolling hills, dormant cornfields, fallow pastures, and, occasionally, a ranch house where woodsmoke puffed from the chimney. Phillips, still carrying the staff, loped ahead. Jim Northrup and Jarod Galvin broke into a run to keep pace. A woman in a long printed skirt gathered its folds in one hand and sprinted along behind them. “Nathan, you’ve got to slow down!” Cheryl Angel admonished, as the group paused?briefly to?let stragglers catch up. “You’ve got people stretched half a mile down the road.”
“Well,” Phillips said, “I understand, but we got to keep pushing forward while we still got some sun.” Conversation was for later, in the after-hours?in the Cannon Ball gym, times that Phillips referred to quaintly as “fellowship.” They circled up for closing prayers at Fort Rice, a little more than eight miles from where the day’s walk had begun.
Back at the gym, Verdelia Americanhorse heated up a pot of homemade soup and fry bread; people ate and drifted into the bleachers to stretch out and figure out the rest of the night. The Bismarck Radisson hotel had been the planned destination after dinner, but gas money was scarce, and after two days the walkers still had about 30 of the 40 miles left to go. Sonny Wonase suggested that perhaps it would make more sense to aim ultimately for Mandan Village, a state park off the highway, where replicas of the Mandan Indian earth lodges dating back to 1575 had been reconstructed, instead of the city of Mandan—it would also save them six or seven miles.
Since the close of the camps at Standing Rock, the Native Youth Alliance?has operated by instinct and heart—and with little by way of funding or strategic foresight. They went to the Native Nations Rise March on Washington; to divestment actions in New York City, where they once slept all night outside a Wells Fargo bank branch and marched through rain and snow the next day to City Hall; to the Peoples’ Climate March in Seattle, where Alethea suddenly found herself with a megaphone in her hand, speaking to a crowd of thousands. This month, the Native Youth Alliance will be an NGO representative at the 17th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where the theme is indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories, and resources. In earlier years, NYA held vigils on the National Mall, championed the preservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and advocated against nuclear waste dumps; it hosted a pipe ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for veterans. One of Alethea’s first Novembers was spent camping in a teepee by the Washington Monument with Phillips; her brother, Zakiah; her mother, Shoshana; and a few friends; their monthlong encampment was meant, Phillips told The Washington Post in 2000, “to remind people that a lot of American Indians don’t have too much to be thankful for.” Now, with his feet up in the bleachers, Phillips closed his eyes. “I don’t know what we’ll do yet,” he said. Night had fallen.
Raymond Kingfisher and his friend Carolyn Christmas, also from Washington, were finishing dinner across the gym. In 1972, when he was 15 and in school in Montana, Kingfisher joined a cross-country caravan of roughly 1,000, including American Indian Movement leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means, to deliver a 20-point list of demands for Native American rights.When the Bureau of Indian Affairs failed to give them a meeting, they simply showed up and slowly—without planning to—began to occupy the building, making coffee, lounging on couches. The six-day BIA takeover was a turning point in the Red Power movement, a precursor to the Wounded Knee standoff in 1973 that would reverberate decades later in Standing Rock. Kingfisher returned to high school following the trip, but “I wasn’t really the same after that,” he said. “That really started some things for me.” It was a lesson in improvisation, too, and for reading the needs of the room.
“’Scuse me a minute,” he said, mid-story, picking up his hand drum and walking over to a microphone set up in front of the kitchen doors. Kingfisher has a gift for slipping seamlessly between solemnity and humor, in a way that calls to mind actor John Goodman. “This one here’s a song they do in Oklahoma; they have a kind of different beat down there,” he said. He tapped out an oddly percolating rhythm and began to sing: “If you come with me / When the dance is over / I will take you home / In my one-eyed Ford . . . .”
Christmas laughed and clapped her hands as the verses continued, through increasingly decrepit and outlandish modes of transportation. Phillips, swiftly reinvigorated, hopped down from the bleachers, sidled up to her folding chair, and offered his hand for a dance, leading Christmas in a looping waltz to half court and back around the gym. People who’d been stretched out napping sat up and applauded. Someone arrived with bags of sandwich bread and meat. At the opposite end, a pick-up basketball game was under way, with players ranging from ages 3 to 35. Phillips dipped Christmas with an exaggerated flourish, taking the microphone to announce that the evening’s Radisson plan had been scrapped; the documentary Awake, A Dream About Standing Rock would instead be screened right there in the gym. “We just gotta clean up after ourselves and make sure the building’s still here,” he said. “Then we’ll go home, and we’ll meet right back here, start walking again tomorrow.”?
The anxious look on his face had disappeared. “I hope it’s a beautiful day like we had today,” Phillips continued.
“We’ll make it that way,” Kingfisher said emphatically. “Aho!”
Phyllis Young, a former Standing Rock Sioux councilwoman and longtime activist, showed up in her habitual dark shades, bearing a carload of groceries. “I heard there was no food,” she said. For the lunch that day, sandwiches were supplemented by bags of peanuts, tangerines, bananas, and chocolates leftover from Valentine’s Day, in heart-shaped boxes illustrated with cartoon animals.
At one of the folding dining tables, Teena Pugliese sat hunched over a laptop, guiding Tokata Iron Eyes, a 14-year-old tribal member and daughter of activist Chase Iron Eyes, through a video edit. “Dude, we have Wi-Fi right now; we have to use it while we can,” Pugliese said. Pugliese, a filmmaker and actor from California, has a preternaturally vibrant, seemingly ceaseless energy. She was an editor of Awake!; after months at camp she moved into LaDonna Allard’s house to help direct the Women’s Indigenous Media group and mentor local youth in documentary work.
“Yesterday I made three videos from the walk; come on!” she urged Tokata. Tokata wasn’t so easily moved. She plucked a candy from a box that read You’re Turtle-ally Awesome!, popped it in her mouth, and rolled her eyes. They cracked up, but kept working until two water protectors began to remove the chairs around them, as they prepared to begin the day.
Security piled in the back of an open pickup as snow continued to fall on the drive to where this day’s walk would start. The sky began to clear. The landscape determined the nature of the walk: The roadside was so uneven in the snow that the walkers were mostly forced to proceed single file or occasionally in twos or threes; conversation was sparse and interrupted.?Before a little forest of driftwood and cottonwood trees, a woman fell to her knees and said a private prayer.
The shores of the Missouri occasionally met the road’s edge; if seen from above, the walkers’ path would make a winding river?of their own. Pugliese, following in another pickup, flew a drone overhead, her laptop propped on her knees. Security cruised along the highway, pulling off occasionally to give cold or tired walkers a rest, funneling them to the next gathering point. A security volunteer nodded at a little fleet of ATVs circling one another on the east bank of the river; their movements seemed to parallel the walk’s trajectory. “Morton County,” he said. The police.
Angela Adam, who’d worked construction and security and kitchen detail at Rosebud Camp, multitasked here, too; she darted left and right, diving into culverts and picking up cans and trash. The eagle-feather staff and the upside-down American flag bobbed in the air a half mile ahead and took a right turn into a boat launch parking lot, signaling the end of that day. Another eight miles later,?walkers circled up.
“I’ve chosen three people who are willing to walk on with me a little ways more, ’cause we still got that sunlight,” Phillips said. “Around 7, everybody’s going to go to the Radisson hotel. Gonna have a little powwow in the ballroom; gonna have a little buffet there; maybe we’ll watch one of the other Standing Rock movies.” The Cannon Ball prayer singers clustered around him and the sound of their drumming thundered across the river, loud enough for the ice fishers a few hundred yards away to hear.
Only one fisher, huddled around a little wooden hut on the ice, glanced in the direction of the drums. The walkers clambered into waiting cars, bound for Cannon Ball and Bismarck. The staff and flag strode ahead, Phillips and Danny joined by a third walker who marked their path with prayer ties. A few of the security crew hung back, ambling down a low embankment before they strode into the center of the clean sheet of the frozen river. For several minutes they shuffled their boots in slow, methodical, curving movements, a near soundless dance. Someone laughed; the sound spooled across the ice and echoed back. From the shores of the Missouri, and visible to any drone or plane flying overhead, the message they’d written with their feet was plain to see, in giant all caps: #NODAPL.
It was Sunday morning, the last day of the walk. Walkers filed in and out of Allard’s kitchen, brewing fresh pots of coffee, rolling up sleeping bags, zipping up backpacks, sliding on boots. From upstairs came sounds of one of Allard’s grandsons playing in his room. “Sorry!” Jim Northrup said when Allard shushed him from the sofa where she sat, meeting with Pugliese. “Quiet, all of you!” she ordered. She rolled her eyes, flashed a smile. “My life has always been like this.”
Allard motioned to a brown leather sofa adjacent to hers, where a cat slept on an upper perch. Since the first day of the walk, she’d kept her distance from the rest of the group, as is traditional for Lakota widows in their first year of mourning. Her hair was newly cut, also a tradition. A week earlier her husband of nearly three decades, Miles Allard, a schoolteacher and a spiritual leader, had died suddenly at age 69.?
“Miles was my everything,” she said, her eyes shining briefly with tears.?“Every new idea we had at Sacred Stone, he would support me all the way. After the evictions, people were severely traumatized. We had 60 people staying here; we had tents everywhere; another down 120 at my daughter Prairie’s house, and Miles said okay.” He was laid to rest at Sacred Stone alongside her son, her father, and many aunts. “I buried my family on top of that hill so they could have peace,” Allard said. Her eyes widened. “And they want to put in a pipeline?”?
Some of the water protectors drifting through her house that morning live in green energy trailers parked on her street, some are part of Sacred Stone Village, the long-term arm of the camp, which aims to transmit cultural knowledge and create sustainable, eco-friendly communities. That day, the Women’s Indigenous Media group was leading youth workshops in oral history. Also in the works are an indigenous-led construction company, several alternative energy projects (“We hope by spring we can put up solar panels in Cannonball so it’s one of the first communities powered entirely by solar and wind power,” Allard said), and a summer cultural camp for youth and adults. Allard’s daughter Prairie McLaughlin, who is also working on water purification efforts for nearby reservations, will head up an organic gardening program. Allard, who has addressed the U.N., continues to deliver lectures throughout the world.
Her message, she said, remains simple. “You know, Standing Rock was a blip in history,” she said. “We have always been fighting. No matter how much they will keep trying to wipe our footprint off our land, we will continue to stand. That is why we are still here.”?
The final day of the walk began in Huff, a riverside archaeological site where historic?markers point out signs of a civilization dating back to 1450. Phillips had made it here at sundown yesterday, following an old railroad trestle trail that paralleled the highway. The field thinned?to a dozen or so walkers, whose numbers nearly matched those following by car.?Boats were dry-docked in front yards. The trail dipped low, crossing under wooden bridges and by immense boulders. Tall banks surrounded the path on either side. On the west side, a hill shot up steeply toward the highway, covered in snow. Nathan and Alethea scrambled nimbly up the side of it, cheerful and purposeful. Turtle Feather walked along the trestle path, a giant smile on his face. He’d spent the night among the walkers, he said. “I feel real good,” he said. “It felt like being at camp again.”
Some of the walkers’ security volunteers drove into town and bought cheeseburgers and walked up and down the line of idling support cars, passing them through cracked windows. Leoyla Cowboy and her daughter pulled over with a takeout carafe of coffee. “Black medicine!” Phillips said and downed half a paper cup. A local TV reporter had planted himself in Phillips’s path and aimed his camera, peppering him with questions. “I’m sorry,” Phillips said firmly. “I am headed to Mandan village before sundown and I don’t got time for that right now.” He walked on.
About two miles remained. The sun had begun to fade and slim. “I’m proud of my dad for doing this,” Alethea said, letting him loop ahead momentarily. “The day of the evictions, after we had all walked out praying, people were going their separate ways, some of them to safe ground, and some of them going back inside camp to hold out, and I stopped all of a sudden and told my dad, hey, I gotta go back to Oceti. It was his birthday and I thought about that, too, but I had to do it. And I gave him this last hug and I knew how hard it was for him—no one wants to see their 17-year-old daughter go through that. I felt really bad for doing that to him on that day, and I knew it wasn’t what he wanted, but I knew he was so proud of me, too. When I started back over the bridge, I could hear my dad singing the American Indian Movement?song for me and I felt how proud and supportive he was of me. It made me feel strong.”
She looked down, fiddled with the camera in her hand. “It’s moments like that they don’t think about when they talk about the water protectors out there,” she said. “They don’t think about a 63-year-old man saying goodbye to his 17-year-old daughter when police are lined up to arrest them.”
Today she let her father take the lead. In the west, a trail of pink sun still ribboned across the sky, but on the eastern roadside, dusk cloaked the grass; the moon was rising. They reached the signpost for Fort Abraham State Park. Inside the park, down the road, were the Mandan village replicas, but here on the roadside Phillips stopped,?raising the eagle-feather staff in the air. Later that evening, in the Cannonball Community Center, he would be the center of all the dancing; later that evening, he would announce another prayer walk to coincide with the court dates of the federal defendants who will be sentenced at the end of May. “We came home,” Phillips said that afternoon. “Now we go back out in the world and we get to work. We’re not done.”
Now the Cannon Ball singers encircled him, and Phillips joined them in song and prayer. In the past 24 hours he had covered nearly 40 miles, counting his solo walks after dark. The dream had come to life, and the people he’d seen in it were here, and the water lay just beyond them in the dusk. They had made it. When the singers finished, Phillips pitched forward slightly, suddenly. A woman ran to steady him. Another brought water. They leaned in and surrounded him, propping him up.
Alethea had been filming, but she ran over, too. She embraced her father, used his shoulder to steady her camera as she followed his gaze skyward. “Make sure you get the moon,” he’d told her.