I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!
Chasing Cranes: North Dakota
December 1, 2016
I follow highways and travel alone. Cranes follow flyways and travel in flocks. For seven weeks, these distinguishing factors left me feeling quite isolated from my muses. While biking through Montana, I tried to find routes that aligned with waterways to increase my chances of spotting cranes. On Highway 12, I paralleled the Musselshell River for over a hundred miles. I crossed the Yellowstone, Tongue, and Powder rivers, to name a few. I saw plenty of wildlife: pronghorn antelope, white-tailed and mule deer, hawks, ducks and geese, but cranes? Nada.
Speaking to locals wherever I went, it seemed I was always just a bit aside or a few days away from wherever the cranes had last been seen. With an unusually warm fall gracing me, I decided to head due east to link up with the mighty Missouri River again, a migratory super-highway that would place me in the center of the Central Flyway.
I had a secondary purpose for choosing this route. At the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers, thousands of conservationists are gathering to defend the future fate of the Missouri River, and I wanted to meet them. The desire to visit Oceti Sakowin Camp had me turning north a little ways in North Dakota.
After my slight detour north, I was soon heading east again, now in a direct line towards Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. On November 7, the day I turned east, I stopped for lunch on the banks of the Cannonball River. Not long after lunch, I slammed on my brakes. High above me, I saw a flock of about four hundred sandhill cranes kettling. Their calls were music to my ears. It had been nearly two months since my last crane sighting.
It was a clear blue day, perfect for flying. More and more crane calls came, and I stopped whenever I heard them. The sky was bright, and the cranes were so high above me, that sometimes it was a struggle to spot them until they were directly overhead. I tried to estimate the number in each flock--some contained multiple Vs overlapping eachother, others were like a long string of beads pulled across the sky. At the end of the day, the sum of my estimates had reached over 3,000 cranes. I was awestruck. Inspiration had returned at a critical point and on the eve of election day.
Two days later, I descended into Oceti Sakowin Camp as the sun was setting. The camp was larger than I anticipated. Thousands of people were camped out in tents, tipis, makeshift-shelters, and yurts. The mood in the camp was energetic and positive. Everywhere I looked, people were cooking, chopping wood, winterizing the camp, or helping others with some task. There were people of all ages and backgrounds united in one purpose: to protect the life-giving water of the Missouri from threat of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
I spent several days at Oceti Sakowin Camp. I listened to water protectors who are sacrificing everything to stop DAPL. I helped out in a camp kitchen run by Winona Kasto, who serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner to hundreds of water protectors daily while asking for nothing in return. I watched flock after flock of snow geese and Canada geese travel above the Missouri River and thought of what is at stake.
Whether or not the Dakota Access Pipeline should go forward is a complicated issue. Supporters of the pipeline, who I met in many towns surrounding Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, are hungry for jobs and income they believe the pipeline will create. Water protectors see the pipeline as a threat to their water supply and an investment in an outdated energy source which threatens our planet as a whole.
The issue at hand goes far beyond the pipeline in particular, and extends to how the United States government interacts with sovereign indigenous nations. Our government does not see the land the water protectors are occupying as tribal land. They see it as belonging to the US Army Corps of Engineers, thus it is this entity that may grant DAPL the easement to cross the river. However, the Lakota and Dakota tribes have never ceded the land to the United States. In fact, the United States agreed that the land belonged to the Sioux people in the Treaty of Fort Laramie, 1851.
Our government has repeatedly disrespected the contract they made with the Lakota and Dakota tribes. As white Americans and immigrants moving westward desired Sioux land for their own interests, Congress created provisions to break up tribal lands. This part of American history is complicated, but one thing seems clear: our government has continually placed the commercial enterprises of whites over the subsistence needs of natives. Such is the case with the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Missouri River.
How long will our society look to short-term solutions for economic problems? The Missouri River has sustained life (including the lives of cranes) for thousands of years. The oil which runs through the Dakota Access Pipeline will last for mere decades. This is why I stand with Standing Rock. Though I recognized going in that there are many sides to this story, my only regret in leaving was just that: leaving.
If you would like to support the water protectors, you can donate to the following:
or take action:
or pray in whatever way you pray.
If you would like to support Standing Rock through peaceful direct action at Oceti Sakowin Camp or elsewhere, please read these documents first: