Tensions eased just outside of the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota after the US Army Corps of Engineers on Sunday (12-4-16) denied an easement for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to pass under the Missouri River. Although many protesters departed, many remain — and plan to do so until they’re confident that the project no longer threatens their water or sacred lands.
Sitka-based filmmaker Emmett Williams had been at Standing Rock for about a day when the news broke about the Army’s decision. He spoke with KCAW’s Robert Woolsey about what he’s seeing and learning as the camp considers its next step.
Williams – We got in really late at night and really weren’t sure where to go. And at the airport we gave a ride to someone who didn’t have a ride, and they happened to have room in their yurt. And they’re part of the Black Lives Matter movement. So we ended up staying in the Black Lives Matter yurt the whole time. That’s just symbolic of, you know, you walk down the street and you see someone without gloves, someone else will say, Here take my gloves. I’ve seen that so many times. People just making sure that everyone has what they need. There’s such a spirit: There are huge piles of blankets, sleeping bags, and hand warmers, and clothes, and food — literally everything that you might need to survive has been donated here. Or left here. There are lots of people who left here this morning who emptied out their cars and said, Take this for the future.
KCAW — Emmett, is anybody in the camp talking about any kind of end game whatsoever? Or is it just hold fast for now and see what happens?
Williams — It’s see what happens. People want to understand what the announcement (the Army Corps denial of an easement for the pipeline) means. It came here late yesterday. There was a press conference 4 p.m. our time. The easement announcement had just happened, and they were, Well this seems like a good thing, but I think people are just being cautious until they understand what it means.
KCAW — Emmett, I wonder if you think personally that this is some sort of beginning for you? Do you sense that you’re catching the wave of a lot of future storytelling?
Williams — There has been a lot of talk that this is some kind of paradigm shift in the way that movements happen, and that they happen in a way that is peaceful and prayerful, and non-violent — there’s so much talk about those things. A journalist on the way here told me that I would not want to leave. And he’s right. I just want to stay here and talk to people, and go to the next movement. I do have a series where I want to go to disenfranchised communities around the country and have them tell their own story. CNN tells people’s stories and they only care about the water cannons — that’s when people showed up. And you could tell that people were sort of expecting violence when the veterans showed up. I would like to be a voice for people who are here, even if that stuff doesn’t happen.
Emmett Williams is an independent filmmaker based in Sitka, who is interviewing protesters just outside the Standing Rock Indian reservation near Bismark, North Dakota. Over the next few days we’ll hear excerpts of some of the stories Williams collects during his stay there.