National Beat Reporter
The Dakota Access Pipeline has been the center of controversy for several months—since April 2016 the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has led a peaceful protest against its construction in order to protect the tribe’s natural resources and sacred land.
The publicity of the protest has attracted support from all across the United State, with donations of food, clothing and camping supplies flooding the camps in North Dakota.
Hundreds of supporters even made the trek to North Dakota to be of immediate assistance,
donating their time, helping hands and voices to turn up the volume for the Sioux tribe’s
Theo LeQuesne was one of the handful of University of California, Santa Barbara students who joined the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other indigenous peoples to fight for their land. LeQuesne, a first year global studies doctoral student, is not a rookie when it comes to environmentalist activism. As a supporter of the Climate Justice Movement, LeQuesne has participated in an anti-fracking sit-in in the United Kingdom in 2013, his home country.
In a phone interview, National Beat Reporter Chelsea Viola asked LeQuesne to share his
experiences at his week-long stay with the Sioux tribe and fellow protesters.
How did you get involved? Why did you join the protests?
“I have been following [the protest] online for about three weeks. This particular protest caught my attention, I think it has caught much of the country’s attention—because there are obvious and such clear unethical offenses by the pipeline company in question and the rights to the native people’s land are being undermined.
“So I thought to myself, ‘what can I do about this?’ My girlfriend and I just looked at each other and said, ‘well, what can we do? Should we drive to North Dakota?’ And so we tried to get it together with four or five people who could fit in our car. About a week later, we drove up. We stayed there about a week and I am on my way back now.”
Were all the passengers from your car from UCSB?
“No, we had some people from UC Davis and UCLA. My girlfriend and I are both from
UCSB. We actually met up with some people from UCSB at the campsite.”
Did you camp with the Standing Sioux tribe?
“Absolutely, it was this huge camp with around 4,000 people. There were three different campsites. We were staying in a smaller campsite called Sacred Stone, which was actually the first one that was set up. There was a really great atmosphere there because it was filled with the native people, the people of that land. That was a really new experience for me to be surrounded by the indigenous people in their own land. I learned a huge amount from them.”
What did you do at the campsite?
“It is incredibly important for us to feel like we were being useful rather than just camping. There was one man speaking around the campfire and he said, ‘look, there is no point in coming here and just camping. We need doers, not campers.’
“Some of us did inventory work while huge amounts of donations flooded in from across the country. It was inspiring to see all this stuff being donated to all the camps to support them. We helped them pack up all the clothing donations, putting them into bags and moving them over to a new storage tent. That was difficult work and only part of what we were doing.
“We also spent time helping in the kitchen, where we helped feed about one hundred people with three different meals a day. We also received medic training and learned how to respond to the police violence that has been present in the protests. There was another training on nonviolent direct action.
“Yesterday we went on an incredibly powerful march to the site where bulldozers from the pipeline company had gone out of their way to wreck a load of burial sites. Those sites are not on the pipeline route. They are about a mile away, and it was quite clear that the site was destroyed in an act of retribution. The elders of the Standing Rock Sioux led a march, praying and sharing our thoughts—that was quite an important moment for all of us.”
You mentioned that you received medic training—were there frequent incidents of violence or was the protest overall peaceful?
“The motto of the camp is ‘peace and prayer.’ The principle of the camp was ‘nonviolence,’ and absolutely everyone I spoke to was opposed to violent confrontation with anyone. It is well-known throughout the camp that the policemen, construction workers and protesters all have families they need to support. It did not make sense, however egregious the crimes committed against the indigenous people, [for violence to be] the response they wanted to use.”
My goal from this interview is to share and inspire other UCSB students. What will you take away from this experience? What is the message you want to get across to other UCSB students?
“I think what I will take away from this experience is the amazing power of non-violent direct action—people being willing to occupy land, to say ‘this is our space and we will not let you pass,’ and do so in a way that is not hurting anyone but ensuring that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s livelihood and its access to clean water can continue. Another thing I learned is how to be present in someone’s culture other than my own—I learned about humility and respect.
“I also want UCSB students to know this not going away. I have seen a lot of media that
portrays that this [protest] is over, but it very much isn’t. This is just the beginning of the fight against Dakota Access Pipeline.
‘”I want students to look up a new organization that has started, which is called the Climate Justice Hub for People & Planet. They will be organizing on the UCSB campus to connect students to climate justice groups.”
LeQuesne has been a part of Fossil Free UCSB for three years, a divestment campaign
aimed to encourage sustainable sources of energy, and has written about his experience in North Dakota on the Climate Justice Project website. For more information about the Dakota Access Pipeline and the protest, visit their website.
July 21, 10:40 p.m.: This article has been updated with LeQuesne’s blog post on his experiences.
This article was originally published at 3:08 p.m.