By ARIELLE ZIONTS
Rapid City Journal
RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A small protest camp on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation plans to remain in place until the criminal cases against two of its members are finished and all infrastructure related to the Keystone XL Pipeline is removed.
“The camp will remain until we confirm all KXL construction sites have been shut down and the pipes removed,” Oscar High Elk, founder of Roots Camp, told the Journal.
High Elk and camp member Jasilyn Charger are facing criminal charges, some directly related to protests and acts of civil disobedience against pipeline infrastructure being built near the reservation on land promised to the Lakota people in treaties that were seized by settlers and the federal government.
The pair are both members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and veterans of the months-long protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Now they’re spending time at Roots Camp, located on the north side of Four Corners Bridge which is about an hour north of Philip and marks the boundary between the reservation and Haakon County.
Charger had a traumatic childhood — the Department of Social Services separated her and her sister from their mother and each other — but later healed through embracing Lakota traditions and forming multiple Indigenous youth groups, according to a 2017 New York Times profile.
She was just 19 when she and her friends began demonstrating against the Keystone XL Pipeline in 2015 and then become some of the first people to begin a prayer camp in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.
High Elk was also at Standing Rock and runs the 2KC Media Facebook page where he posts photos, videos and livestreams of actions taken by Roots Camp and other Indigenous groups.
Up to 35 people spent time at the camp since it opened in late November but only three to five people take turns staying there now, High Elk said. The camp members are Indigenous South Dakotans as well as white people from other states, the Rapid City Journal reported.
Roots Camp is supported through online donations and its work has been highlighted by the Lakota Law Project. It has also used the internet to gather more than 4,000 signatures from people across the globe asking for High Elk and Charger’s criminal charges to be dropped.
The group says the pipeline is being built on unceded treaty land and will damage Unci Maka, or Mother Earth. Opponents want to move toward renewable energy sources and are concerned oil spills would damage land and drinking water. There are also worries about an influx of mostly male workers bringing crime to nearby small towns and reservations, something that happened with the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana.
“We are here to bring awareness to the rape of Mother Earth, to the rape of our women and children,” High Elk said.
Roots Camp members say they have been harassed and surveilled multiple times by private security and law enforcement.
Keystone XL installed a trailer and other facilities staffed by security guards from a private Montana-based company the day after the camp began advertising for a small awareness concert, High Elk said. He said the concert was going to be held in a public right-of-way area off a road in Haakon County near the bridge.
“The next day we went there and they were setting stuff up and they had it set up really, really fast,” High Elk said.
He said the facilities were taken down on Dec. 22, the day before the Big Foot Memorial Ride was coming through the area.
“Everything completely cleared out,” he said. “They had a whole command center there and all of a sudden, poof, it was gone.”
Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, sent a letter to Ziebach County Sheriff Gary Cudmore accusing him of stealing flags from Roots Camp earlier in December. A video shows Cudmore, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and former tribal officer, and a deputy taking down flags on the Four Corners Bridge.
Cudmore declined to comment on the incident after the hearing but said the boundary between the reservation and Haakon County is halfway between the bridge.
The 2KC Media page also posted a document showing High Elk was pulled over and given warnings by a Highway Patrol trooper on the way to his first court appearance for driving one to five miles over the speed limit, displaying his license plate in a “conspicuous” way and having a cracked windshield.
The windshield had small cracks from rock chips and the license plate and entire car was covered in mud from driving on dirt roads, photos show.