‘Mni Wiconi’ means ‘water is life,’ but for Myron Dewey and many other protectors of Standing Rock, life may never be the same
(UPDATE: On July 9, less than 24 hours after this story posted, Indigenous Journalist Myron Dewey’s misdemeanor charge of “stalking” during his media coverage of the Standing Rock camps and other protests against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), was dropped by Morton County prosecutors.)
In less than six months, America says hello to 2018, but the ripple effects of three big issues from 2016 continue to turn heads: climate change/environmental stewardship, Donald Trump, and Standing Rock.
The latter certainly stands out for Myron Dewey, an indigenous journalist, professor, filmmaker, and the founder of Digital Smoke Signals, an indigenous social network that creates and designs social networking websites, filmmaking, documentaries, short films and other online media.
Dewey became one of the significant figures to emerge from Standing Rock. His live stream media coverage, much of it using drone technology, shed a piercing light on the months-long protest over the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline (DAPL), which found Indigenous People—and allies who traveled near and far—gathering in camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to protest the $3.7 billion project that would transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day through four states, 1,172 miles in all.
One of the core issues is that 38 miles of the Dakota Access Pipeline slices through territory that belongs to Native Americans, based on an 1851 treaty signed at Fort Laramie in Wyoming. Of course, protecting the Missouri River, the main water source for the Standing Rock Reservation, from a potential pipeline leak, is also a key factor of contention.
But so, too, is what eventually happened to Dewey after he arrived on the scene in August of 2016. He now faces a July 12 trial in Bismarck, ND., after being accused of “stalking” by Shannon Eagon, the wife of National Guard member Doug Eagon. If convicted of the class A misdemeanor, Dewey could face up to one year in prison and a possible $3,000 fine.
The complaint alleges on Oct. 8, 2016, Dewey “harassed, frightened, and/or intimidated security workers on a job site.” It also alleges that he targeted “their vehicles, license plates, and/or where they were working, which made them fear for their lives and their families’ lives.”
However, Dewey has been open about his experiences at Standing Rock, noting that since he arrived on the scene, he began documenting many suspicious and occasionally “illegal” activities committed by DAPL security and the Morton County police department. On Oct. 8, using GPS, Dewey flew the drone to reveal what he believed was DAPL’s violation of the 20-mile buffer zone that had been set in place. Dewey says his drone reveals that DAPL was actually working within that buffer.
“I wasn’t breaking any North Dakota laws with flying the drone or documenting,” Dewey told me in a recent interview, noting that afterward, he was approached in his vehicle by officers who illegally seized his drone without a warrant.
“We did everything we could to abide by the law,” Dewey says. “Being out there under those circumstances, was pretty intimidating. I felt like we were not going to make it out of there.”
Here, in a candid interview, Dewey opens up about the upcoming trial, some of his experiences at Standing Rock and much more.
Greg Archer: What do you hope will emerge from the court case?
Myron Dewey: Awareness of the judicial system there in North Dakota because some of the injustices we witnessed are going to go all the way to the Supreme Court. What we are seeing is because this generation didn’t honor their forefathers’ problems to the Indigenous People, 114 people have been arrested on broken treaty land. What I want to see is consciousness. Where does that get lost? Where does that honoring of the [treaty] agreement get lost? And not just for that tribe. We’re talking about tribes all over the country. What happens to one tribe, happens to us all.
Talk more about that.
Manipulation of the law—that’s what we are seeing now. When Trump signed the Executive Order [on Jan. 24 to advance construction of the oil pipeline] that was part of the manipulation. We’ve seen it on the ground in North Dakota. We’ve seen it in Bismarck. After Trump became president, the open racism happened. How are we going to have justice in an open court system when we can’t have it on the street?
You said you feared your life during the Oct. 8 incident with police?
Yes. That was one the main live streams that really broke open wide what we were seeing in North Dakota. There were many scenes like that where the intimidation factor was coming in. So documenting some of it, live feed, we asked them, “What was the crime?” And they couldn’t give me any information. And that segued me going into recover my drone back in Bismarck, because I was not given any paperwork. And there, the law enforcement had fabricated the paperwork within a few minutes after they had already told me that the officer didn’t come in with the paperwork.
This was blatant lying. But I’m not going to tell them that, because I was trying to respect “the badge.” They clearly didn’t respect the law and we documented it many times—in so many different instances. Documented it with a 911 call. And their actions were documented not just by me, but many other journalists.
Take us back even more. Tell me when you knew you had to go to Standing Rock. When it really ‘hit’ you?
I just got off a Prayer Run—the Peace and Dignity Run. My 6-year-old, and me we ran the runners through our territory, our homelands, in Nevada. It was very powerful—to run in prayer, a thousand miles. Pretty powerful to follow certain protocols, and that you are here to carry out this message. And to run through Nevada, which is 110-115 degrees, going towards Las Vegas. It was interesting going through there and seeing the landscape at that level—the lack of water [in the area] and why I was running for our own people.
So let’s hit a pause button for a second. Can you tell us just a little more about a Prayer Run—what it is, why it is significant?
In each community the runners run through, they have a different prayer, whether it’s for teen suicide, or abuse, or violence, or against drugs and alcohol, or to empower the community. The runners are taken care of by the community they run through. It’s a real powerful reciprocity of giving and receiving, whether its prayers or all the runners are from their own community, so they are not paid from anything or anyone. It’s from the hospitality and reciprocity of every indigenous community they go through.
There is an audible prayer during all this?
Yes. Every community has their own social protocols and how to handle that. There are no cameras. No iPhones. On the Prayer Run, I would give an update on where we might be. We stopped at Navajo Country. It’s very powerful, though. As Indigenous People, we have our own way to pray. Not just one prayer. The way Western culture looks at it—you go into a church and pray, and this is a way of life. But our way of life is by actions—harvesting your traditional medicine is part of prayer. Acknowledging the community and the wildlife around it. We don’t overharvest. That’s part of prayer; acknowledging that ecosystem.
In essence, you become the prayer.
Yes. That’s the way of life. And this is how I segued into Standing Rock—this was a demonstration of prayer.
So, you come off of this Prayer Run, you learn about Standing Rock, and you went there?
First I went home. The theme for our run was Seeds for Life and I was resting up. My feet were sore, and I started watching this live feed of the youth [at Standing Rock]. And I worked with the youth back in Cannon Ball [North Dakota] in 2005, and did a little storytelling up there. I wondered if I recognized these guys. And I could hear them yelling “Water if Life.” What I first thought was that they were on the Peace and Dignity Run, but they weren’t. And as I kept watching, I could see what was happening, and it was quite powerful, saying that they were running for what was happening “today” in their homeland—this pipeline. I thought: “Whoa. This is something different. I don’t see that in the youth communities.”
I called down there—at that point, you could call people. They told me: “We need bodies. The youth are on their way to Washington to let President Obama know. We need help.” My media skills—that’s what I thought I could bring there. All the work I had been doing with that and as a filmmaker, and educating the youth on historical trauma training. All those different combinations. This is what I thought I could do to help to segue the message on a larger scale.
Tell us more about those first few weeks there.
First of all, I let the elders know that I was considering going—to get that validation. We were fighting our own fight—for traditional harvesting lands. But they gave us their blessing. We packed down all of our donations and we took off—a 24-hour drive. We stopped at Eagle Butte, said a prayer, and we continued on to Standing Rock and got there around midnight. When I woke up in the morning, what I saw was very beautiful; the beauty in the camp was amazing. I was taken by that and I realized that I was going to stay there.
When did things turn?
September 3 was when there were dog attacks [on protestors]. That was when I realized, “Wow. There’s another thing happening here.” I started to see TigerSwan—we just called them mercenaries because we had seen them around, and I kept thinking, that can’t be normal. It reminded of Nevada, where certain patterns that the military had. And they were establishing these types of patterns here. So, I just started documenting the pipeline. I started to see that this as an Occupy—by Police. And that is not right.
Documenting as much as you could was your main mission though?
I know from my experiences with things like this, that the fabrication of media comes from police, and if you don’t document, you are only going to have one side. And this really segues forward to last month with Pro fix case, where the officers only had that one media, and it looked like the drone was going into the path of the plane. But we had our own media, which had 4K, the highest resolution, showing that the plane was a half-mile away.
I documented the first interaction with Morton County Police Department and TigerSwan—they were training them. This one officer from the Bismarck Police Department, I remember his facial expressions when I documented him—he started yelling at me to get the hell out of there. And we had just witnessed something that is not right. We left. They were trained by TigerSwan.
Were you surprised at how Standing Rock was received by the public—by the country, and especially by those who came to Standing Rock in solidarity?
I am still amazed. It humbles me to think that somebody was paying attention when we were out there.
Why is it so vital that we get as much information out about what occurred at Standing Rock, and what may still be occurring in the ripple effects?
What I am getting throughout Indian country from the allies who come and share with me, is that they didn’t know this was happening. And then they ask, why. And then
I share with them that the priority history of the American Dream … is not the American Holocaust of Indigenous People. The assimilation came with a lot of pain, a lot of hurt, loss of land, loss of language, the child molestations from the churches and the boarding schools, the nuns, the preachers. We have witnessed this systematic racism for the last 200 years.
People wonder why Indian Nation is so poor and it’s because we are in constant defense of protecting our sacred sites, our harvested areas, our land and our way of life. We are under constant attack, not just from the federal government, but from the state, and corporations. I’m very proud of our language and I am very humbled because I know that the cost of our past generations who passed it along … because we witnessed that at Standing Rock. The last day, the day I left, was during the Standing Rock Film Festival. That was when my drone was shot out of the air about 20 feet above us. That was closest I’ve ever been shot at.
It put you on guard?
Yes. And it shows you, too, that when you think nobody is over there, that somebody is there.
The trial. Let’s get back to that.
I’m going to approach it from an educational answer. Every question they ask me I am going to educate the court on the Indigenous issues with my answer. I’ve been doing it with the officers who were there and you know, sometimes I’ve been getting good response. Several officers I spoke with in the year that I’ve been there, appreciate the educational part. They say, “I didn’t know that. Thank you for sharing.” I want them to know why we are here and what this means that they are doing, and that they have a choice. You always have a choice.
What have you learned about yourself during this journey?
The more you give away, the more that comes back—whether it’s knowledge, whether its just helping. What I’ve seen with media—I’ve been role modeling what you do with media; that western culture really valued being the first to have an exclusive. And I shared with them our teachings and that that was not what this was about. You have people here who have given up their homes, their jobs, their families, their 401k … because there is something here to protect that’s beautiful. If you look at this as a way to make money, you are not here for the right reasons.
Thousands of people came through. I started coming up with a digital protocol and I found that when media or non-natives began to learn more, there was a kind of shame, then a guilt, and then a lot of anger when they learn the truth. And there was always: “It wasn’t me that did it.” But I say ... being uneducated on the topic. That is you. You’re turning a blind eye. You didn’t question your education. But you questioned mine—all the way to my masters degree. So, you do have a choice.
Does it surprise you that everything has unfolded the way it has?
I want to say it does. But I know it doesn’t. I was talking about how history is repeating itself only in the second decade of the 21st century. And that’s why I documented the way I did. History tells us that whoever controls the media, controls the culture, and I was not going to let them control our culture or the narrative.
Sobering occurrences. Are you optimistic? Are you hopeful for your tribe, your tribes, and the country?
I am. When I hear people say that we lost. I don’t see that. I see a raise of consciousness happening.(
(Look for additional updates this week, as they emerge.)