I’m currently sitting at Vegas Hotel in Billings, Montana after driving from Standing Rock earlier today. We decided to leave in the morning due to a blizzard weather advisory. This was definitely the right decision since people are currently stuck on the campgrounds in freezing conditions. I arrived in Cannon Ball late Saturday night after driving solo from Austin, Texas. This was a hero’s journey I’d been planning for weeks. I spent the night with a friend in Rosebud, South Dakota and continued on to Oceti Sakowin the next day. This sacred land is the site of peaceful protests between the Army Corps of Engineers and the native Sioux Tribes over a controversial oil pipeline, or Dakota Access Pipeline. I immediately began to set up camp and met a few friendly neighbors. I explored around the campsite and walked up to the DAPL police boundary. I slept through the night with cold feet. During sunrise the next day, I hiked up to Media Hill with the drone. Reporters from various media organizations were milling around. Once I was able to warm up the drone batteries and proceeded to fly around camp, people kept approaching me with curiosity. Handing them my business card, I said, “I’m a drone operator and photographer from Austin, Texas.” My fingers were numb from the biting cold, so I carried my drone in an open backpack down the hill. All of a sudden, a large man approached me asking if I got any good shots. It was the legendary Myron Dewey; activist, drone operator, and founder of Digital Smoke Signals. He’d been sharing amazing footage and updates from Standing Rock since the beginning and it was my intention to collaborate in a meaningful way. Here it is, the very first morning after my arrival, and I already crossed paths with him! We took a photo together, shook hands, and I gave him my business card. Now, obviously, my reason for coming to Standing Rock wasn’t as a networking opportunity but it certainly doesn’t hurt. My purpose is to show my support for the cause and I believe the best way to do that is to document what is occurring from the ground and air. I then head over to the sacred fire for a prayer ceremony. Everyone is so warm and friendly desire the cold stressful conditions. The Unitarian Universalists lead an emotional prayer, followed by a speech and ceremonial song by a group of Oceti Elders. I’m crouching right up front the entire time snapping photos until an official tells us to put the cameras down. There’s a Native custom that you’re not allowed to take photos of the sacred fire. The appearance of Dr. Cornell West is when I make my exit and return to camp to meet up with my friend Allison who also drove from Austin. Throughout the day, I continue flying the drone from Media Hill and meeting reporters. For some reason, I keep having video signal issues between the drone and phone, so I’m forced to fly blind. Luckily, I still managed to get plenty of usable footage. Around noon, the troops begin flowing in bus loads into Oceti Sakowin camp. It is announced that they will march onto the front lines at 2pm. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. It remains to be seen what will happen between police officers contracted by Energy Transfer Partners and American veterans. Within the next hour, I join the large group of people joining together at the sacred fire. There’s a lot of commotion going on; tribal dancing around the fire, cheering, chanting and lots of smiles. It is with great relief that I finally realize the decision was reached by a government order from President Obama himself to deny the Army Corps permit to drill under the Missouri River! After nearly 6 months of intense protests, the water protectors and over 300 native tribes coming together in solidarity against the “Black Snake”, have fought the corporate overlords into submission. Police officers immediately receive orders to pull back from the boundary. The DAPL was nearly 95% complete and it will not go through, unless Energy Transfer Partners decides to drill illegally, which will undoubtedly cause a large public outcry. There is a slight possibility that once Trump is sworn in as President on January 20th, he will overturn Obama’s governmental order. However, I don’t envision this happening since he will want to save face. Hopefully this momentous decision to stop contribution of the DAPL will also spell the demise of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline being constructed through Big Bend National Park. I’m so thankful to have arrived in time to witness this major environmental breakthrough on the side of the indigenous people of this country! December 4th will be remembered as a day that peace and justice prospered over corporate interests of greed and colonialism!
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