A celebration of song, ritual and supportive speeches Saturday at Havurah Shir Hadash drew a standing-room-only crowd of 250 people who raised $6,400 for the “Water Protectors,” a coalition of scores of Native American tribes, about 30 environmental groups and many just-plain citizens seeking to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipe Line across historic tribal lands about a half mile north of the Standing Rock Reservation on the west bank of Missouri River in North Dakota.

The protest against the 1,134-mile oil line from North Dakota to Illinois began last spring and soon attracted an array of supporters because, says Ashland teacher Louise Paré, pipelines often leak and threaten water supplies for millions of people on waterways.

Paré lived for 12 years in Bismarck, North Dakota, about 40 miles north of Standing Rock, and taught a few time at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. She moved to Ashland in 2005 and in September volunteered to bring supplies and prepare meals at the protest.

“I came because I have to be there. It’s because of water and how oil leaks always happen and poison the water,” says Paré. “It’s such a sea change moment because the tribes across the country have been divided historically and this is the first time in a hundred or more years they’ve come together and dropped their differences. All their flags are flying, like the U.N., 120 different nations. This movement is grounded in prayer and spirituality, non-violent.” 

The action is bigger than tribal or environmental concerns, Paré says, as it’s a platform for the return of matriarchy — women reclaiming leadership roles they held in tribes of ancient days.

Paré will give an hour-long Standing Rock report at noon Sunday, Nov. 6, at Rogue Valley Unitarian-Universalist Church, 87 Fourth St., Ashland. She will address how their water issues tie in with Oregon’s and will give a visual presentation of her time there.

Traveling to Standing Rock Reservation with elders from the Nez Perce, Warm Springs and Klamath Tribes, Ashlander Shane Smith brought food, blankets, wood stoves and $1,800 he collected from local donors, including funds raised through the Native American Student Union at Southern Oregon University and from members of the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission.

They camped on the front lines, in the path of where the pipeline is being built and where Water Protectors were trying to “peacefully and non-violently set up a camp based on their 1851 treaty rights.”

They were confronted by 300 police in full riot gear, plus pipeline company officers who “surrounded us all day, using every non-lethal device to disperse people and tear down the camp, which they succeeded in doing.”

The group spent five hours there, “which was chaos, like being in the eye of the storm, with the elders wanting to be there, conducting prayer services while others erected blockades and were dealing with violence from the police, which was verbal abuse at first. The police became aggressive and violent, with two helicopters and a plane swooping down on us. They flew all night, harassing the camps and people. They were armed to the teeth with batons, shotguns and automatic rifles, as well as beanbag guns and sound weapons to create mass confusion and smoke bombs with pellets to create chaos.” 

Water Protectors set up blockades against the pipeline builders, using vehicles and debris. Smith and his group helped feed camp medics, who were set up nearby, aiding protesters who came in with welts and bruises from rubber bullets or rashes from Mace, he says.

One man had his horse shot out from under him with rubber bullets, he says. The horse had to be put down due to its injuries, other witnesses said.

“During all this, the elders were deep in prayer, including prayers for the militarized police,” says Smith. “The camp worked very well, in a spirit of solidarity and peace. It was not an unorganized riot. The spirit was very powerful and peaceful. All the violence was coming from the North Dakota police and corporate militia.”

As shown in a well-disseminated video, some 60 wild buffalo hung out near the campsite but the pipeline helicopters harassed them, he says, and tried to drive them away.

The project has a big spiritual dimension for all participants, Smith adds, noting, “For myself, I feel that once we defeat this pipeline, we can go to other places and stand up for the rights of the indigenous community and the Earth. This is a jumping-off point that is part of a larger, spiritually based movement to protect future generations and water.”

Smith plans to head back to Standing Rock on Tuesday. Anyone wanting to make donations can contact him at 541-631-8730.

Ashlander Oshana Catranides also volunteered at kitchen duty in September at Standing Rock, participating in prayer walks after pipeline crews disturbed graves on Lakota treaty lands, she says.

“The mood was definitely hopeful, welcoming and accepting of all races and nationalities, although that increased the volatility of emotions,” Catranides says. “There was gratitude and empowerment, as people set aside past prejudices and fixed on the goal of protecting water for future generations.”

Without her conducting any formal fundraising, people gave her $2,400 for the trip, she notes.

A group of locals supporting the Water Keeper protest has a Facebook page named Solidarity with Standing Rock - No Dakota Access Pipeline -Southern Oregon.

Meredith Pech, deacon of Ashland’s Trinity Episcopal Church, was in North Dakota and getting ready Wednesday to join 300 protesters on the front lines, wearing clergy attire to underline their religious purpose and to make use of batons and spray less likely.

“I went because I was called to stand in solidarity with Native Americans as keepers of the water and earth,” she said in a phone interview from Standing Rock. “I’ve worked with the Piute in Burns. Our history is that we make agreements and definitely don’t honor any of them in any way, so this is an opportunity for us to make it right.”

An “enormous number” of people in her congregation are very supportive of her participation and anointed her with oils and the laying on of hands before her departure, Pech said.

At the fundraiser put on by Havurah and Red Earth Descendants of Ashland, Rabbi David Zaslow said, “We stand with the Standing Rock Sioux as the defenders of treaties made with Native American tribes against the abuse of the laws of eminent domain by developers, oil, and energy companies. We stand with Native Americans because as Jews we see our plight in their plight. The Jewish people have been maligned for thousands of years, exiled from our homeland, harassed wherever we lived, placed in reservations the Europeans called ‘ghettos.’” 

Zaslow said the Germans were not only impelled by their own evil but by the weakness of the Jews because they were busy fighting among themselves, but now have united, a step Native Americans are taking.

The spiritual “Red Road” of Indians, said Zaslow, “is transforming the consciousness of mainstream religions to realize our connection to all our relations, and that the earth is a living system. Native Americans have reminded us that the term “Mother Earth” is not just a quaint figure of speech, but rather a profound reality. The spiritual wisdom of Native Americans have slowly been transforming the way that people see the creation and the planet. For this we are profoundly grateful.”

Nov. 3: Article updated to say "Water Protectors," not "Water Keepers"; to correct Louise Paré's teaching experience at United Tribes Technical College; and to correct the phone number for Shane Smith.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.