After Brutal Assault By Police, Volunteers Prepare A Thanksgiving Feast For Standing Rock Water Protectors

Phil Daw Sr., of Albuquerque, New Mexico, helps cook beef stew to feed hundreds at an encampment near North Dakota's Standing Rock Sioux reservation. (AP Photo/James MacPherson)

Phil Daw Sr., of Albuquerque, New Mexico, helps cook beef stew to feed hundreds at an encampment near North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux reservation. (AP Photo/James MacPherson)

STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION, North Dakota — As thousands of Native Americans and their allies continue their efforts to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, a volunteer team is preparing to cook them a feast in a gesture of gratitude.

About 50 volunteers are traveling to the Standing Rock reservation, home to a massive encampment of “water protectors,” as the activists prefer to be called, to share a bountiful “Wopila Feast” on Thanksgiving Day.

“Wopila” means “thank you” in Lakota, and the feast is a way to give thanks to the activists who are putting their lives on the line to protect the water supply for those on the reservation and millions of others downstream from the 1,100-mile pipeline that is quickly nearing completion.  

“Our purpose is to give back to Native Americans – the Standing Rock Sioux and representatives of over 300 native tribes from throughout the Americas who have joined them in support,” said Judy Wicks, one of the feast’s main organizers, in a press release.

The delegation plans to serve 500 meals to the water protectors, which will include 30 turkeys, as well as “traditional” Thanksgiving Day foods which were actually originally cultivated by Native American people, including, squash, beans, potatoes, and pumpkin.

“The wisdom this country was founded on came from the native people and in this time of forgetting we need to come back to the well of wisdom and the depth of a culture of peace to remember and to serve,” Jodie Evans, a co-founder of the peace group CodePink who is helping to organize the feast, said in the press release.

People are coming from far and wide to contribute to the feast. In addition to helping to serve the dinner, Jane Fonda, the actress, is donating five butchered bison and four Mongolian yurts to the water protectors. Lou Ann Merkle, a high school teacher, and Rachael Rodriquez, a high school student, are bringing messages of thanks from Philadelphia-area students.

Native Americans and the myth of the first Thanksgiving are inextricably linked in the American imagination, but Wicks noted the reality of Native American repression and genocide bears little resemblance to the traditional stories of a first meal shared between European settlers and Indigenous people. In a Nov. 17 post on her homepage, she wrote:

“The idyllic traditional story of the first Thanksgiving in which the settlers shared with the native people in 1621 is largely a myth. Tragically and shamefully, what followed the European arrival was five hundred years of genocide and betrayal of Native Americans.  To this day, treaties are being broken for the benefit of white expansionism.”

The high-profile feast could bring much-needed attention to the water protectors as they struggle to halt construction of the pipeline amid falling winter temperatures and a rising tide of police brutality. On Sunday, police and private pipeline security personnel attacked the water protectors as they attempted to clear away burned vehicles that were blocking traffic near the reservation. Police used a variety of “less lethal” weapons on the activists demonstrating in below-freezing conditions, including tear gas, an LRAD sound cannon, and water cannons.

Unicorn Riot reported that at least 160 people were injured by police on Sunday night and into Monday morning, though some other reports put the number as high as 300. The independent media collective also noted two reports of cardiac arrest among those doused by the water cannons, including an elder reported to be in critical condition. Sophia Wilansky, a 21-year-old medic, was hit by a police concussion grenade and may need to have her arm amputated.

Supporters have flooded phone lines from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department to the White House in hopes of halting construction and preventing the next police attack.

Native activists were rebuffed in attempts to meet with Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the main corporation behind the pipeline. Warren promised to meet with members of the Society of Native Nations after activists targeted a Nov. 3 meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, of which Warren is a member.

In a Nov. 17 press release from the Society of Native Nations, the NGO’s board of directors wrote:

“Mr. Warren’s response is shocking and clearly demonstrates that neither the citizens of Texas or the Native people’s historical, cultural, burial and sacred sites that are being desecrated by his company do not matter to him. He obviously only cares about the personal profit that he seeks by laying pipelines over public, private and treaty lands for his benefit alone.”

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