Water Protectors

In early 2017 I was asked by a non-profit civil rights group to travel to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to photograph some of the plaintiffs in the Jumping Eagle v. Trump law suit. (Several people have filed a suit against President Trump and the US Army Corps of Engineers over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)).

The first plaintiff I met was Virgil Taken Alive, I met him at the radio station he runs and he invited me in to his office to talk before we took pictures. He told me about the beginnings of the DAPL protest and talked a lot about the younger people on the reservation and how hopeful he is for their futures. As we talked a few young men came in and out of his office and he answered a phone call; it was clear that he believes in supporting the youth of Standing Rock and gives much of his time doing so.

He also talked about the internal conflicts within the tribe that have arisen because of the DAPL protests and expressed his concern for some people’s motivations, but even during these quieter revelations he remained optimistic that their fight will continue on and eventually be won.

The next plaintiff I met was Waste Win, but we did not have much time together so I didn’t get a lot of information on her involvement with the protests and the lawsuit. I believe she was arrested during a protest at or near the Oceti Sakowin camp, but I could be incorrect. I do know that shortly after we did these photos she traveled with a few of the other plaintiffs and the leader of the non-profit funding their lawsuit to Washington D.C. for hearings and testimonies regarding the DAPL.

The third plaintiff I met was LaDonna Brave Bull, who has been a vocal and public activist against the DAPL for more than a year. I also did not get much time with her, her house was a flurry of activity with people leaving the camps and coming to her home and family staying with her. We just stepped outside and I snapped a few quick shots in her yard and then she was off into the house to help her grandchildren get their movie started and helping the campers get settled into her home.

The last plaintiff I met that day was Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle, and because she was the last one that day and she had an open schedule we got to spend quite a bit of time together. She is an amazing woman; a mother, a doctor, a member of the Great Sioux Nation and an activist who has been fighting the DAPL from the beginning. We did several different shots in three or four different locations, starting with her overlooking the Missouri river, then we traveled up to one of the camps and our last shots of the day were on Highway 1806 outside of Cannon Ball, ND in front of the BIA roadblocks. The photo to the left was a particular shot she wanted to get – it is her looking over the Missouri river which runs right by the town she lives in and the water tower for the town. She said, “I want people to see how close the water is to our homes; to see the water tower that gives us water to drink and to know there are people who will suffer when the pipeline contaminates the river.”

The next day I met the final plaintiff I was assigned to photograph, William “Wild Bill” Left Hand Sr. We met in Ft. Yates and took a few photos along the riverbank then went to his home outside of town because I really wanted a picture of him next to the sign he put in front of his property. After we took the picture, he looked at me and smiled and said, “Not too sure what they’ll think of that,” pointing to the upside down American flag he had placed in the fence-post.  I smiled back and said, “That’s why I wanted to take this picture.” A lot of people think it is a sign of disrespect to display the American flag upside down, but in fact it is a written law that allows for such a display to signal distress. (THE UNITED STATES FLAG CODE: Title 4, Chapter 1: § 8(a)The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.)