Solemn ‘Standing Rock’ march through Santa Rosa ends in celebration

Hundreds solemnly marched through downtown Santa Rosa Sunday to the beat of traditional Native American drums and had arrived at a rallying point on B Street when word came that the Army Corps of Engineers wouldn’t grant permits for the Dakota Access oil pipeline in southern North Dakota.

Organizer Adam Villagomez stopped his speech and through a bullhorn read aloud an early news report about the Corps’ decision - an unexpected but much hoped for development in the effort to stop construction of a portion of the pipeline beneath a dammed part of the Missouri River. The protesters, a group that swelled to about 500 people near the Santa Rosa Plaza, cheered and cried.

“This is a spiritual movement and we are warriors,” said Villagomez, 44, a Windsor resident who is Dakota Sioux and Chippewa.

Villagomez set down the bullhorn as Aztec ceremonial dancers blew a resonant call from a conch shell. They danced. Incense wafted through the crowd. Passing motorists honked their horns.

People from a variety of social justice groups aligned Sunday as Sonoma County Solidarity with Standing Rock to rally at Juilliard Park. They marched to the drums in a near-silent procession that wound through downtown and ended in front of Citibank on B Street to protest the company’s financial ties to the pipeline project.

They carried U.S. flags, Earth flags and hand-painted signs reading “Water is Sacred” and “We Stand with Standing Rock.” With a bullhorn, a woman told the group she lodged a complaint with Citibank about its connection to the project. Then she took out a pair of scissors and cut her credit card into scraps.

The Santa Rosa event was timed to coincide with the arrival in North Dakota of a coalition of about 2,000 military veterans at what has become a sprawling protest camp on the frozen prairie.

The movement started last spring when a small group of Standing Rock Sioux tribal members established the Sacred Stone Camp in opposition to Energy Transfer Partners’ plan to build a pipeline near sacred burial sites and a source of drinking water for the tribe. The camp has since drawn thousands of supporters including members of other tribes from across the country.

The Corps’ announcement is not a final blow to the planned route underneath Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir. Federal officials said they would explore alternative routes and produce an environmental impact statement that would incorporate public input and official analysis.

Still, the news turned the Santa Rosa protest into a celebration and news-sharing gathering.

“My heart is full,” said Gloria Laflamme, a social worker who helped organize the event. She said the protest at Standing Rock combined two critically important issues: the environment and the civil rights of Native Americans.

Cynthia Quinn, 43, of Windsor, a Yurok Indian tribal member who brought supplies to North Dakota in September, grabbed the bullhorn and read a statement from the protest front lines by Dallas Goldtooth, a comedian, activist and member of the Dakota and Diné tribes.

“This is a win, a huge win,” Quinn said.

The group disbanded about 2:45 p.m., three hours after they first began convening in Juilliard Park. Many hugged as they left.

“As an indigenous person, there are so few victories,” Villagomez said. “We also know we’ve been promised things before that didn’t happen. I just know they did something right today.”

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