Sonoma County activists support Standing Rock pipeline protest

Since returning from the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest, Cynthia Quinn has been monitoring the daily clashes on television and through social media.

What the Windsor resident, descended from Klamath River Yurok Indians, saw Friday brought tears to her eyes.

After police rounded up and arrested 141 demonstrators a day earlier, bulldozers moved in on the private property and plowed the area, leaving what Quinn called 'a big wound' across what the Standing Rock Sioux consider sacred land.

Quinn wept at the development, which followed police dog confrontations with protesters and other moves seen by pipeline opponents as attacks on indigenous peoples' tradition and rights.

'It's painful,' said Quinn, who drove the 3,000-mile round trip last month with her adult daughter and a load of supplies. 'When you're connected to the Earth, it's devastating.'

Quinn is among a growing number of North Coast residents supporting the protest against the thousand-mile pipeline connecting the oil-rich area of North Dakota to Illinois and refineries across the country. Many are going in person, joining picket lines against a project they say threatens the environment and will destroy Native American burial grounds and prayer sites.

Still others are staying behind, contributing money for food, winter clothing and legal fees for protesters. A GoFundoMe site by a Sebastopol activist to raise money for shelters and composting toilets has raised more than $17,000.

'There is a huge groundswell of support all over Sonoma County with many different people going there and coming back and collecting donations,' said Jenny Blaker of Cotati, who is part of a new group formed last month with climate change activists from 350 Sonoma.

By all accounts, environmental and Native American groups have banded together, sharing concern over disruption of sacred areas and a project they say prolongs dependence on fossil fuel.

'Our issues have always been connected,' said Camp Meeker activist Mary Moore. 'The native people have formed the brunt of the environmental movement. They are the original environmentalists.'

A federal judge in September denied the tribe's request to block construction on the grounds that the Army Corps of Engineers improperly issued permits, and North Dakota officials say no culturally significant sites have been found in the area. But on the day the judge ruled, three federal agencies stepped in to order construction to halt on Army Corps-owned land around Lake Oahe, a wide spot of the Missouri River, while the Corps reviewed its decision-making.

Meanwhile, construction has been allowed to continue on private land owned by the developer, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, with a goal of completion by the end of the year.

Quinn, manager of the Windsor branch of an international home-care agency, drove out at the end of September with about 15 bags of supplies including jackets, wool socks, sleeping bags and toys for children.

The trip was quick. She and her daughter, Jacqueline Henrikson of Sacramento, mostly helped out in the kitchen, passing out coffee and Spam. They didn't protest, but Quinn delivered notices to the Morton County Sheriff's Office, informing them of the tribe's stance that the pipeline violates established treaties.

'It was nerve-wracking because you are driving through police barricades,' Quinn said. 'You really feel vulnerable because they are treating it as military situation.'

Once back home, Quinn has followed the protest and people she met through social media. She watched people being arrested. On Friday, which was far calmer after Thursday's roundup of protesters, Quinn said she felt helpless as bulldozers rolled into view.

'It's harder now that we've been there,' Quinn said. 'We know the people, the children and their families. They are being treated like criminals.'

Another Windsor resident, Adam Villagomez, took his wife and three sons to North Dakota around Columbus Day, delivering 500 pounds of rice, 200 pounds of beans, and medical supplies. The substance abuse counselor with Dakota Sioux and Chippewa ancestry said the sight of police in riot gear, armored personnel carriers and snipers on the ridges made him fearful. During his weeklong visit, it seemed helicopters were constantly overhead.

'Everyone who comes back from there has a little bit of PTSD,' said Villagomez, who works at Sonoma County Indian Health.

But he and other activists adhered to a pledge of non- violence. He felt inspired by the outpouring of support for Native American tradition and the environment. He urged people who cannot attend the protest to 'call the president, call the Justice Department and say you want this stopped.'

'Today is not just about us,' Villagomez said. 'Without water none of us will live. This is for everybody. That's why we need all the support we can get.

This report contains information from the Associated Press.

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