Concerned citizens set out from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Houghton for a vigil near the Wells Fargo Bank. Signs support the water protectors at Standing Rock, opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline, and call for Wells Fargo to divest from Energy Transfer Partners, the oil company building the pipeline. (Photos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)
HOUGHTON -- Regina Alleman, who volunteered as a nurse to help injured water protectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota, was nearly in tears as she described what she considered human rights violations against peaceful protesters during a discussion at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Houghton on Dec. 8, 2016 -- a few days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) finally refused to approve an easement that will allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to cross under Lake Oahe.*
Alleman was speaking to a group of local citizens who wished to show their solidarity with thousands of Native and non-Native people who have gathered peacefully in a huge camp in North Dakota to demonstrate against potential impacts to the drinking water and sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Houghton group held a discussion before walking up College Avenue to stand a vigil near the local Wells Fargo Bank and call for the bank's divestment from DAPL.
Noting her shock at the human rights abuses perpetrated on the crowds of peaceful protesters, also known as water protectors, Alleman said this should be a concern of all Americans:
Rodney Loonsfoot, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, helped organized the Dec. 8 event.
"I have not been to standing rock YET," Loonsfoot told Keweenaw Now. "I was waiting for the second wave of veterans that was supposed to happen. The first bunch of veterans did the job and that weekend the ACE denied the permit. So our wave didn't go. Although the permit has been denied, we ask communities to continue to pray for our mother earth, our sacred water and for the new administration to respect our mother earth and stand to protect her."
Loonsfoot also spoke to the group at Good Shepherd during the discussion:
Others added to the discussion with descriptions of some of the worst injuries suffered by water protectors at the hands of police and security forces using rubber bullets, pepper spray, and more:
Jerry Jondreau, also a KBIC member, said the purpose of the Dec. 8 event was to show support for the people at Standing Rock and to raise awareness that Wells Fargo is an investor in the DAPL.
"The event was held for people to come together to show support for the No DAPL movement, share stories and provide a community of support for those affected emotionally, spiritually and physically," Jondreau explained. "After snacks and introductions the group walked to Wells Fargo with their signage."
The vigil participants stand near Wells Fargo Bank in Houghton, taking care not to block the sidewalk.
Good Shepherd Pastor Bucky Beach said the intent of the vigil was to raise awareness of how the DAPL is funded and to register people's concerns with Wells Fargo.
"It was to encourage them to look at the implications of their investments and to consider divesting, and investing in other ways," Pastor Beach noted.
William Thompson, a Finlandia student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran who visited Standing Rock, joined in the vigil.
"I was at the sacred stone camp donating supplies and helping with needs around camp," Thompson said. "I can best describe being at camp like standing on the divide of the yin and yang. Camp was a powerful sacred place filled with peaceful prayerful people sharing love for our earth and one another, and across the river there was razor wire, militarized police/vehicles with weapons. Many nations of indigenous people from Alaska to Peru were there standing in peaceful solidarity to protect the earth and our fresh water for everyone. While in orientation at camp we were told to maintain a state of prayer, make ourselves useful, look after the elders, be self sufficient, maintain nonviolence, and BRING IT HOME amongst others. I felt compelled to go to Standing Rock to honor my oath as a marine to defend against all threats foreign (or in this case) domestic. I attended the vigil to honor the request to bring it home."
William Thompson, center, Finlandia student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, displays the bilingual sign, "Mni Wiconi/Water is Life" during the Dec. 8 vigil near Wells Fargo Bank in Houghton. Pictured also are, at left, Regina Alleman, and Donica Dravillas with her daughter, Maddie.
After the vigil, the group returned to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church for a Prayer Circle.
Pastor Beach said, "The prayer circle was to offer support to people at Standing Rock and prayers for the earth."
Miguel and Anita Levy of Chassell also participated in the vigil.
Miguel Levy said, in addition to raising awareness about the DAPL, the vigil was intended to demonstrate the role of financial institutions such as Wells Fargo in perpetuating environmental and social injustice.
"This has the effect of helping to organize resistance to DAPL," Miguel noted. "As to the effectiveness of this kind of protest activity, it should be seen in the broader context of what's going on nationally and internationally. Hundreds of protests against banks' funding of DAPL have taken place this month alone throughout the country and abroad. On December 1st alone there were at least 80 protests against funding DAPL -- from Alaska, to California, to Florida, in 30 states, and in Canada, Europe and Japan. Building strength to the resistance movement, as these actions show, is critical to defeating DAPL and strengthening the whole environmental movement."
* Editor's Note: See "Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s statement on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision against easement."