Edmontonians standing up for Standing Rock
‘We’re standing up for this ... We're actually out here doing something’
A group of Edmontonians have set up a camp downtown in a gesture of solidarity for the demonstrators at Standing Rock in North Dakota.
About 15 people have put up several tents in Churchill Square. They camped overnight Thursday and were gathered around a fire Friday.
"We're encouraging everyone to come here with goodwill and to pray for each other," said Anthony Muller, a member of the Bigstone Cree Nation in Wabasca who is in Edmonton for school studies.
Those huddled around the fire said it was an important statement considering what people protesting the Dakota Access pipeline have been going through.
While demonstrators in North Dakota who have been protesting the pipeline say they have been peaceful, they have been met with police in riot gear.
Repeated reports of police using pepper spray and other controversial tactics have emerged in the standoff, which began in April.
Taz Bouchier was inspired to organize the Edmonton prayer camp after spending time in North Dakota where she was invited to give spiritual support to the Standing Rock demonstrators.
"The most affected I felt was the terror I saw in people's eyes," Bouchier said, describing the actions of the U.S. authorities as "brutal."
Opponents to the multi-billion dollar pipeline believe it's a threat to Indigenous land and to the Missouri River which is the main water supply for the nearby Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Garnet Borch, who slept in one of the tents in Churchill Square Thursday, went with Bouchier on her trip to Standing Rock.
He didn't witness any violence during his five days at the camp, but said he felt empowered by the strength of the people on the front lines and wanted to be part of the Edmonton prayer camp as a result.
"We're standing up for this," he said. "We're not just sitting at home sharing Facebook feeds or whatever, we're out here actually doing something."
Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation at Glenevis, 90 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, issued a statement on the North Dakota protests Wednesday.
Alexis said he is disturbed to hear "over 300 people have been seriously injured" while peacefully protesting there.
The camp in Churchill Square was set up at 8 a.m. Thursday. It will be taken down at 8 a.m. Saturday to make way for other events.
A spokesperson for the City of Edmonton said the city is aware of the camp, describing Churchill Square as a free gathering space.
The people taking part said police had dropped by several times to ask how things were going, telling them to call if any help was needed.
They said other people walking in Churchill Square had been supportive, with many stopping by to offer support or ask questions about the issue.
Bouchier, who was also part of a recent flash mob round dance in west Edmonton Mall, said the stance against pipelines is also relevant in Canada, with several proposals on the table.
She said Indigenous leaders here have similar concerns about their environmental impact.
For now though, Bouchier remains focused on Standing Rock. She said she will head back next month to again stand alongside demonstrators.