For veterans prepared to put their lives on the line to help the Standing Rock Sioux stop the Dakota Access pipeline, this week’s protest didn’t quite live up to the hype.
First, the Obama administration removed the urgency by pulling the pipeline easement Sunday as thousands arrived at the protest camps. Then a blizzard sent veterans flocking to the casino, where they slept as many as 10 to a room, as well as inside the auditorium.
On Monday, tribal chairman Dave Archambault II asked them to leave. By Wednesday, charges of financial mismanagement and lack of organization were flying thick and fast on social media.
“A lot of veterans that we talked to seemed disgruntled about how this operation unfolded,” said Adam Linehan of Task & Purpose, a veterans’ news service, in a video from the campsite near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. “A lot of them feel abandoned by the Veterans for Standing Rock chain of command.”
The biggest complaint was that participants received little in the way of support for the Dec. 4-7 event, even though Veterans Stand for Standing Rock organizers Wesley Clark Jr. and Michael A. Wood Jr. had promised food and shelter after raising more than $1.1 million on GoFundMe.
In a video, Mr. Clark said he realized the follow through had been “atrocious and chaotic,” which he attributed to “the nature of self-organizing,” the difficulties with accessing the crowdfunding money, and the unexpectedly large crowd.
Mr. Wood said more than 4,000 participants arrived even though the plan was for 1,500 to 2,000, many of whom were disappointed at not being able to do much after the snowstorm hit.
“Maybe the biggest problem really was that we won just by showing up, and a lot of people wanted to do something, and it wasn’t sitting in a blizzard,” Mr. Wood told the anti-pipeline news outlet Young Turks. “It was to do some kind of action. I think there’s a good bit of, ‘Hey, the blizzard hit us, we weren’t ready for that, and we didn’t get to do anything very exciting because we got snowed in.’”
Protesters have been camped out on federal land since Aug. 10 in an effort to stop the 1,172-mile, four-state project, which is more than 90 percent complete, over concerns about water quality and historic relics.
Several veterans said on social media they were forced to use their own provisions to help other vets and protesters stuck in the blizzard without adequate supplies, while Mr. Clark and Mr. Wood were nowhere to be found.
“The actions of Wes Clark and Michael Wood are deplorable and should be met with scorn and scrutiny; they put lives at risk with their carelessness and recklessness,” said Sam Deering in a Facebook post. “They got the media attention they desired and hung the rest of us out to dry.”
After being inundated with complaints, Veterans Stand for Standing Rock said in a Facebook post that those who turn in receipts will be reimbursed for their expenses, with the remainder going to the tribe.
“No one has abandoned anyone. Wes may have left his tent but I assure you there was a good reason for that,” said the page’s administrator. “Please have faith in our project. We are all working so hard to make all of this happen and every dime of the money will be accounted for.”
Others pointed to the event’s positive moments, including a celebration at the camp featuring fireworks after the easement was canceled.
At a Monday ceremony, Mr. Clark and other veterans apologized for the actions of the U.S. government and knelt before tribal elders.
“We’ve hurt you in so many ways, but we’ve come to say that we are sorry, we are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness,” said Mr. Clark, who was wearing a military uniform, in a video posted online.
Mr. Archambault thanked the protesters in a Monday video and then asked them to leave.
“It’s time now. It’s time to go home. I’m thankful and I appreciate you being here and supporting Standing Rock, but it doesn’t do us any good to live in an unsafe environment,” he said. “It doesn’t do us any good to try and accomplish an action that will hurt the cause, and our cause is just.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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