For Philana Poz Hutchison, protesting the Dakota Access pipeline started as a five-day commitment. Now, it has blossomed into plans to spend a harsh North Dakota winter making it a full-time endeavor.

“I plan on being there at least until the spring. I don’t have anything else that’s scheduled in my life,” said Hutchison, 28, of Boulder. “I’m in this now until there’s a favorable result.”

The result that she and many others — a number of them also from the Boulder-Denver area — are hoping for is the shutting down of the 1,174-mile, $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which would cross four states and go just past the northeast corner of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Concerns over the possible damage to the area water supply in the event of a leak — and the sanctity of Native American lands and heritage — are at the heart of passionate opposition, which last week flared into violent confrontations that resulted in the arrests of at least 140 protesters.

More than 400 have been arrested since August.

Hutchison, who said she has Cherokee ancestry, believes it’s a struggle in which everyone has a stake.

“This has environmental repercussions, this has to do with Native American rights and honoring indigenous culture and indigenous homes and ceremonial space,” Hutchison said. “This is a spiritual war. This is like, natural life versus artificial life. Because, robots need oil to run. But humans need water to run. Which direction are we going?”

Hutchison first went up to the protest camps at the reservation Aug. 25 to deliver donations that had been raised in the Boulder area by Thrive restaurant, We Are Change, at the Boulder Farmers Market and elsewhere. Those donations included more than $200 in cash plus a substantial amount of food and warm clothing.

Her initial visit coincided with the Labor Day weekend bulldozing by construction crews of land that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said were sacred burial grounds. That was enough to keep Hutchison there for two months, not five days. And enduring outrage over what she has seen happening is why she planned to leave Tuesday night by car to return, with plans to stay through an often unforgiving season, lending her voice and support to the protest efforts.

“I felt the potency of the destruction that people were willing to impose on the land, and on other people for profit,” Hutchison said of the Labor Day weekend incident, “and, without any consideration for future generations and for what we needed to have here on Earth to sustain life.”

Kelley Wear, who lives in Superior, is a hand surgeon with offices in Boulder, Broomfield and Reunion. And, in recent months, she has become another local resident increasingly committed to supporting the Native Americans who have coalesced around the Dakota Access pipeline protests.

She and a friend have made two brief trips to Standing Rock to deliver food and blankets, and will be leaving to do so again later next week.

“Momentum is on our side now,” said Wear, who also identifies as having some Cherokee heritage. “When you have (members of) 300 tribes, elderly women in prayer and celebration, willing to stand up against armored trucks and be shot, that says a lot. We have to support them.”

Wear said she has seen a lot of people from Boulder and Denver at Standing Rock, but also from places more far afield.

“There were also people from Utah, Arizona, New Mexico. There was a woman from Maine who had driven three days to get there,” said Wear, who is also an author, having just completed a memoir titled “The Journey of a Broken Child.”

“People are coming from all over the country, and the world. There were people from Peru.”

Wear lamented that, by her judgment, escalation of the conflict has only been covered through social media — even though the large wave of arrests, including the burning of several vehicles, made the pages of the New York Times.

“There was this huge action, and there were no cameras there showing it live,” she said. “If it was Ferguson (in Missouri), you would be seeing that. If it was not on an Indian reservation, you would be seeing it.”

It’s resonating in the Boulder area, however, with a “letter writing and consciousness-raising evening” billed as “Standing with Standing Rock” that was to be held Tuesday evening at Naropa University.

And, with tensions around the pipeline protest having mounted in recent days — officers have reported having firebombs and feces thrown at them and protesters have cited excessive force by law enforcement’s hands — Hutchison would not be surprised if she ends up facing arrest during her coming winter’s stay in North Dakota.

With the stakes as high as she believes them to be, Hutchison said, “It’s a very high likelihood. If you’re not putting yourself at risk, then, what are doing?”


(c)2016 Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)

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