About 200 Mid-Columbia residents rallied in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to stop Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline during a rally Sunday at Richland’s John Dam Plaza.
The Rev. Doak Mansfield of Pasco’s Community Unitarian Universalist Church marshaled the cheerful interfaith crowd as it waved protest signs at drivers, many of whom honked their horns in support.
Mansfield called it a low-tech gathering, with no speakers, that generally aimed to build local awareness about the issues raised in the increasingly tense protests at Cannonball, N.D.
Sandra Rosenau, a Richland nurse, visited North Dakota to check it out for herself and returned just days before the local protest. She traveled alone, but said she always felt safe.
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She lent her nursing expertise while in North Dakota, but said her mission was to learn about the conflict firsthand.
The Standing Rock standoff has many complications, but at its center, it is about shipping oil across the Missouri River upriver from drinking water intakes that serve thousands, she said.
Rosenau came home with a fresh appreciation for the common links among communities. Gesturing toward the Columbia River just a few blocks away, she wondered aloud how Tri-Citians would tolerate a similar threat.
Pollutants don’t just hurt the immediate communities, they damage the river its entire length to Portland and the Pacific Ocean.
“We have our three rivers,” she said. “We have a connection through the water.”
She described collegial camp conditions, where outside protestors now outnumber the Native Americans they came to support. Organizers are bracing for the harsh Plains winter by installing insulated teepees, winterized tents, yurts and other structures.
The goal is simple: Lobby the Army Corps of Engineers to deny a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline and to stop construction work in culturally sensitive areas immediately.
Vicki Smilie of Finley, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, said she was grateful for the chance to show local support, and for the turnout.
“I never thought the people of the Tri-Cities would come and support us like this,” she said.
Susi Czarnek, a retired Richland resident who retired trainer and cycling coach, is descended from the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. She said she’s watching Standing Rock carefully.
“We feel like they need to honor the treaty,” she said.
Looking to her fellow protestors, she smiled at the sign-waving crowd.
“It is an opportunity for us to stand up,” she said.