Spirit Camp Embodies Sioux Opposition to Keystone Pipeline

Gary Dorr serves as media and logistical coordinator for initiative to defeat the project.

National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
April 23, 2014, 8 a.m.

The Na­tion­al Mall took on a west­ern fla­vor earli­er this week as Sioux tri­bal lead­ers, sheep­skin-clad cow­boys, and con­cerned landown­ers gathered to protest the Key­stone XL pipeline. And Gary Dorr was in the cen­ter of it all.

“This is an epic pro­ject, and it’s go­ing to have an epic re­sponse,” said Dorr, sit­ting out­side an en­camp­ment of te­pees fes­tooned with tri­bal flags. “All sev­en Coun­cil Fires of the Great Sioux Na­tion are united against it.”

The lac­on­ic 47-year-old, who is the me­dia and lo­gist­ic­al co­ordin­at­or for an ini­ti­at­ive by the Rose­bud Sioux Tribe to de­feat the Key­stone XL pipeline, mo­tioned to a crush of re­port­ers near the en­trance to the main te­pee.

“We’re here to get some an­swers. We’ve sent let­ters to the De­part­ment of the In­teri­or, the State De­part­ment, and the White House, but no one has bothered to re­spond.”

Earli­er that day, Dorr watched as 24 moun­ted ranch­ers and in­di­gen­ous lead­ers rode from the Cap­it­ol to the Re­flect­ing Pool. It was the open­ing of a weeklong event ar­ranged by the Cow­boy and In­di­an Al­li­ance to protest an ex­ten­sion of the Key­stone pipeline that would tra­verse tri­bal lands and could pose a risk to battle­grounds, buri­al grounds, and oth­er sac­red sites.

After wa­ter from the Ogal­lala aquifer — which op­pon­ents fear may be con­tam­in­ated by leak­age from the pipeline — was poured in­to the Re­flect­ing Pool, the gath­er­ing pitched a half-dozen te­pees on the Na­tion­al Mall just north of the Smith­so­ni­an Castle. The en­camp­ment is centered on a sac­red fire and has re­li­gious over­tones.

Dorr ex­plained that the cluster of te­pees was a smal­ler ver­sion of a “spir­it camp” that had been set up in cent­ral South Dakota in late March. That camp — loc­ated near a turn in the planned route of the pipeline — con­sists of sev­en te­pees in­side a peri­met­er of grass bales. The en­trance is marked with sev­en flags moun­ted on 35-foot pine poles.

“The spir­it camp is a phys­ic­al em­bod­i­ment of all the pray­ers of the people,” Dorr said. “We’re go­ing to be there un­til one of two things hap­pens: Either Pres­id­ent Obama denies this per­mit, or, if the pipeline is ap­proved, this camp will change from a spir­it camp in­to a block­ade camp. If that hap­pens, we will stand a line. We have the en­tire Great Sioux Na­tion — all sev­en Coun­cil Fires — be­hind us. We will not let the pipeline go through. The pipe makes a turn next to tri­bal land; we aim to turn it around and send it back.”

As to why he op­poses the pipeline, Dorr sug­ges­ted that he was less con­cerned about cli­mate change — “that’s already happened,” he said — than the in­ev­it­ab­il­ity of leaks. “The crude oil that flows through the pipeline is full of tox­ic chem­ic­als. Once it gets in the wa­ter, it sinks. There’s no way to clean it up. Once it gets in the aquifer, the aquifer is done.”

The protest comes less than a week after the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that it would post­pone a fi­nal de­cision on the Key­stone XL pipeline un­til after the Neb­raska Su­preme Court had de­cided a leg­al dis­pute re­lated to the pro­ject.

Dorr, who took over his cur­rent job in Feb­ru­ary, was raised in Yakima, Wash., and served for 11 years in the Army as a mil­it­ary po­lice ser­geant.

After study­ing busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion at Haskell In­di­an Na­tions Uni­versity in Lawrence, Kan., he worked as a buf­falo hunt co­ordin­at­or and was later elec­ted to the Nez Perce Tribe Fish and Wild­life Com­mis­sion.

Dorr is a tra­di­tion­al hunter and gather­er who makes his own nets and gaffs. “When I was liv­ing in Idaho, my freez­ers nev­er had store-bought meat,” he said.

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