On a cold Midwest afternoon, Charleston artist and photographer Sarah Poe climbs to the top of a tepee she just helped build at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Earlier, her 16-year-old daughter Monet Poe tended to the wounds of horses — the horses had just returned to camp from the frontlines of where the controversial Dakota Access pipeline is set to drill through the land belonging to the indigenous Sioux Indian tribe, about a mile from camp. Protestors believe that the pipeline, if it proceeds, will threaten the tribe's only water source, the Missouri River.
It hasn't even been 48 hours since Donald Trump became the president elect. And though Sarah, Monet, and many other self-claimed water protectors are fearful of what the upcoming pro-oil administration could mean for indigenous rights, there's no time to wallow and wonder. Right now, there's too much work to do.
"I've helped with building, but I've also been helping with the trauma," says Sarah, who explains that even the nonviolent weapons used on protestors by law enforcement have caused internal bleeding. "It's no joke," she says. "It's youth, from 16 to 30, that are going out every day, too ... and when people come back from these actions, they're traumatized. So our camp is set up to let people come in and we can nurture them, feed them, take care of them, love on them."
Monet, who is homeschooled, has plenty to do, too. "Monet's helping a lot with the horses and the wound care that they need," Sarah explains, "so she's kind of got her role there. She also helps out with children. Every morning they'll be like, 'Oh, we're building this; we need hands on deck for this.' There's always work stuff to be done, so you have to pick what your skill is and how you can help."
Sarah and Monet first felt compelled back in September to head north to help where they could. Sarah, who also runs the Folly Beach Farmers Market, called on the community to help meet the everyday needs of the protestors.
"The plan was to come for a couple weeks to see what we could do to serve up here," Sarah says. "Once we arrived and realized what was happening at camp, within three days of being at camp both Monet and I said, 'This is the movement we've been wanting to be a part of, and we need to come back and be a part of it.'"
The two returned to Charleston, held a fundraiser at the Brickhouse Kitchen, and returned to North Dakota earlier this month to continue their mission. After the purchase of a bus to carry supplies fell through, they loaded Sarah's VW car and a U-Haul trailer but only made it as far as Asheville. "My car wouldn't pull the trailer," she says. "But we unloaded with some Asheville crews that were going up on a bus, and they took a bunch of our stuff with them."
The Brickhouse benefit raised over $2,000, and Sarah hopes this weekend's benefit brings in enough money to purchase more canvas and tepee poles. Their goal is to build 25 tepees. "Warm clothes is pretty much taken care of here," she says. "It's getting people into housing because winter's coming, and so there are people here who have sewing machines and we just need the material to make tepees and yurts."
Folks wanting to donate something other than money can bring flooring essentials like burlap and old rugs to the benefit. "We don't know what the winter will hold, because we've never lived in a winter this cold. It's intense, doing the dishes outside in the cold when it's freezing and wondering how are we going to keep water to drink from freezing — so that's why it's important for everybody to get set up right now."
Others from Charleston have joined the mission at Standing Rock, too, like Reva Fun and her 11-member crew, which includes her husband Ary and their three kids. Their goal is to return to camp with tepee poles they're getting for a discounted price from a Wisconsin tree farmer, who's even lending the Funs a semi-truck for delivering the poles. The poles are made from pine. "The great thing about getting them from the Midwest is that trees from that area are already acclimated to the cold, so they're ready for winter," Reva says.
Sarah and Monet, who are currently in a tent, plan to build their own tepee big enough to hold 10 people, so more folks from Charleston can come up and be a part of the movement. "People are so affected when they come here that they're going to spread it like wildfire when they get back," Sarah says. "You can't help but be changed by the experience here. It's so powerful."
So when will they get back to Charleston? "We've decided to stay, especially after the election," Sarah says. "We feel like this is the movement; this is people breaking out of their apathy and into action — you don't hear violent talks from the people. You hear, 'We need to pray for forgiveness for them because they don't know any better. They don't know how to love yet, and we have to teach them that.' So all the prayers begin with, 'We forgive you.'"
Sarah and Monet will likely come home for Christmas to collect supplies. But they're prepared to stand with Standing Rock for as long as it takes. "I feel better being back here than I did at home, because if I'm here then I'm in action," Sarah says. "I feel like I'm doing something about it."
All proceeds from the Pour House show will support Standing Rock Sioux. If you wish to donate directly, go to gofundme.com/tipipoles-for-the-permanent-camps.