By Aaron West • The Bulletin

Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs drove more than 20 hours to join thousands of Native Americans and other activists who have gathered along the banks of the Missouri River in North Dakota since April to protest a new oil pipeline there.

About 50 tribe members traveled the first week of September from Warm Springs to Sacred Stone Camp near Cannonball, North Dakota. Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs member Carina Miller said the trip answered a call issued to everyone by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to protest the Dakota Access pipeline.

Standing Rock Sioux tribe members have said the construction of the 1,170-mile pipeline, which the tribe sued to stop in federal court in July, would damage sites important to the tribe’s culture as well as endanger their water supply. Although the court ruled against the tribe in its lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal government temporarily suspended construction Sept. 9

“I’ve been an activist for a long time and felt pretty hopeless,” said Miller, 29, adding that while she was in North Dakota the protests were peaceful, and she didn’t see anyone arrested or injured, despite some media reports of violence. “To be somewhere where there were so many indigenous people celebrating who we are was really powerful. There were construction companies bulldozing over the bones of these tribes’ ancestors, and it’s really upsetting — but all of us being together was enough.”

Although the government temporarily stopped the pipeline’s construction near Cannonball because of the “important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations,” the Department of Justice said in a statement, the suspension isn’t permanent. Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based company building the pipeline, stated he intends for work to continue after meeting with officials in Washington, according to national news reports.

Although the Warm Springs tribe members who traveled to North Dakota returned to Oregon on Sept. 10 to return to their jobs and families, Miller said individual tribe members might return.

Miller said she decided to join the gathering when the Warm Springs Canoe Family — a group of Warm Springs tribe members that places particular importance on the role of canoes in American Indian history — organized the trip in response to an invitation on the Sacred Stone Camp’s Facebook page to tribal canoe families all over the country.

“Please support our Standing Rock Sioux relatives in this invitation for Canoe Families to join a spiritual journey down the Missouri River on September 7th and 8th,” the event invite stated. “This canoe paddle will support the protection of their sacred lands and waters against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline.”

According to the Sacred Stone Camp’s website, the camp was founded in April by citizens of the Standing Rock Lakota Nation and is dedicated to stopping and raising awareness about the Dakota Access pipeline.

Leora Strong, a Warm Springs tribe member who rode with Miller and two others in Miller’s Chevy Cobalt to North Dakota, said that when the group pulled into the camp, hundreds of tribes’ flags lined the entrance. The flags represented the more than 200 tribes that had come to the camp — including the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, once tribe members put up their flag.

“It was much more than I imagined,” she said.

Inside the camp, Strong, 26, said at least 1,000 people were camping out in tents and teepees, with hundreds more coming and going every day. Communal kitchens were serving food to everyone, she said, and every night when people ate, different tribes performed ceremonial dances, songs and prayers.

“Even when you’re driving in, you could hear the songs from the different tribes, and it was basically this camp of thousands of people praying for a single cause,” she said, adding that Warm Springs tribe members performed 10 songs. “Various tribes would perform each night and there were creation stories from each tribe about how water was so important to them.”

The significance of water was also behind the 30-mile canoe trip down the Missouri and Cannonball rivers, the latter of which runs through the camp. Miller said the canoe families made the river trip Sept. 8 — a rainy day that prevented Energy Transfer Partners from working.

“Thursday morning we all got up at 5 a.m. because that’s when the company was supposed to go to work again,” she said. “But there were just machines, no construction workers.”

So instead of protesting, Warm Springs tribe members, in a 20-person canoe they had brought with them, joined more than a dozen other tribes’ canoes in the Missouri River

“We all put our traditional outfits on and drove to the boat launch and prayed and sang and got in the river,” she said. “It was the coolest feeling ever, being in the outfit in a canoe in the Missouri River and pulling into a campsite — it was so emotional watching all these canoes.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,