Steamboat residents rally on behalf of South Dakota’s Standing Rock Reservation |

Steamboat residents rally on behalf of South Dakota’s Standing Rock Reservation

Answering the call of the drum

Nancy Brood, left, Joshua Smith and Trizanne Rowley demonstrate their support in Steamboat Springs for the oil pipeline protesters at Standing Rock, South Dakota.
courtesy photo

— Tears well up in the eyes of Steamboat Springs resident Trizanne Rowley when she describes the strong pull she has felt this autumn to return to South Dakota and the banks of the Missouri River to answer the call of the drum.

While watching recent television news coverage of the peaceful protests at the Standing Rock Reservation, upstream from the Yankton Reservation where she grew up, Rowley has felt an undeniable need to express herself through the traditional dances of her people.

“I see videos of people dancing at night by the river,” Rowley said. “The emotion is sometimes overwhelming.”

Rowley frequently takes part in tribal pow wows as a fancy dancer, sometimes wearing regalia she has sewn herself. It’s one of the ways she reconnects with her heritage.

The protesters have gathered at Standing Rock to demonstrate their objection to the Dakota Access Pipeline being built by Energy Transfer Partners of Texas and the potential threat to freshwater supplies should the pipeline ever leak in the sections planned to run beneath the Missouri.

Federal agencies have sought to reassure native tribes that the construction of the pipeline will safeguard the waters of the Missouri. However, the objections to the pipeline — which would link to an existing pipeline that carries oil as far away as Texas — are also based on the damage it could do to sacred tribal sites. Smith said archaeologists have told him that the tribal lands on either side of the Missouri River contain multiple layers of culturally significant sites that reach deep into the ground.

Tension between the protesters and local law enforcement boiled over with the arrests of about 140 protesters Oct. 28.

Rowley and her husband, Joshua Smith, are members of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, and they say they feel welcome in Steamboat Springs. She is an independent housekeeping contractor, and he works for a company that installs and maintains fire alarm and security systems.

“I love it here,” Rowley said. “It’s one of the places that’s still beautiful.”

But this autumn, as the couple has witnessed the many tribal peoples from across the nation who have gathered at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, it’s been difficult to watch from 700 miles away.

Rowley and Smith were among about 30 people, most of them of European descent, who gathered Nov. 2 at Schmiggity’s in downtown Steamboat to raise funds to help maintain the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock. Organizers plan two different car-pooling trips to South Dakota this month, one during Thanksgiving to help people such as Rowley and Smith revisit the homes of their childhood. Local supporters have formed a Facebook community: Steamboat Stands with Standing Rock.

//////Rallying cry for all indigenous people/////

One of the noteworthy aspects of the Standing Rock protests is that they have become rallying points for many groups of indigenous people who feel they have not been afforded the opportunities for education and prosperity that most Americans are provided. The New York Times reported Sept. 11 that 280 tribes were represented.

Joshua Smith said the the Dakota Access Pipeline is another example of how generations of native peoples have been repressed and kept in poverty.

“It’s easier to pick on vulnerable people,” he said.

Another Steamboat resident, Begee Biggs, a salesman for Coca Cola here, who is Navajo, said water plays a role in his peoples’ creation story. The Navajo believe in the existence of four worlds, he said.

“Water was one of the elements that chased the Navajo people from the third world into the fourth world — the one we’re in now,” Biggs said. “Water is becoming a smaller and smaller natural resource, and we’re going to need more and more of it.”

Biggs spent a weekend at Standing Rock this autumn, and the gathering made an impression on him.

“All the singing, all the dancing, sharing the same food, everyone talking: It was just a feeling of this is the way life could be, or should be,” Biggs said. “The camaraderie of everyone being happy and knowing what they were there for.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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