Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
January 15, 2000 - Issue 01

Cold Doesn't Keep Campers from Tending Fire
by Patrick Baker Pierre Capitol Journal

Pictured, from the left,
are Legrand Wells, Rich Shangreaux and Mike Richards.
(Capital Journal PHOTO by Patrick Baker)

With winter winds blowing off the Missouri River, the number of protesters camping on La Framboise Island has dropped significantly since summer. This group of three accounts for more than half of the current campers representing different Native American tribes in the state that are protesting, among other things, the Mitigation Act.

The half dozen campers on La Framboise Island may be part of a protest, but they don't complain much about living outside in the dead of winter to keep a sacred fire burning.

The half dozen young people currently occupying the camp are more than fire tenders. They are representatives of a Native American protest that is focused on the Mitigation Act, passed federal legislation that will transfer about 160,000 acres of land along the Missouri River from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to South Dakota and two Indian tribes.

"We're doing it because our elders asked us to out of respect for them," Rich Shangreaux, 21, said. "We're young and able-bodied."

Shangreaux has been with the camp since its inception last March. Since then, he said the numbers in the camp have fluctuated. There were about 15 to 20 campers per night during the summer months. Legrand Wells, 23, joined the camp four months ago and agreed to stay through the winter.

"I don't know much about these ways, about protesting and the treaties," Wells said, "but I know how to keep that fire going."

Protesters have said the Mitigation Act is a violation of the Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1868. Integral to the protest is a fire that stays burning inside the main tepee in the camp.

"It's a symbol of what our elders think is right, not politicians," Shangreaux said.

He estimated the camp goes through about one chord of wood each month which is used for the sacred fire as well as a campfire used for warmth and other camping necessities. The wood is gathered from dead fall on the island.

Though both campers said camping has been a colder experience in recent weeks, they pointed out that Indians lived a similar existence through much of their history.

"It's colder here because we get the wind off the water," Shangreaux said. But, he added, "It stays nice and warm in the tepee. That's how we survived all of those thousands of years."

Shangreaux said camping in the winter helps to build endurance and that he doubts anything natural, including a blizzard, will force them off the island. He joked that they are waiting for the first blizzard so they can go out and dance in it.

Most of the campers sleep in the main tepee. On nights when more people are visiting, they set up as many tents as are needed and break out the blankets. They said others will join the camp intermittently throughout the winter.

Everyone shares the load of camp duties. Wood must be gathered and cut with chain saws or axes. Tarps are used to cover the main wood pile.

Tarps have also been used to add windbreaking walls to the existing public shelter at the entrance to the island. Food is stored inside the shelter which also provides electricity for lights, refrigerators, communications devices and some cooking appliances.

Wells said, "Everybody kind of comes together and gets stuff done."

The corps also helps when it comes to pumping out the two outhouses used by the campers as well as people who use the island for recreation.

Water is gathered from town now that water lines to the island have been shut off for the winter. Shangreaux and Wells said some community members have also visited the camp and brought food, water and other supplies.

Lots of people drive by out of curiosity, they said. Some who have stopped have been supportive, but not all.

"People drive by and roll down the windows," Wells said. "Some say racist things, some wave. I think the majority like to see (the protest camp)."

One of the original seven people who established the protest camp, Shangreaux said the meaning of the protest cannot be affixed only to the Mitigation Act. He said the protest, in some ways, represents all South Dakota tribes for different reasons and is backed by different treaty councils.

"We reached a point where we've said 'enough is enough' and we used the Mitigation Act to stand on," Shangreaux said. "It's about letting people realize that we're human, too."

To learn more about Oceti Sakowin, visit these sites:

Fire on the Prairie

Oceti Sakowin

Christian Peacemaker Teams - Chicago Ill

Re: Discovery of Ancestor along Missouri River
a letter from Robert Quiver of the Lakota Student Alliance

This is Robert Quiver Jr., of the Lakota Student Alliance on Pine Ridge...Our alliance is an organization of community activists and students united as part of an re-emerging student and peoples movement. Retaining our grassroots connections is very important.

We have been contacting Rosalie LT for info on updates with regard to the Missouri River issues. We have occupied an Island in Pierre since March 1999...currently there are still members of LSA on the island. We are protesting the Land Transfer scheduled to take place this yr. It will transfer alot of fed lands to the state of SD.

We are reading with concern the treatment by the ACoE of our Ancestors bones all along the Missouri River. As you know the treaty reserved the river to the Great Sioux our attempt to protect the treaty lands, we are conscious of the effect this will have on the unity of the Great Sioux Nation (GSN). We realize the delicate predicament placed upon the Ihanktonwan peoples with regard to recent legislation and court rulings in light of the fact that the ancestors are being disturbed. This is not just an issue of treaties and govt policy, it is an issue of future generations.

We would like to take an active role in supporting your protest against the mistreatment of our ancestors bones. We wish to come to the site to offer prayers. We would also like to make formal suggestions upon our arrival to the site and camp. We are not yet sure when this discussion will take place. However, we have not enough knowledge of the entire story of the discovery of the Bones along Ft Randall Dam. Also, we are deeply concerned about the Missouri River with respect to the Ft Laramie Treaties.

We therefore request to be included in your online mailing lists for updates and press releases (past and present). It would be appreciated if you could oblige us in our request and we sincerely wish to encourage you to keep strong.

Robert Quiver Jr
Coordinator/Cofounder LSA

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