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
Christian Peacemaker Teams - Chicago Ill