Washington state veterans leaving to support Standing Rock

Dec 2, 2016, 7:16 AM | Updated: 3:48 pm
Washington state veterans...
Jon Don Ilone Reed, an Army veteran and member of South Dakota's Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, poses for a photo at an oil pipeline protest near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in southern North Dakota, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. Reed said he fought in Iraq and is now fighting "fighting for our children and our water." (AP Photo/James MacPherson)
(AP Photo/James MacPherson)

Thousands have swarmed an area near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline and soon US military veterans will be among them. Washington state veterans will be no exception.

“This is very close to a lot of veterans’ hearts,” said Marshal Hunter, who is with Washington State Veterans for Standing Rock.

“We are going out to do the one thing we swore and oath to do – to protect the citizens of this country,” he said. “When you are in Iraq, I was in Asia when I was in the Navy, that’s a very long ways away. We are talking about people here, in 20-degree temperatures and they are being fire hosed to the point where you have dozens being hospitalized … that sticks in our craws. That’s not something we will sit down and say, ‘That’s OK.’ That’s not OK. You may get out of the service, but that oath sticks with you.”

Washington State Veterans for Standing Rock is composed of military veterans who plan to go out to the Standing Rock demonstration. More than 100 are planning to travel to Standing Rock. Though, Hunter is clear that he does not consider the event a demonstration or a protest.

“They are not protesters,” he said. “This is not a demonstration. These are water protectors. They are peacefully, prayfully, protecting their lands and the rights of the people around them and downstream from them. If something would happen up there, it would poison the water for millions of people downstream.”

“All veterans swore an oath to protect the citizens of this country,” Hunter said. “And the fact is, these people are doing nothing illegal – nothing … they are being shot with rubber bullets, they are being tear gassed, pepper sprayed, brutalized. For what? Officers are supposed to protect and serve the public. From an outside perspective, they are protecting and serving the pipeline – the money. That’s a hard pill to swallow for guys that spent time overseas getting shot at.”

Washington state veterans and Standing Rock

Thousands remain camped out in the snow to opposed the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And about 2,000 US military veterans are expected to join the opposition. Washington state veterans will be among that crowd.

“They are being met by people in armored Humvees,” Hunter said. “Some of the vets that have been out there saying, ‘I haven’t seen an up-armored Humvee since I’ve been in Iraq. What is it doing here?!’”

The pipeline aims to carry petroleum from North Dakota to Illinois. But it runs across land the Standing Rock reservation depends on and considers sacred. Their oppositions has been met with private security and police forces.

“There are private security firms that are being used along with police from 20 different agencies across many states that have been brought in specifically to push natives off what is by definition their own land,” Hunter said. “It’s not on the reservation, that’s true, but it was land ceded to the Indians by treaty. And that treaty has never been rescinded.”

Hunter realized that it’s quite possible that employees of the private security firms could be veterans themselves.

“They might be … we’re holding up a mirror saying ‘We swore the same oath you did,’” he said. “If the National Guard gets involved, we have the same issue. We all swore an oath … We’re staring across the line from one veteran to another.”

Washington State Veterans for Standing Rock’s mandate is to not be violent or aggressive while supporting the water protectors. They will bring cold weather gear and some body armor as rubber bullets tend to harden in freezing weather. Hunter said that beyond the current trip, plans are forming to start sending rotating groups from Washington to provide continual support.

“If you want to get at the water protectors, you are going to have to get through us first,” Hunter said. “This is called civil disobedience … you can arrest me. One of the reasons why the veterans are doing this is because we are used to being hit and being disciplined about it. You hit me with a baton, I’m not going to move. You arrest me, fine, I will not comply.”

Hunter said that “not complying” means they won’t walk out. They’ll have to be carried.

“It is within the rights of any US citizen to peacefully march, to non-violently, civilly disobey, which is what these people are doing,” he said.

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Washington state veterans leaving to support Standing Rock