Across the bridge and we were on the reservation. We turned onto the now infamous Highway 1806 that goes north to Fort Yates, Cannon Ball, and on into Bismarck. Just over the Cannon Ball River in the north, the highway has been closed because of the water protector camps. Emergency vehicles going to and from the reservation and Bismarck have to take much longer routes. All for some idea of safety as dreamed up by the Morton County sheriff. Yeah, closing the road also keeps people away from the drilling areas and allows the police unlimited maneuver room.

Highway 1806 Backwater bridge near Standing Rock

The infamous Backwater bridge just north of the water protector camps that is the front line of the resistance against DAPL. Gotta love the MRAPS the police feel they need against non-violent protests.

It was snowing. In a manner of minutes, it was snowing a lot. The wind was blowing and the flakes were often sideways. Buildup on the road was starting and it was getting slick. We slowed down and stayed slow for the duration.

We were 70 miles or so south of Cannon Ball, the last reservation town before you got to Oceti Sakowin camp. The snow became a blizzard that never let up. The closer we got, the more cars and trucks were in ditches along the road. It was brutal. Locals were sliding off the roads. Our front wheel drive Explorer was not doing a good job.

North of Mobridge, blizzard starting on December 5th

It was getting bad quickly. This shot is closer to Mobridge, South Dakota, than to Fort Yates and Cannon Ball, North Dakota. It only got worse.

Thank goodness for us, Brent knew how to drive in this stuff. He grew up here. I would have been in a ditch within minutes. It was rough going, every hill was a challenge and at times we had to go around someone spinning their tires in the middle of the road. A couple of times we had to back up and make a run for it. It was harrowing. We were in the middle of nowhere and I was wondering who had picked up all the people whose empty cars were now stuck on the side of the road.

We hadn’t heard from anyone. The only thing we had seen was a Facebook video of veterans marching at the camp earlier in the day, before the snow. It could have been December 4th for all we knew, the veterans had started arriving as early as Saturday and there was no snow in the video. We had heard that a possible staging area was the high school in Fort Yates, it was the only thing we had. We finally made it to the high school. Snow was drifting three plus feet by now and we plowed through the parking lot to the main entrance. What we found were a bunch of students and staffers who knew nothing about any veterans staging area. I heard later that the students had ended up having to spend the night there due to the blizzard.

Getting close to Oceti Sakowin camp and cars stuck on the side of the road

Getting close to Oceti Sakowin camp and cars stuck on the side of the road. This was just before we came on the bus.

We had no place to go. We decided that the only place was the camp. We would at least be able to hook up with the veterans there. We thought. It was 1:30 PM and we had something like 19 miles to go, Low visibility, snowing like hell, and driving was treacherous. Two hours later and we had gone 15 miles. We can barely see, but we are getting close. Hours later, as darkness was falling, we made it.

But before that, we were held up for a couple of hours by a charter bus that had gone into a ditch. We were within walking distance of the camp by now. The bus was full of veterans who had been at the camp and were now trying to get back to Eagle Butte. Whatever veteran events had occurred were long over and people were getting out of camp. Things were pretty much shut down there due to the blizzard, we learned. We missed getting past the bus by one vehicle as they closed the road on both sides. The road had backed up vehicles both coming and going from camp. Bummer.

Bus in ditch just south of NODAPL camp

The bus was trying to get out of the camp and back to Eagle Butte during the blizzard. They made it out of the ditch, but I don’t think they made it to Eagle Butte.

We had been in the Ford Explorer for over 27 hours. It was warm and comfortable in there, at least. Brent had to be exhausted, but he didn’t show it. There was a huge motor grader that was being used as a snow plow. They were going to try and use it to get the bus out of the ditch. The rear end was in the ditch, so a chain was hooked up to the back. Everyone was still in the bus. Pulling from the back resulted in the front end sliding over toward the ditch and I thought the bus was going to tip over. Scary.

An hour later, they hooked up to the front and tried again. Before that, they wisely emptied out the bus and the veterans were standing out in the cold and wind. There was a young woman in her uniform who was clearly having a nervous breakdown and a middle aged woman, also wearing a uniform, who was trying to help the young one. We let them get into the back seat of the Explorer, even though we were heading to the camp they were escaping from. They were very grateful. The last thing they wanted to do was return to the camp, though. It seems that the young one hadn’t been able to handle the cold and blizzard. A lot of people weren’t prepared for what Mother Nature was offering up this day.

Backed up traffic heading to camp

Backed up traffic heading to camp. There were just as many heading south, away from camp.

This time it worked and the bus was back on the road. The women and other veterans who had vacated the bus got back on it and headed south. We headed north to the camp. With all the traffic going away from camp, I wondered what we were going to find there. There was still a long string going there, however. Guess we would find out.

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3 Comments on Mni Wiconi – Part Six – Once More, Into the Breach

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