Patricia Joseph is annoyed. “May all beings come to the table and be fed,” reads a handmade sign in her pantry—but even still, that doesn’t mean all beings have to be underfoot in her kitchen today, on Thanksgiving. It’s tight in here after all, one oven and a few burners, tables pushed together to form an island of activity, where turkeys are stuffed and potatoes are mashed and apples are sliced for pies. Grandma sits in the corner slicing ham by a wood stove. In the dining room out front there’s a Christmas tree strung with twinkling lights. If you tighten the focus enough, you might confuse it for an American pastoral; might choose to see only the sentimental bits. But that’s a luxury for a visitor to the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock Sioux reservation. For the thousands of indigenous people who have moved their lives here, it’s hard to see a rosy picture.
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Oceti Sakowin is one of a few encampments that have sprung up on this vast patch of North Dakota prairie, clustered where the Missouri and Cannonball rivers meet. It’s the site of a Native-led resistance to stop the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion project that will deliver crude oil across four states—blasting through sacred sites and threatening the region’s water supply along the way. Since last spring the protest has drawn representatives from tribes all over the country, who recognize their own long struggles with colonial muscle in the DAPL stand-off. Non-native allies and environmental activists came too, and eventually reporters—a rush of them arrived after footage of police turning water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets on the water protectors went viral just before Thanksgiving. And so, on Thanksgiving day, the grounds at Oceti Sakowin camp were packed. And all of them—the protectors, the elders, the children, the journalists searching for a signal on “Facebook Hill,” the allies, the odd celebrity empath, the lookie-loo vagabonds, the displaced house pets, the legacy horses—all of them needed to eat.