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Minnesota tribes show support for pipeline protesters

BEMIDJI, Minn.--Despite a distance of more than 300 miles, members of the Bemidji, Red Lake and Leech Lake communities are hitting the road to protest a pipeline that would carry crude oil through North Dakota--and sites sacred to the Standing Ro...

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Christian Taylor-Johnson, a junior at BSU who recently attended the protest at the Dakota Access Pipeline site, talks on Wednesday about his experience at the American Indian Resource Center at BSU. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI, Minn.-Despite a distance of more than 300 miles, members of the Bemidji, Red Lake and Leech Lake communities are hitting the road to protest a pipeline that would carry crude oil through North Dakota-and sites sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Activists began gathering at locations in Morton County, N.D., in mid-August to protest the Dakota Access pipeline. Since then, community members from all walks of life-from college students to teachers to local activists-have made the trip, and some nearby tribes have officially voiced their support for the protestors. Many are concerned that the pipeline will end up leaking, polluting nearby water sources.

Nicole Buckanaga, a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, traveled to the construction site two weekends in a row to show her support for the Standing Rock tribe. For Buckanaga the construction hits close to home, despite the physical distance.

"No matter what neighborhood you live in, no matter what color your skin is, no matter how much money you have in the bank, there's nowhere to run when the earth becomes your enemy," Buckanaga said. "If your water is not drinkable, that poisoned water doesn't care what color your skin is or how much money you have in the bank."

Despite a conflict between protesters and private security officers Saturday, Buckanaga and other locals who traveled North Dakota said the protesting has been peaceful and that they have felt safe at the camps set up near the construction sites. Buckanaga even brought her older children to the demonstration.

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"I've never felt so safe in my life, to be quite honest with you," Buckanaga said. "There was zero hostility within the camp. It was a beautiful thing to see so many people coming together."

The Red Lake Nation College is also sponsoring a group of about 20 students who plan to travel to a protest site in Cannonball, N.D. Devery Fairbanks, a college faculty member who will travel with the students, said the college is sponsoring the trip to give students a voice.

"The college is agreeing to it because the students want it," Fairbanks said. "The students have a voice, so the college will try to work with the students on their ideas and what they want to do."

Fairbanks has already made one trip to the site and emphasized the peace of the protests.

"I've never been to anything that was so emotional and powerful and spiritual as this gathering," he said. "It's peaceful, there are no weapons. It's not designed to attack or to be aggressive at all."

Christian Taylor-Johnson, a junior at BSU who is from Leech Lake, traveled to North Dakota with a group of friends and plans to return this weekend. Taylor-Johnson said he is passionate about protecting the earth, and that he felt called to join the activists.

"There was something inside of me that called me there, that said...go stand in solidarity with your brothers and sisters," Taylor-Johnson said.

The student spent five days in North Dakota, and said the time he spent there was peaceful.

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"It was just a beautiful, serene experience," he said. "If anybody has the chance to go, I completely encourage you to go."

Leech Lake has officially voiced its support of the protests in a letter to the Standing Rock tribe. The White Earth Band recently passed a resolution expressing similar support. Officials from Red Lake were not immediately available for comment.

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