“We don’t call them protestors; we call them water protectors because they are there to protect the water,” said Woody, who consistently heard the rallying cry of “water is life” from tribal leaders during her recent trip.
“My purpose was to stand with the indigenous people. My purpose was to be of service in any way possible,” she said.
While at the camp from Nov. 13 to 18, Woody helped cook and serve meals at one of the seven mess halls. She also assisted at the medical tents.
“The camp is essentially a city,” said Woody, who was raised in Norwalk.
Woody took a car full of donations worth nearly $1,000 from Huron and Erie county residents to the Oceti Sakowin Camp. She said the water protectors were grateful for the donations, which included gift cards to be used for building supplies, cold-weather clothing, toiletries and medical supplies.
On Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed indigenous water protectors and their allies they have nine days to vacate the main DAPL protest camp — or else face arrest. Then on Monday, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued an executive order for protesters to evacuate a campsite near the pipeline and not return due to concerns about a harsh winter and lack of sanitation.
Woody’s six days in the Oceti Sakowin Camp was a self-appointed mission trip. The camp is about 100 miles south of Bismark, N.D. and when she was there, it housed about 10,000 people.
“It was a 23-hour trip. I did all that in one day,” Woody said.
Since Woody is a pagan, being a water protector is natural since her belief system emphasizes protecting the land and water. Also, Woody is an advocate for standing against oppression.
“I’ve been a Pagan since I was 19 years old. I’m 36,” said the Huron woman. “Pagans worship the Earth.”
Pagans see the sun as a god and the moon as a goddess and believe in balance in the universe. Woody said the biggest commandment is “to do no harm to anyone or the planet.”
While assisting in the medical tent, she witnessed severe injuries from rubber bullets. Woody also saw people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a woman who had to have her arm amputated.
“We also treated hypothermia, tear gas (victims), pepper spray victims and rubber bullet victims,” Woody said.
Celebrities have been involved in addressing the DAPL controversy.
“(Actor) Mark Ruffalo donated solar panels to the campers; he’s been there three times. (Singer) Neil Young has been out there. (Actress) Jane Fonda is currently there,” Woody said.
One of the incidents that inspired Woody to travel to North Dakota happened on Sept 3. Woody said that’s when Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the pipeline, “bulldozed the sacred burial grounds and dug up graves.”
“That was caught on video,” added the woman, who also was horrified when G4S, the private security force hired by ETP, “unleashed attack dogs” which bit seven people and a horse.
“You’re talking about their ancestors,” Woody said, referring to the graves. “They were rightfully upset.”
Authorities had a military-style blockade set up about 500 feet from the camp. Woody said there were two “burned-out military vehicles” parked nose to nose, which were chained to a 4-foot concrete barrier. On top of that was barbed wire that went into the Cannonball River.
Behind the barrier wall, Woody said there were two military transport carriers with soldiers carrying 50-caliber rifles.
“It looked like a war zone. It’s like nothing else I’ve seen on American soil,” she added. “We have militarized police protecting a corporation and corporate interests against unarmed, peaceful, prayerful, indigenous people.”
During her time at the camp, there were unmarked helicopters and planes flying nearby during the day and at night. Woody said it was believed authorities were using technology to keep information from coming out of the camp by blocking cell-phone signals.
“I had to get a new phone because my phone was so compromised,” she added.
One day, Woody became frustrated when she couldn’t reach her family.
“I sat on the ground and started bawling my eyes out,” she said.
An elderly man sat down with Woody and put his arm around her. He never introduced himself, but comforted her for about 10 minutes until she collected herself.
“He said, ‘It’s OK; you go ahead and cry. I will be here with you as long as you need me,’” Woody recalled. “(He was) like a father who would hold a daughter. … I hugged him and he went about his business.”
Despite all the atrocities she witnessed, Woody said she also saw “so much love expressed,” compassion and humbleness.
A diverse amount of people were at the camp. Woody saw Muslims, members of the LGBT community and people from more than 300 tribes across the world. People were there from New Zealand, Ecuador, Peru, Africa, Australia, Canada and Mexico.
“They’re not leaving until they stop the pipeline,” she said.
Two days before she left North Dakota, Woody started coughing. Since returning, she said she has daily bloody noses, headaches and upper respiratory issues — all of which she suspects is from the planes spraying unknown chemicals. Woody didn’t have such medical issues before her trip.
“It developed late in the visit,” she said. “I haven’t been able to catch my breath.”
Despite it all, Woody plans to return.