Nobody can deny the natural beauty of the North Dakota landscape surrounding Bismarck, a city with a population just over 67,000 in 2013 — according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But even before Wanderer News took off from Dallas, tension between protesters and pipeline workers could be felt.
There are few flights each day to the small municipal airport. The American Airlines flight was overbooked, so gate agents asked for volunteers to give up seats in exchange for $500 vouchers.
One bearded man with a LSU hat and a thick Louisiana accent in DFW’s Terminal B seemed frantic to get on the flight, saying he had to return to work on the pipeline the next morning.
The man told Wanderer News that he can’t wait to finish his part of the Dakota Access project next week because he just bought a house and is “tired of having rocks and drinks thrown at [him] by protesters.”
The man refused to give Wanderer News his name in fear of retribution by his employers and protesters.
After landing, Wanderer News attempted to get a rental car from the airport but demand has limited the amount of available cars. I had to walk a couple miles to an Enterprise down the road but ended up getting lost and was offered a ride by a nice local man, who also preferred to remain unnamed and wouldn’t say whether or not he supported the protesters or the pipeline.
“Locals would rather just have them find a reasonable solution and brush this whole ordeal under the rug and forget about it,” he said.
After arriving at Enterprise, I spoke with another unnamed man outside the building.
“I support the Indians and what they’re doing out at that camp,” he said. “Many locals do but there’s a ton of others here with racial prejudices against them Indians.”
Some actually support the pipeline. Others don’t, for environmental reasons, but “think it’s better closer to the Indians than where the white people are,” he said.
He said the Dakota Access was originally planned to pass just north of Bismark but the locals complained.
“Now, the pipeline isn’t on reservation land but it might as well be,” he said. “It’s not right that they’re desecrating land important to their heritage for a pipleine that’s bad for the environment anyway.”
Spirit Windwalker, 50, said that racism against Indians is prevalent in the area.
“When I go to Bismark, man, they’ve spit on me and called me a ‘fucking protestor’ and all kinds of shit, man,” he said. “But we don’t call ourselves protesters. We call ourselves protectors.”
When Enterprise agents asked for my profession and my intent in North Dakota, I told them I work in marketing while designing websites in New York and I’m in town visiting family. They didn’t really buy it.
“We have these insurance plans to protect against things like … thrown rocks,” the Enterprise agent said with pause. “You look like a reporter. Are you sure you’re not a reporter? Your car might get damaged.”