Old hippies and festival culture kids from across America have showed their support of the Lakota nation and the protesting of the Dakota Access pipeline for months. Now, veterans have said that more than 10,000 of their rank are happy to build barracks and support the Oceti Sakowin camps with those who protested the wars they served in.
Roger Hintson, 47, served in the marines from 1992-2001, with tours to Kuwait and Bosnia. He said it’s an odd but good thing to have veterans and the hippies working together because they have different skills.
“The hippies bring love, passion and prayer. We bring resolve, organization, and posture,” Hintson said. “Hippies sit in a circle in peaceful prayer with the natives. We’re a little more confrontational. We stand in formation and mouth off to the officers when they mouth off to us.”
Morton County put out a “Know the Truth” video about a confrontation with veterans earlier this weekend, which characterized the veterans defending Standing Rock as un-American.
“We care about America. That’s why we care about the history of how natives have been treated and the hundreds of years of broken treaties,” Hintson said. “By having their police cars and allowing drilling through sacred burial grounds, that’s like a big FU to natives.”
Hintson said he’s proud to serve the natives side by side with the hippies who protested wars.
“There are lots of different reasons for the wars,” he said. “There are two sides for every coin.”
Hintson said he came to Standing Rock because Trump got elected.
“Both sides have issues, democrats and republicans. But Trump will just knock everyone out of Standing Rock real fast and that’s not the America I fought for. Not at all,” he said. “I’ve been volunteering in the kitchen and helping build barracks side by side with natives and other protesters.”
Veteran Richard Crell said he voted for Donald Trump because his daughter is in the military and said Hillary Clinton disregards the safety of American soldiers.
“I just hope he does the right thing about Standing Rock,” Crell said. “I know he’s got investments in it and supports pipelines, but I think he’ll do the right thing for the natives here.”
Crell’s friend, who identified himself just as Grzywa, said he’s a libertarian and served in special operations through the 1990s because his country called on him. He quit his good paying job and returned to service after 9/11.
“This is the first time I felt that I served my country and defended the constitution for Americans on American soil. It seems like all the other wars I fought were for oil overseas,” Grzywa said. “My patriotism called on me. Someone had to and that’s why all these veterans are out here. Someone had to come to help the natives.”
Grzywa said it wouldn’t make him feel uncomfortable to be in a confrontation with law enforcement though he served with and knows several men who now work for Tiger Swan, the private security group for DAPL.
“I know for a fact I know those guys and I know that’s they know me,” he said. “The denial was good news but I’m not letting my guard down until everyone is home safe. Obama has time after we leave to send in the military if that’s what it takes to make sure the tribe and water protectors are treated fairly, justly and get the rights they deserve just like everyone else.”
Grzywa said he’s disappointed with how law enforcement have acted in North Dakota, but knows that’s not a representation of the law enforcement community at large.
“Law enforcement officers I know are against the way the law enforcement out here has acted. This is a privatized police force paid by tax dollars,” he said. “This is not a demonstration of law enforcement. This is a demonstration of corruption. Cops are not like this and it’s sad that this county is hurting the already poor perception people have of police these days.”
U.S. Army veteran David McGrath, 51, was “proud and happy to serve” as part of Reagan’s Army from 1985-1996.
“I’m very disturbed at what’s going on here. The cops told us to stay off the bridge with megaphones from the other side but we didn’t violate that,” McGrath said. “They have diesel engines running and don’t want to hear us and gibe a space to talk. We come in peace but our peace is fierce.”
McGrath was happy to help build barracks before the blizzard hit Monday, because “coming together and creating a village will greatly help their cause,” he said. He reconciles serving in the military during oil wars with helping protesters now.
“When we were young, we joined the military out of idealism. I understand that Gulf Wars I and II were resource wars for oil. I understand that. But our duty once we’ve signed up is to serve, to serve honorably and to be there to protect our brothers and sisters in arms,” he said.
He said Morton County officers have a similar duty, to protect people from violence and enforce the law.
“Yet they fire ammunitions at people engaged in peaceful protest designed to hurt them. Their actions are not serve and protect. Their duty is to service and protect, but that’s not how they’re acting,” he said. “The violence is not coming from the peaceful, prayerful demonstrations or even the active actions at the front line on behalf of protesters.”
McGrath said he doesn’t believe Gulf War protesters were against his time in the military and sees hippies as brothers in arms fighting for the same messages. He said he’s always supported protesters, especially those against the wars he is still happy he served in.
“The purpose of a strong defense is to deter forces of aggression from requiring the utilization of the defense. My father was an active war protester during the Vietnam War. During the peace march on Washington, my father was there in the front ranks with poet laureate Robert Blye and photographed on the front page of time magazine,” he said. “The protesters protect soldiers. They keep America accountable. They are the heart and soul of America.”
Gabe Sheoships, 35, is a member of the Cayuse Tribe in northeastern Oregon. He’s been at the camp two days, coming out with a small group of firefighters to help the veterans build barracks and bring supplies for the natives.
Sheoships said that, as a native, he feels honored to have the veterans and hippies working together.
“It’s a unique dynamic having both here. They have more in common than you’d think,” he said. “They care about the rights of Americans, the environment and the oppression of the natives at the hands of police. Though, some have come here thinking its Burning Man, their support is still felt and the presence of both groups is great.”
Eric Sabo, a veteran from Claycomb, New Jersey, said the response to the veteran’s presence, including from hippie protesters, has been rewarding.
“We’ve had a lot of hugs and they fed us and the food was awesome,” he said. “The veterans being here is waking up a lot of eyes outside of the camp, in the outer towns and surrounding areas. They’re realizing that maybe shit ain’t right the way it was. I think more people are becoming aware now.”
Vincent Shumaker served in the navy from 1968-1969. He’s from Grand Rapids, Mich.
“Back during the Vietnam War, flower children put flowers in the barrels of the rifles of soldiers guarding the Pentagon. I wonder if there are any florists here in Bismarck. Maybe we can do some business.”
Air Force veteran Micah Danning, 34, from Arlington, Va., said he headed to Standing Rock after seeing how Morton County Sheriff’s Department has treated protesters.
“The attack dogs, the water cannons in freezing temperatures. This is absolutely unacceptable and I’m here to protect the Sioux that are protecting their water supply.”
A native woman carried two U.S. flags up to the Backwater Bridge as veterans marched up to the bridge for a ceremony.
“This is for my dad, he fought in Korea. This is my grandfather. He fought in WWI and became a United States citizen after he came back from this war,” Alva Cotton Wood said. “My dad is buried on that hill right there where the Sacred Stone camp is. So I’m honored the veterans are here to support their brother in arms and Mni Wiconi.”
Cotton Wood said her brother fought in Vietnam, but she’s just as thrilled to have hippies who protested the Vietnam War at camp too.
“Everyone that fights for peace and stands up for the rights of Native Americans has my gratitude,” she said.
Ret. Navy Lt. David Givers, who served in 1963-67, said it’s important to stand with the people of Standing Rock in the battle for their future and keeping the water clean.
“The more people here supporting them, from all different backgrounds, the better off they’re going to be. The veterans and hippies are one people. We’re Americans,” he said. “All this talk of dividing us into groups is why the natives haven’t been treated with respect through history.”
James Ryan, a marine veteran who served in Vietnam, said he “always felt guilty” for not joining the Vietnam Vets against Foreign Wars march on Washington when he arrived back from Vietnam. He went to work for a community radio station in Wisconsin that was owned by native tribe.
“The native people really welcome their veterans, their warriors, their heroes, home. I heard the call for veterans and wanted to support the people who treated me with respect and made me feel proud to be a veteran after Vietnam.”
He said it was disgusting to see how these peaceful protesters have been treated by militant officers, and was grateful for hippie groups who arrived before the veterans did to support indigenous peoples.
“The treatment of the natives after their arrest sounds like war crimes to me,” he said. “I’m happy I can stand in line next hippies as a team to protect natives from such foul arrests. They have the right to protest the pipeline and we’re both here to support that because that’s the America both soldiers and flower kids have fought for.”