Local band Seaweed Vipers played at the benefit concert on Friday.
Graphic by Cecilia Seiter

Cannon Ball, North Dakota is not the place most people would choose to spend their winter breaks.

For starters, winter temperatures in Cannon Ball often drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Clashes between law enforcement, Native American tribes and protesters created an even more harsh environment in the Standing Rock Indian reservation town.

Graphic communication senior Nate Ross plans to go anyway.

“I don’t want to sit back and watch something unfold and then be like ‘Dang, that’s a bummer,’” Ross said.

That “something” is the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline that, if completed, will travel under Lake Oahe — Standing Rock Sioux’s water supply — which could possibly be contaminated if the pipeline leaks. The pipeline would also run through sacred Sioux burial grounds. However, on Dec. 4 the Army Corps of Engineers announced the pipeline may be rerouted.

The Army Corps of Engineers has authority in this situation because they issue permits necessary for the pipeline construction.

The pipeline is a highly controversial project, spearheaded by Energy Transfer Partners and recently endorsed by President-elect Donald Trump. The Sioux and other Native American tribes have been protesting the pipeline since April. Even though the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would reroute the pipeline, with a Trump presidency on the horizon, it’s uncertain whether or not the protesters’ work is finished.

The social media trend #NoDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline) spread messages to educate others on the issues Native Americans have tackled since Columbus first landed in 1492: colonialism, environmental racism, police brutality and land disputes. Yet, while the impact of these issues are felt by few in San Luis Obispo, local residents and students are poised to fight for the Native Americans’ cause.

From Cal Poly to Cannon Ball

Ross organized a caravan of students and San Luis Obispo locals to join the protests at Standing Rock from Dec. 17 to Dec. 31. He made an event on Facebook which has been shared with over 1,200 people urging community members to pack up their cars and make the 25-hour drive to North Dakota.

While many people were supportive of his idea, Ross said it’s hard to get people convinced to drop their holiday plans and put themselves in the line of fire.

“I think there are a lot of people out there that are actually very frightened and would be very nervous about going there because of all the news that’s showing the violence that’s occurring there,” Ross said.

Still, Ross said eight people had pledged to make the trip with him before news came of the Army Corps of Engineers’ change in plans. Potential caravan-goers are currently on hold to find out what their next move is. But whether or not the group still goes to Standing Rock, Ross said there are other ways to support the cause.

“I’ve been considering going on a California road trip, stopping in cities and talking to as many people about the pipeline and the way its construction can affect the world,” Ross said. “There are so many people in Los Angeles and San Diego that can make an impact on situations like this.”

Kombucha for a cause

Some who didn’t join the protests showed their solidarity from home.

Local artists and businesses poured extensive effort into supporting the cause, hosting events to raise donations for the tribes at Standing Rock.

One of these businesses is Whalebird Kombucha, which hosted a benefit concert and raffle at its headquarters in San Luis Obispo Friday night. Local bands played live music while guests sipped on drinks donated from various breweries and wine cellars. The proceeds from the event will go to Standing Rock as well as Off the Grid, a nonprofit that installs solar and renewable energy systems in Native American and low-income residencies.

“We want to give support, definitely, to the protesters,” Lee Wilkerson, co-owner of Whalebird Kombucha said. “But we also want the money that’s generated to go to … low-income housing so that these pipelines and these big oil companies don’t have the excuse [to exploit them].”

Wilkerson and Whalebird Kombucha CEO Mike Durighello, were both blown away by all the support shown by the community. Almost every business he reached out to for donations was on board, Durighello said. He estimated the event would rake in around $5,000 for donation, possibly even more.

“We’re both astounded that this happened and that everyone mobilized so fast,” Durighello said. “It took on a life of its own.

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