Voyages: To Standing Rock |

Voyages: To Standing Rock

by Morgan Smith

“What now?” my son, Jay, asked. It was Sunday, Dec. 5, and we were just north of Dilia, New Mexico, where he has a small farm and where we loaded his truck with firewood. We had just heard that the Army Corps of Engineers had called a halt to the Dakota Access Pipeline project that had been under protest at our destination, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, 1,000 miles to our north.

“Let’s keep going,” I answered.

After a night at his home in Denver, a stop near Cheyenne to leave off our trailer because of the intense winds, stops in Lusk, Wyoming; Spearfish and Faith, South Dakota; Elgin, North Dakota; and after a day and a half of blowing snow, beautiful but isolated ranchland, icy narrow roads and bitter cold and then an array of cars and trucks stuck in snowbanks, the Oceti Sakowin camp suddenly appears. There are no demonstrations, no police, just a hunkering down for survival. Jay and I have experienced cold before; we camped at timberline on Mount Elbert one January and summited in below-zero temperature. This, however, is a different dimension — intimidating and demoralizing. I came away with the deepest respect for all those who were there to protest. Americans too often assume that talk equals protest. Real social change, however, requires sacrifice, and this is what the Lakota Sioux personify.

Jay is a superb driver and has a well-equipped Toyota Tundra so we were able to bring firewood, propane canisters, clothing and boots as well as a huge freezer full of beef and elk meat. On Wednesday, we bought more propane, a portable heater, food items, balaclavas, cooking equipment and other necessities in Bismarck and hauled them to the camp. We were also able to jump start frozen cars and pull others from snowbanks. Even though our time there was short and because, without our trailer, we were unable to stay at the camp, I felt that we were able to help. When and if the weather improves, I plan to go back.

Here are a few photos from what was an epic and very humbling experience.

Morgan Smith is a former Aspenite who served in the Colorado House of Representatives and as Commissioner of Agriculture. He can be reached at

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