by Steffani Cochran
I recently returned from spending time at Standing Rock as a legal observer. The experience was nothing like I anticipated and yet one of the most important experiences of my life. I woke each morning and went to sleep each night to prayers, songs, stories and drumming. But my day also began and ended with the constant hum of surveillance planes and helicopters circling the camp—taking pictures, as well as intercepting and interfering with communications. I drove through police barricades, past Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) command centers and DAPL mercenaries with cameras, guns and who knows what else aimed at me. I prayed each day that the snipers perched in the nearby prairie didn’t determine it was a good day to fire.
None of that deterred me from my purpose—to assist the efforts of the Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC, formerly the Red Owl Legal Collective), to interact with individuals within the camp and to listen and record the stories of water protectors. None were easy to hear, but all shared a common theme of increased, indiscriminate, and excessive use of militarized force against a Native community and its allies.