Native American faces tear gas, baton charges and rubber bullets – Camille Seaman’s best photography | Art and design
IIn the United States, there have been hundreds of treaties made with Indigenous peoples and not one – not one – has ever been honoured. Reserves have been created and it has been said, “This land will be yours from time immemorial”, but then it shrinks and shrinks forever.
In 2016, there was a massive protest against the Dakota Access pipeline. The original plan was for this pipeline to run from the oil fields in the northwest corner of North Dakota through Bismarck, the state’s wealthy capital, and then on to its destination. But someone in Bismarck said, “It’s not okay. It’s dangerous,” because they knew it wasn’t a matter of ifbut when a pipeline will leak.
The pipeline route was therefore changed to cross the Standing Rock Reservation and cross the Missouri River. Standing Rock belongs to the Hunkpapa Lakota, or Sioux, tribe. It is the land of the Sitting Bull people, and the Missouri River provides drinking water to more than 80 million people in the United States.
A woman, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, appealed on social media saying, “Please come join us in protecting water. I don’t think she had any idea how big it would get. At one point, there were over 30,000 people. They came from Africa, the Maori came from New Zealand, the native Japanese came from Hokkaido, and there were Sami and Tibetan monks. People came from all over the world to say, “Enough is enough”. They came to protect nature, water and the rights of indigenous peoples, and to protest that another treaty was not being respected. It was about not poisoning our the water.
The protest also aimed to physically prevent work from being carried out on the pipeline. When the protests started, I was working on We Are Still Here, a series of photographs of Native Americans. I heard about Standing Rock and knew I had to go record it. I knew it was a historic moment. My mother is part African American, a descendant of slaves, and my father is Shinnecock Montaukett, a small whaling tribe from the tip of Long Island. I didn’t take part in the protests themselves, but I was documenting what was happening. I thought it was important, as an Indigenous person, to have the opportunity to tell the story through an Indigenous lens.
I had to leave at the end of October, when this photo was taken, but the protests lasted all winter. This particular image was the last I did there. The six weeks I was there, I had seen Dan everywhere. I kept saying, “I really want to do a portrait of you,” but there was never an opportunity. The day I was leaving, I saw him on the road and I said to him, “I have to leave. But let me take this photo. That’s what I have.
Dan Nanamkin is from the Confederated Colville Tribes of Washington State. Every day he showed up in full dress. He is one of the most prayerful and peaceful people. He sang all the time, and wherever people needed help, he was there. I didn’t ask him for this photo. I literally only had a few seconds to make two images of him, and this was one. His body language seems to say, “Why? Why?”
This road we stood on was the real way Sacagawea LEDs Lewis and Clarke along the westward expedition in the early 1800s as part of their mission to explore and map the newly acquired territory of Louisiana.
Residents of Standing Rock created a blockade on this road, on the other side of which was a massive force with batons, tear gas, rubber bullets and sonic cannons. All of this was used against peaceful people, to defend the oil. Black smoke is from someone burning tires as part of the roadblock.
This first demonstration was during the Obama administration, and finally Obama said, “OK, no pipeline.” When Trump was elected, the first thing he did was sign an order for the pipeline to be completed. He ordered a much larger force of National Guard and law enforcement to dismantle the protest, and the pipeline continued.
Many protesters went to jail; many have endured incredible hardships. The tribe has always fought this pipeline in court, and now they are waiting and hoping for Biden to shut it down. The most recent update is that they found out the pipeline was built illegally, because the company didn’t do the full environmental assessments, now what? That’s where they are.
My job as a photographer is to show people something they may not have seen before, or to show something in a new way, to create more empathy and compassion and to expand the knowledge that the people of our world have. All in all, I think humans don’t deserve this planet. We don’t act like we deserve it. I know there will be a future – I don’t know if it will be a beautiful one.
There’s a saying from Oaxaca: “You crushed us into the ground, but you didn’t know we were seeds.” After Standing Rock, there is no pipeline without protest. It was an amazing experience to document.
Camille MarineBooks by include The Big Cloud and Melting Away, published by Princeton Architectural Press.
Resume of Camille Marin
Born: Long Island, New York, 1969.
Qualified: Studied photography with Jan Groover and John Cohen at Purchase College, State University of New York.
Affecting : Edward Burtynsky, Teru Kuwayama.
High point: “An exhibit in a museum at the University of Delaware where my belongings filled the whole hall of the museum, and in a little antechamber to the side were little pictures of Herbert Ponting, Frank Hurley, and all the white men who had photographed the polar regions. It was like I had left a mark that was part of this record now, and that was a woman.
Low point: “I almost died of dengue fever in Fiji.
Trick : “Spend time finding the way you see, and don’t try to copy the work of other photographers.