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Two are among many from region challenging Dakota Access Pipeline


Suzi Hokonson and Eric Henningsen of Spokane spent more than three weeks this fall at the Oceti Sakowin Camp where the Standing Rock Sioux Water Protectors are staying to challenge the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) crossing north of their reservation and potentially contaminating their drinking water.  The two were back in Spokane briefly before returning with supplies.

Eric Henningsen and Suzi Hokonson visit Standing Rock Sioux.

They first drove six days to North Dakota and planned to stay two nights, but stayed longer, participating in a “life-changing experience,” seeing atrocities the water protectors faced and praying each day with elders.

They were at the Mandan Courthouse when journalist Amy Goodman went to turn herself in after her arrest on charges of “rioting” for covering what was happening.  On their last day, more than 524 clergy of all faiths came to walk in prayer and peace.

They were involved with the small Cannon Ball district, the poorest of eight districts on the reservation. They opened their community center for people to shower.  Eric replaced four showerheads, unplugged a urinal and the women’s handicapped drain.

Suzi helped sort clothing donations at the senior center, taking extra coats and gloves to the school. Eric also put up more than 25 feet of clothing racks and installed wood stoves in military tents that hold 150 people.

“There are many clothing and food donations, but the real need is for money for legal expenses and building materials,” Suzi said.

They returned Wednesday, Nov. 16 in their 15-passenger van, bringing a refrigerated drinking fountain for the gym.  They brought it online for $80, less than the cost of a china drinking fountain ($400).  They also took wood strips with coat hooks for the shower rooms.

Eric, who grew up in Payette, Idaho, earned a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Idaho in 1970.  He worked with General Electric in Illinois and Florida, and then returned to the Northwest working three years with General Instruments in Post Falls, with Honeywell in Spokane and as facilities engineer at Sacred Heart for 18 years until he retired in 2011.  He grew up in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, which later merged to become part of the United Church of Christ, and then was Lutheran.

Suzi grew up Lutheran in Enumclaw, Wash., and attended Lutheran Bible Institute for two years.  She earned a degree in elementary education and childhood development in 1969 at Washington State University.  She married and went with her husband to seminary, returning to Spokane where he served two Lutheran churches.  After they divorced, she was not involved in a church.

About six months after Hurricane Katrina, however, she went with a Lutheran-Episcopal cleanup team.  She met a family who lost a child.  She saw one house demolished and the next was fine.  She went twice.

Locally, Suzi has served meals at Central United Methodist Church, volunteers with Planned Parenthood, serves on the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane Board, Sierra Club and the Lands Council.

“I think everything led me to go to the Oceti Camp,” said Suzi, who was impressed how Johnny, an Indian from South Dakota, facilitated the camp. 

There was a community meeting every morning.  Whether there were 20 or 50 people, they went around the room and spoke.  They operate based on consensus, rather than relying on one leader. Every meeting was open and closed by an elder praying in Lakota.

Since retiring five years ago, Eric has been helping people, addressing climate change and tribal rights.

“People in America’s First Nations have been shoved aside,” he said. “Many suffer from alcoholism and unemployment.”

“People come to the camp to be in solidarity.  About two-thirds are from around the world,” she said.  “At one time, there were 7,000 people in the camp. No alcohol, weapons or swearing are allowed at the camps. Everyone pitches in to prepare meals.  Many solar panels are being set up on tandem axel trailers to provide power,” Eric said

 They made four trips to Bismarck, N.D., driving 50 miles out of the way because the main road was blocked.

The day Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! came to the Mandan Courthouse to turn herself in, protesters lined one side of the street.  Across from them were 50 police in headgear and with billy clubs.  She spoke and gave interviews on the lawn of First Presbyterian Church.

“We stayed there for six hours before we learned they had dropped the charges,” she said. 

President Barack Obama has proposed rerouting the pipeline.  The route had been rerouted from north of Mandan to the current site, but citizens protested because it would threaten their drinking water.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had too short a notice to appeal.

Fr. John Floberg of Fort Yates Episcopal Church has been there 26 years.  He sent a call for clergy to come.  He had expected 100 to come to pray, but 524 came.

“We encourage people to go there,” said Suzi.  “They need presence more than money. On Nov. 22, six young people arrived from Wellpinit.

“Money is coming in.  When 58 cars were impounded, someone wrote a check to cover the $500 charge per car.

“It’s a prayerful, peaceful place,” she said.  “The camps are practicing Indian faith. It’s amazing the number of young people who hugged us because we are white elders who care.”

The community center kitchen needs to be remodeled.  It’s more than Eric can do, so he suggests it’s a good project for a church.

Since retiring, Eric has been reading about American history and learning about Native Americans’ experiences.

He admits mixed feelings about opposing the pipeline, because it will reduce the number of trains from the Bakken fields, going through Spokane.  Shipping the oil by train adds $10 per barrel.

“Fracking contaminates drinking water, so in many areas people drink bottled water and need to recycle the plastic bottles,” he added.

Eric said farmers and ranchers are also concerned.  If they did not agree to a price for their land, it was taken by eminent domain.

Wells Fargo and Citibank are invested in the pipeline, so some are protesting at those banks, urging them to withdraw funds.  Recently the Norwegian Bank BND announced it would sell its assets to the DAPL project.

If the pipeline is not connected by Jan. 1, contracts will need to be renegotiated, said Suzi.

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Copyright © December 2016 - The Fig Tree