Young tribal members in waist deep water, hold onto their handmade cedar canoes, listening Chief Arvol Looking Horse's welcome speech

Standoff at Standing Rock

In September 2016 my photographer friend Hikmet Sir and I drove to North Dakota to document the standoff between the Dakota Access Pipeline Company and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, supported by more than 100 indigenous tribes from all around the United States and around the world.

It all started when an oil company with a history of laying faulty underground pipes resulting in environmental disasters decides to build a $3.8 Billion pipeline to carry Tar sands oil – known as one of the dirtiest, costliest, and most destructive fuels in the world from North Dakota to Illinois. Same company tried to bring this fuel through Minnesota. After four years of legal battle and the unity shown by the activists, native tribes and concerned Minnesotans, the company pulled out of Minnesota, trying North Dakota as this state has almost no environmental protection laws, a governor who is accused of being concerned about his re-election and being in need of big campaign donors.

Most mainstream media outlets in the United States turned a blind eye on a huge standoff accused of worried about losing Oil Industry ad money.

We camped with the native Americans at the main resistance camp, Red Warrior Camp. It was a peaceful place where water protectors sang, prayed for days. There were 6 communal kitchens where over four thousand people were served food, drinks all day, everyday. There were donation tents where anyone was welcome to grab blankets, shoes and other items to wear as the winter approached. I have met people from all part of the country and people from all backgrounds, religious beliefs, races.

Those who join the fight against the construction of this giant pipeline call themselves Protectors and do not like to be called as “protestors”. They protect the water from the Dakota Access Pipeline a.k.a. the Black Snake. Water is life, water is a basic human right and Natives believe that the water is the First Medicine! All starts with it, all depends on it. Mni Wiconi pronounced (mini we-cho-nee) in Lakota language.

Activists at the Oceti Sakowin, Red Warrior and Sacred Stone camps entered winter with some hope. The hope was that the presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would possibly be more hesitant to give the green light to the Dakota Access Pipeline after President Obama tried to step-in to slow the approval of the pipeline although she was not clear with her message, her opinion on the issue. Democratic Party presidential nominee Bernie Sanders and the Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein were the only main figures that were openly against this pipeline idea. Dr. Jill Stein was the only Presidential Candidate that visited the Sacred Stone Camp, even painted a graffiti on some pipes.

  Semana Santa

When Donald Trump was elected president in November, the activists whom I chatted through Facebook messages had their hopes diminished by day. They braved sub-zero temperatures in frigid North Dakota December but stayed in their tents, yurts, did not budge.

On January 24, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order regarding construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Executive orders does not grant the approvals needed finish the construction of the pipeline, but it speeds up the process for approval.
Under President Trump, it will be almost impossible to stop this pipeline project.

Donald Trump has sold all of his shares in Energy Transfer Partners, the company overseeing construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. His shares were somewhere between $500.000 – $1.000.000 US by May of 2015 but as his presidential bid gained momentum, he sold his shares. Although he has sold his shares, Trump has been the recipient of generous political contributions from Energy Transfer chief executive Kelcy Warren.

Alone in 2016, Warren has made $1.53 million in campaign contributions to super PACs supporting Donald Trump’s bid for the White House and $252,300 to individual campaigns and the GOP, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. National Committee and some state parties, received a $100,000 contribution from Warren on June 29.

Army Corps or Engineers issued a deadline to evacuate the Oceti Sakowin camp due to upcoming spring floods. Just hours before the deadline, 02-22-at 2pm, February 22nd at 2pm, many of the activists burned their tents before they left. At the very end, it’s sad to watch the country with the world’s largest economy falling victim to fossil fuel lobby once again instead of taking full advantage of wild winds and bright sun that shines over the Dakotas. North Dakota alone has enough wind to produce enough electricity to power the entire state and 3 neighbouring states.

*All photos on this page are taken at the Red Warrior Camp are registered with the U.S. Copyrights Office.

Gokhan Cukurova

Gokhan is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer who grew up in Turkey during the 1980’s military coup. Gokhan wanted to become a war photographer as he lived not far from Turkey-Syria-Iraq border during the first Gulf War.

Gokhan had not picked up a camera until he moved to the U.S. in his early twenties. Since 2008, his growing passion for documentary photography took him to places and assignments which can be found on his website www.gokhan.us

Connect with Gokhan on Insta: @gokhanfoto

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