STANDING ROCK, N.D. — Where there was once a teeming city of prayer and resistance, there is now fire, ash and mud.
On Wednesday, police started forcing out the water protectors of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, which became the front lines of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The police raids swept up at least 40 of the remaining water protectors on Thursday, who were determined to camp there until riot police pulled them away. Until the last moments, with smoke billowing over camp and the mud up to their ankles, the Standing Rock resistance danced and sang for victory.
In early December, at the height of the Standing Rock resistance, Oceti Sakowin Camp was a bustling city of thousands of inhabitants built on donations and volunteer labor, complete with its own school for the local children. If it were a recognized municipality, the collected camps at Standing Rock would have been one of the top ten largest cities in North Dakota.
But on Wednesday, Oceti Sakowin Camp was laid to waste. Where there were structures with roofs so strong you could walk on them, there was ash and debris. Hundreds came through at the urging of tribal leaders to clear away the mess halls, tipis and communal sleeping spaces.
In a mess hall that was once a meeting space for orientation, prayer and keeping warm through the winter, people loaded a wood stove and smoked cigarettes in the darkness, waiting and laughing together. Still ladling out soup into small bowls, the cook said he would stay as long as he could.
Rain turned to snow and back again, and it was nearly impossible to keep dry or warm. Long-term residents of Standing Rock threw bags into the back of pickup trucks, falling back to safer camps farther from the drill site. Medics frantically searched for a . Some huddled under empty tents or in abandoned cars, waiting for the police to raid at 2 p.m.