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Narragansett tribe members describe standoff at Standing Rock

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'Protectors' resolute despite being injured by water cannons, rubber bullets North Dakota camp

From left, Christian Hopkins, Evangeline Hopkins and Macheese Spears are members of the Narragansett Tribe who went to Standing Rock in North Dakota to object to the pipeline. The Providence Journal / David Delpoio

From left, Christian Hopkins, Evangeline Hopkins and Macheese Spears are members of the Narragansett Tribe who went to Standing Rock in North Dakota to object to the pipeline. The Providence Journal / David Delpoio

By Carol Kozma
Journal Staff Writer

RICHMOND, R.I. - When Christian Hopkins headed to the Standing Rock camp in North Dakota last month to build a school, so many volunteers wanted to help, he turned some away.

"Hands were not in short supply," he said Monday. "Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of community, the amount of love, the amount of passion."

In five days, they had built a school, a 42-by-21-foot longhouse. They used all donated materials, including maple he and others harvested in Rhode Island.

This was the 26-year-old's second trip to Standing Rock; he had first visited the camp in September with his sister Evangeline, 17, both from Hopkinton. The members of the Narragansett tribe wanted to stand in solidarity with those objecting to the construction of part of an oil pipeline under the Missouri River near the Sioux Reservation. People, in part, fear the pipeline could cause water contamination. 

Christian Hopkins calls himself and others water "protectors," taking issue with the word "protesters."

"Protest is for an issue, but this is a lifestyle" people are protecting, he said. "We are not looking for any kind of pity or guilt, but we are looking for support and we are looking for people to see the value of water in their community."

On Sunday, the American Corps of Engineers announced it would not grant an easement that would have allowed developers from Energy Transfer Partners to drill under the river for the $3.8 billion project.

But President-elect Donald Trump could still reverse that decision. While Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambeault has asked people to leave the camp ahead of a brutal winter, many have said they will stay, according to the Associated Press.