CANNON BALL (Reuters) - Reuters photographers Lucas Jackson and Stephanie Keith were assigned to cover the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Native American reservation. These are their stories from inside the growing camp of protesters in North Dakota that were captured by their camera lenses as the winter freeze set in.
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A Ford Explorer is not the most comfortable place to sleep in temperatures as low as minus16 Fahrenheit (minus 27 Celsius), but when all the hotels near Standing Rock in North Dakota were booked, it became my home for a few days.
The one bonus is that heat was only a key turn away and I could defrost my morning breakfast of a frozen bagel on the dashboard.
For one week my job was to photograph the ongoing demonstrations by Native American tribes at a location dubbed the “Oceti Sakowin” camp.
Luckily on Dec. 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made a surprise announcement denying an easement for the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline to be routed under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.
The euphoria that spread through the camp was exciting to photograph as thousands celebrated. Unfortunately as the sun set that would be the last day of good weather for my assignment. To keep working I had to get creative.
As I awoke in my car a snowstorm has begun that would turn into a blinding blizzard as a large group of veterans gathered to march and show their solidarity with the “water protectors” who had begun the movement.
To work I needed to wear a t-shirt, thermal shirt, regular shirt, fleece jacket, a down jacket and shell. I also had to wear thermal underwear, canvas pants, outer layer, wool socks, toe warmers and snow boots.
It was cold, the wind was blowing between 20 and 30 miles per hour (32 and 48 km per hour) and my cameras froze to the point where I could not adjust any dials or buttons.
Working in the weather was a challenge to say the least but led to some of the more dramatic photographs I took on the trip.
The night of the water cannons felt like the climax of the protest. At the camp, it felt like do-or-die time.
On Nov. 20, protesters at Backwater Bridge were met by a police water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets.
Some suffered hypothermia from being doused by water in the cold. Medics were screaming to get out of the way so that they could get injured people off of what was dubbed the frontline of the protest movement against the pipeline.
I wanted to get close to photograph the scene without getting my gear wet, so I had to time my approach to make the most of police and protester movements.
During my six weeks at the camp, I worked very slowly to forge relationships. I found that by explaining who I was, protesters were receptive and open to being photographed.
I was amazed at the range of tribes represented at the protest, who had travelled from all over the country, repeating the phrase, “I had heard the call and I had to come.”
Chenae Bullock, 28, was one of the first people I met at Standing Rock. She had arrived at the protest camp three months ago, she said, to protect the water.
After I took a photo of her gazing out at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and sent it to her, we connected on Facebook and the photo deepened our friendship.
“My ancestors were whalers,” Bullock said. “Protecting the water isn’t a job; it’s who I am.”
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Reporting by Stephanie Keith and Lucas Jackson in North Dakota; Editing by Melissa Fares and Lisa Shumaker