Ryan Vizzions Unveils Iconic Beauty of Standing Rock Struggle

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Naomi Pitcairn writes on the incredible photography work of Ryan Vizzions, called Redhawk, documenting the struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline over the last year at Standing Rock, and what lies ahead for a movement recently shut down by a repressive and illegal move by the Trump Administration to grant the construction easement for Energy Transfer Partners.

Standing Rock Rising, Ryan Vizzions

Sunset at Standing Rock by Redhawk

Redhawk, Documenting Standing Rock

By Naomi Pitcairn, Published in the Times Quotidian

Ryan Vizzions: Photography Raising Consciousness, Dakota Access Pipeline—  

A lot has been happening in North Dakota since the Standing Rock Sioux tribe first stood up against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) that threatens the 174,00 sq mile Ogallala Aquifer.

At least 76 law enforcement agencies have been called in to protect corporate interests, against the peaceful water protectors who oppose them. Representatives from an estimated 280 groups of indigenous peoples (a first in U.S. history) as well as 5,000 veterans have showed up in solidarity with the tribe.

Peaceful water protectors have been charged with rioting and attempted murder, while laws are being proposed that would make it legal to run over and kill protesters. Water protectors have lost toes and fingers to the brutal cold. One protector nearly lost an eye to so-called non-lethal police another may lose an arm. Camps have been set up and torn down for “trespassing” on land that was ceded to the native people in 1851.

Standing Rock Rising, RedhawkAnd photography stars have risen. One of them is Ryan Vizzions, an independent journalist who doesn’t use his real name but goes by either Vizzions or “Redhawk,” the name they gave him at camp. When I asked him the reason, he told me that when he first started the FB page, journalists were being targeted.

Vizzions has been more committed to the Standing Rock cause than to making a name for himself since he first arrived at camp in September 2016, returning permanently in October. He has given up his apartment to spend all of his time on site photographing the conflict and its surrounds.

His photographs delve profoundly into the both the conflict and setting, exposing official lies in the process. To press time garnering 279,413 Facebook likes (to Bismarck Tribune’s 41,050). I met him in early September at Standing Rock when the grass was still jewel box green with occasional purple flowers. It is a beautiful piece of land that hosts this epic, environmental battle.

Oceti Sakowin, Standing Rock Rising

Oceti Sakowin, we have come a long way.
-Redhawk

When you see these low rolling prairie hills, like swirls left by passing water, cut by the dull blue-green vastness of the Missouri River and pocketed with dark and gleaming puddles, you can understand how the Native people would feel a deep attachment to this land. The bright blue sky, trees turning yellow, little whirlwinds that the native people told us were friendly spirits, eagles soaring above them, flaming orange and purple sunsets, deep blue skies spangled with stars.

North Dakota could not be more beautiful or sad. Vizzions clearly sees this too, the beauty of this place where the battle between oil and water is playing out its life-and-death cage fight. Oil, is represented by law enforcement, water by the natives and their allies. The contrast between sides is strong: dull uniformity vs. vibrant individuality, kevlar against feathers, armed robots vs. vulnerable bodies, violence vs. prayer, weapons vs. flags and banners, State vs. Citizen.

Ryan Vizzions, Standing Rock RisingAs the pale pastels of winter took over: eggshell peach, gray clouds and pale purple fogs, so did the cold. Wood smoke rises up from almost every tent even before the snow hits.

Vizzions deep in it, victim of hypothermia after falling in a stream, at camp, recovering to capture human spirits, daily life, horses having their hay, on the front lines, shooting against cement block backgrounds, guns gleaming dully from hands and thighs, menacing antennas protruding from helicopters, boxlike hummers with camo left over from desert storms, robot-like black body armor, razor wire dripping with shining icicles against the black dullness of tear-gassed skies.

Standing Rock Rising, Ryan Vizzions

Chairman Frazier of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
-Redhawk

Some of his less beautiful but most important photographs, taken with a long lens, unlike his other work, grainy and crude, document serious lies about incidents, like the one where a DAPL guard was run off of the road on his way to camp with an AR-15 style rifle and a 9mm pistol, proving that he was the only person with a weapon out, contrary to police claims that someone had been “shot in the hand.” The visual story is important. In a time of demonizing the other, Standing Rock helps those of us who are willing, to see the glaring flaws in our own culture and how much Native wisdom has to offer us.

We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence. – Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948)

Standing Rock Rising, Redhawk

We fought long. We fought hard. We fought for justice, liberty and freedom. We took a stand against a corporation ran militarized police state putting money over Earth, corporate interests over the voice of the people, and immediate profit gain over human rights. We faced rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons, pepper spray, police brutality, false imprisonment, and so much more. We took a stand for future generations.
This country is doomed.
Liberty is dead.
Oceti in flames, Amerikkka is burning, and with that fire we spread the embers across the nation.
We will regroup again.
The fight has just begun.
For now we face the PTSD we have been given by a corrupt system meant to oppress anyone in its path.
-Redhawk

Nothing was more exciting for me, than being in the minority among the true and just heirs and stewards of this land. No longer can I sing: “this land is my land,” because it’s not.

“As long as the grass grows and the waters flow.” said U.S. Grant in 1851. When the land, now home to an ugly and dangerous environmental threat was ceded in yet another broken treaty with the indigenous people. Perhaps it’s time to shed our Western beliefs that allow us to violate both our word and our natural resources, and turn towards the native beliefs based on ritual and respect for the earth as our mother.

Time Magazine recently ran a spot on photos that changed the world. Alan Kurdi the Syrian toddler lying dead on a Mediterranean beach by Nilüfer Demir, Charles Moore’s photograph of Bull Connor’s police dogs lunching at marchers in Birmingham, Chinese Tank Man by Jeff Widener, these photographs made a difference. The truth must out.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” said Keats. It is a battle for hearts and minds first and foremost. The conflict began in summer, grew through autumn and survived winter. All that’s left is springtime for Standing Rock. When the Blue-eyed Grass, Prairie Violets, Purple Locoweed, Crocus, and Columbines, poke out from the ground, what will left of the movement? As I write, things are looking bad for Standing Rock. Which prophecy will come true?

 “If the Black Snake comes across our land our world will end…” — Sioux Prophecy

When the earth is sick and dying,
There will come a tribe of people
From all races…
Who will put their faith in deeds,
Not words, and make the planet
Green again… — Cree Prophecy


Documentation of one of the nonviolent direct actions that took place October 15th 2016. Video by Redhawk

With water protectors, as they call themselves, being prosecuted with outrageous felonies, with free press being stifled, with a president who is personally, financially invested in this pipeline, with four more pipelines on the way, with over 300 pipelines that have already caused environmental emergencies in this country alone, what’s next?

The water from the Missouri River sustains over 14 million people downstream. There is no way to believe that the financial rewards here outweigh the risk. This is why we need the Ryans of this world. They may be our last chance to preserve our Mother, Earth.

“From civil and human rights violations from the hands of militarized police, to fires set by infiltrators in an attempt to burn the camps out, I have witnessed so much in my months here documenting Standing Rock. If there is anything I have learned, its that the hearts of these Water Protectors are in the right place. A fight for mother nature, human, civil, and cultural rights is always a battle worth fighting for. I am honored.” —Redhawk

#ProtectOurWater, #WaterIsLife #LeaveItInTheGround #MiniWiconi

Standing Rock Rising

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WilderUtopia.com regularly posts articles, photo essays, features, and documentaries from around the web that illuminate the challenges to coexistence between city and wild, developed and developing, human and other. To reach out, write to jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow us on Twitter @WilderUtopia