The Art of Protest: FORCE and Standing Rock

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Rebecca Nagle, Co-Founder of FORCE and Member of the Cherokee Nation, on recent art-based interventions in Union Station and at the Dakota Access Pipeline by Cara Ober

“Is this road blocked?” Rebecca Nagle confers with her fellow travelers en route through Morton County, North Dakota, to the Oceti Sakowin Camp, one of the main camps for protestors of the Dakota Pipeline.

Nagle, a Baltimore-based artist-activist and founding co-director of FORCE, winner of the 2016 Sondheim Prize, is bringing the organization’s unique process of quilt-making, activism, and rape culture awareness to facilitate KIK TA (WAKE UP), a weekend of events at the main protest site. Along with with Graci Horne, Nagle is bringing FORCE’s long-running project, The Monument Quilt, which has been displayed  in dozens of sites including the National Mall and the Baltimore Museum of Art, to continue the collective and growing installation, where survivors of rape, abuse, and harassment express themselves freely and build a dialogue around healing.

For Nagle, this protest is also personal. She is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, originally from Oklahoma, and said by phone, “I think about the sacrifices that my ancestors made. I am proud that in 2016 I can still be a Cherokee woman and that my tribe and nation is still here, despite violence and genocide that has never ended. I am here in support of all the people who have made these sacrifices so that we can have rights as sovereign nations and native people. I’m just humbly trying to do my part.”


Nagle described the Dakota Pipeline Site, and the escalating violence there, as she and traveling companions attempted to avoid road blocks set up by police. She said the main highway has been blocked since October, yet hundreds of protestors and supporters continue to make their way to the camps.

“In September, a private security force hired illegally by the pipeline company (without permits) unleashed dogs on peaceful protestors,” she says. “Since then the Morton County Police Department has pulled in police from all the surrounding counties. This past Sunday night the police attacked protestors with water cannons in freezing temperatures, tear gas, compression grenades, and rubber bullets. A 21-year-old woman, Sophia Wolanski, was so severely injured that she was rushed to a hospital in Minneapolis and her arm may have to be amputated.”

Nagle said some of the police raids on camps included officers from five different states. “In October, the protestors established the Treaty Camp on land owned by the pipeline, and people had set up tents and teepees there. They kept the police at bay without any weapons for four days – and then the police came in and raided the camp, arrested people – about 400 people that week, and kept them in dog kennels.”

“The police are not charging people with misdemeaners, like failure to obey orders or trespassing. Instead they are trumping up charges that make no sense – like felonies for domestic terrorism and inciting a riot. If convicted, these charges can translate to many years in prison. These are life altering charges.” Nagle said that hundreds more have been arrested.

“I have been told they are spraying camps with chemicals at night with crop dusters,” she said. “People have been getting sick and noticed a haze in the atmosphere.  This has been reported for a few weeks and protesters have seen crop dusters flying by regularly.”


In addition to showing solidarity and protesting the treatment of Native Americans and other protestors by the police, Nagle has come to the site to conduct a healing circle for victims of rape and sexual violence and a section of The Monument Quilt will be on display. One reason FORCE’s message for survivors of rape and abuse is particularly relevant is because of the unique laws regarding prosecution of non-natives by Native Americans.

“North Dakota has the most oil of any place in the United States, and most of it is on tribal lands,” she explains. “There are these whole camps of men – transient laborers – living in trailer parks, and they are hotbeds of drugs and sex trafficking and assault.”

Because of a jurisdictional loophole, tribe members cannot prosecute non-native Americans. “This is unique to tribal lands, but 96% of perpetrators against native women are non-native people. They can come onto these lands and commit crimes with no recourse.” Nagle’s program and workshop, WAKE UP, is designed to create awareness for survivors of abuse who live near extractions of natural resources.

“Gracie Horn (Sisseton Wahpeton/ Hunkpapa) and I are doing a seris of quiltmaking workshops, with elders leading healing workshops. Tribal leaders will do an honoring ceremony for survivors,” explained Nagle.

FORCE also created the following info graphic around the shocking statistic that 4 in 5 Native Americans have been raped, stalked, or abused in their lifetime in such places.


This is not the first time Nagle has combined the quilt with national indigenenous womens resource centers specific to Standing Rock protests.

FORCE participated in a another event the previous week in Washington, DC. About twenty protestors gathered in Union Station at 8 am, amid the morning traffic rush, to pray that President Obama stops the Dakota Access Pipeline.

On a large red banner, characteristic of FORCE’s Monument Quilt, the words read “WE ARE STILL HERE.”

The group, led by DC Standing Rock Coalition and FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, came together in the train station, surrounded by crowds of hurrying hill staffers and DC professionals. Native women stood in front of the banner and each stated what violence their tribal Nation had survived as the hands of the US government.

Jordan Marie Daniel (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) said, “They kidnapped us, forced us into boarding school to assimilate into a civilized society with a ‘kill the indian save the man’ mentality.”

No DAPL Action in DC from Tanya Garcia on Vimeo.

According to the group, “The Dakota Access Pipeline threatens the water and safety of the citizens of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and surrounding Native Nations. Pipeline construction has already destroyed sacred burial sites, violated treaty rights and threatens the tribe’s clean drinking water by going under the Missouri River.”

Although one commuter, a self-proclaimed Trump supporter, yelled angry epithets at the protesters, Nagle said that police officers shielded the protestors from him, until he eventually moved on. The group passed out flyers illustrating how the pipeline not only threatens clean drinking water, but could also increase sexual violence against Native women.

Daniel said of the action, “Us coming together in solidarity it captured the attention of bystanders. It opened the minds and hearts of minds of people who might not know fully what’s going on in North Dakota and what the pipeline means.” Three staffers for the Obama administration took flyers stating, “I will give these to my boss.”

Although rumors of the Obama administration halting construction have been spreading since September, the administration has not acted to stop the pipeline. This morning’s prayer in Union Station was part of a National Day of action calling on the Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to use their authority to rescind the permits and stop construction.unnamed

Besides the actions she is taking at the protest site in North Dakota, Nagle suggests that we take action to support the protest for clean water. “The battle to end the Dakota Access Pipeline is life and death,” she said. “Please do what you can from where you are.”

Suggestions for support:

Tell president Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the Pipeline! Contact information and talking points can be found here.

Donate directly to the Oceti Sakowin Camp (the main camp) here.

Donate directly to the legal defense fund here. Donate to the medics on the front lines here.

You can support the Two Spirit Nation (for Native American LGBTQ people) at the Oceti Sakowin camp directly here.

Talk about abuses suffered by protestors and militarization. Click here to sign the ACLU’s petition for an end to the militarization of police against peaceful protestors at Standing Rock.


Author Cara Ober is Founding Editor at BmoreArt. She hopes you have a Happy Thanksgiving and count all your blessings.

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