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As temperatures drop, pipeline protesters join together to winterize Standing Rock.

Winter is coming at Standing Rock. Are these new teepees the answer?

There is more to Standing Rock than protests. Every day is an exercise in peaceful prayer and building community.

In the few short weeks I’ve been at Standing Rock, I’ve witnessed the violence of three major incidents involving police and water protectors. I’ve also witness hundreds of people come together to protect sacred water sources and lands — all the while being under constant surveillance and psychological violence.

Sunset at Standing Rock. Photo by Wendy Carrillo.


The most egregious of incidents occurred the day I arrived, Oct. 27, when authorities raided the 1851 Treaty Camp, the “front lines” of water protectors.

Using pepper spray, noise cannons, rubber bullets, tasers, and batons, police attacked peaceful demonstrators, grandmothers, people in prayer and ceremony. Over 140 were arrested. It was shocking and frightening to arrive to that.

It’s easy to think violence is the only thing happening at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Amid the chaos, there is order.

There are currently three camps at the Standing Rock reservation that make up the resistance working toward halting the pipeline.

The camps — Sacred Stone, Oceti Sakowin, and Rosebud — have thousands of people working toward “winterizing,” the prep work being done for winter.

Soon, the weather is expected to drop below zero and could reach -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Paul Cheyok'ten Wagner — a member of the Saanich First Nations of Vancouver Island and an artist and inventor — is one such person looking ahead. He is designing a contemporary teepee that costs thousands of dollars less than a traditional teepee and uses materials found in any hardware store.

Women make circular teepee tops at a Seattle working party. Photo courtesy of Winter Shelter for Standing Rock Facebook page.

Currently living in Seattle, Wagner, answered the call for Canoe Families to join a spiritual journey down the Missouri River in early September. The event was focused on native unity for the protection of sacred waters and lands threatened by the North Dakota Access Pipeline. That’s when he felt a call to do something to help the water protectors of Standing Rock.

“Climate change is my number one issue,” Wagner says. Having been involved in movements like IdIe No More, which calls on all people to honor indigenous sovereignty and to protect water and land, going to Standing Rock seemed like a natural next step.

Through his campaign called Winter Shelter for Standing Rock, Wagner is hoping he and his crew of volunteers will build at least 40 of these new teepee structures.

Paul Cheyok'ten Wagner climbs a tarpee structure at Standing Rock. Photo courtesy of Winter Shelter for Standing Rock Facebook page.

The teepees, which have been dubbed “tarpees” by Standing Rock locals, use white heavy-duty poly tarp material with anywhere from 8 to 16 poles and a round plywood roof top. Traditional teepees can use 12 to 25 poles cut from lodgepole pine trees, which have to be cut, shaved, and cleaned. Usually, teepees are covered with buffalo skins or canvas — the more traditional, the more expensive. Tarps cut those costs dramatically.

“I’ve always been inventing things,” says Wagner, who experienced the frigid night air after sleeping in a summer tent at Standing Rock. “At first I thought, a cabin. But that would be too expensive; tents wouldn't hold up in the winter and teepees also need poles and canvases and that would raise the costs.”

Slowly, the idea began to form and take shape. What if he used tarp instead of canvas? What if he used wood beams instead of pine poles? What if he added a stove inside with a chimney? How would it hold up on the top? What if he added a circular structure at the top that would hold the poles and the chimney?

A banner hangs just below the tarpee ceiling. Photo by Wendy Carrillo.

As of now, at least 10 additional tarpees have been built at the various camps, each comfortably housing up to 12 people.

Bryan Fabert, a volunteer with the Winter Shelter for Standing Rock campaign, has been busy training others on how to build the structures. There is an urgency to have as many sound winter shelters as possible.

“This has never been done before,” Fabert said while hammering away at some beams at camp. “Every day we’re discovering new things that will improve on the design, especially for insulation and heat.”

The original seven-gallon stoves needed to be watched constantly and were too small to keep wood burning overnight. Because tarp is much lighter than canvas, the warmth of the stove diminishes as people sleep.

But Wagner says he’s already created a new design for a stove. “The original stove is going to be replaced with a 30-gallon barrel stove of my own design with a baffle that will create a very clean burn with little wood, all the while creating more heat.”

One of the new 30-gallon barrel stoves arriving at Standing Rock. Photo by Wendy Carrillo.

The new stoves and the circular tops are set to arrive at Standing Rock via bus from Seattle, alongside a crew of more volunteers.

Danielle Gennetly, who is of Mi’Mack Nation heritage as well as French Canadian and Syrian heritage, was an early supporter of Winter Shelter for Standing Rock and is staying through winter. “I felt called to be here,” she says. “I feel very connected to nature, to mountains and waterfalls; we have to protect these things.”

Gennetly shares her tarpee with female elders and has adorned the space with an altar by the stove, surrounded by sage and cedar and colorful streamers with words like "equality" and "diversity" hanging from the ceiling. She was one of the first to volunteer to build the tarpees and is now busy sorting food donations and creating communal spaces, such as the pantry, a mess hall for dining, and a volunteer space at one of the camps.

“This is sacred land,” Gennetly says of Standing Rock. “We must be prepared to come together and protect it; we cannot do it alone.”

Wagner echoes the same sentiment. “It’s going to take people coming together to protect water, to be partners in this peaceful movement. That’s who we are as human beings. We are protectors of water and these sacred relationships with nature."

The Friday following Thanksgiving, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notified Standing Rock that protesters needed to vacate all campgrounds north of the Cannonball River by Dec. 5. A letter suggested the safety of the protesters was the main concern.

“Our tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chair Dave Archambault II says of the decision.

The notice came as a surprise because the U.S. Army Corps had previously announced more analysis was needed for the Dakota Access Pipeline to move forward. Currently, no final decision has been made on granting an easement to Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation behind the pipeline. An easement would allow Energy Partners to dig underneath the Missouri River.

The fight for clean water is not solely an issue affecting the Standing Rock reservation. A leak could affect millions of Americans who rely on water from the river, as well as wildlife and gaming.

The Missouri River is the longest river in North America, crossing Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. The Standing Rock Sioux Nation relies on its water, as do 17 million other Americans downstream.

As winter approaches, water protectors say they are not leaving the camp.

They will need to stay warm and think about new strategies to protect the water and land.

Watch the video below for more on how a tarpee is built:

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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