Standing Rock: Five Things You Need to Know Before You Go to North Dakota

What will happen at Standing Rock?

Rumors have been flying since November 28, when the governor of North Dakota issued an executive order directing all residents of the camp to leave, saying that those who stay may be "subject to penalties as defined in law." But thousands of people are still planning to head out and support the Standing Rock Sioux — and if you arrive at the North Dakota encampment this weekend, you'll be joining a U.S. senator.

Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, will be going to Standing Rock along with 2,000 veterans who all plan to march in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Gabbard, who served two terms in Iraq and is currently in the National Guard, will be at the camp from December 4 through December 7. "If my participation in this protest helps send one message, it is this: We must protect our fragile water resources for current and future generations," Gabbard said in a piece for The Nation.

I was one of an estimated 10,000 people who traveled to Standing Rock over Thanksgiving weekend. If you plan to go and support the efforts at Seven Council Fires Camp, here are five things to know:

1. Meet up with a local group first.

A few days before my group headed to North Dakota, I attended a meeting in Denver held by the Four Winds Indian Council. Members of the group provided insight about what to expect when you're staying on tribal land, told stories they'd heard from friends and relatives who had been fighting on the front lines, and let us know what to bring. It's important to be up to date on the latest news and needs; Native American groups in your community will often have a more accurate idea of what's going on than the mainstream media. One woman at the meeting I attended decided to read up on different types of warm, semi-permanent structures for the winter and planned to get her community to pitch in and pay for a few of them.

And even if you don't plan to travel to Standing Rock, you can support the cause by connecting with the Four Winds Indian Council, which will help you understand the situation that indigenous people face not just in North Dakota, but here at home.

2. Prepare to be self-sufficient.

Even though there are communal meals at the camp, be prepared to be self-sufficient while you're there; the camp resources are limited. Bring water, bring food and, more than anything else, be prepared for the cold. It's begun snowing, and the nearest hot showers are a few miles away. Roughing it in North Dakota during December is not for the faint of heart.

Coloradans are pretty tough, but North Dakota winters are brutal. I grew up hiking the Rocky Mountains and I'd been to the Black Hills in South Dakota, so I thought I was prepared. I wasn't. Take everything you think you might need and more. If you can't use all the warm clothes you bring, someone else definitely can. It'd be smart to invest in winterized tents and low-temperature sleeping bags. And when you leave Standing Rock, leave behind any equipment you can spare.

3. Be respectful.

This movement is not about you. During my time at the camp, I was constantly reminded that I had a house to return to, but after I left, others would have to continue living there. Anything you do at the camp, around the police or with the tribe will have a lasting impact. For starters, pick up your trash: The reason for the camp's existence is to fight for the preservation of the water, not to pollute the riverbank with litter.

The camp is run by the tribe's elders. While much of Western thought follows linear patterns, tribal members pointed out to us that the elders operate in a more spiritual manner than many of us are used to. Some visitors get frustrated by how slow things seem to move or want to impose their way of doing things on the camp. But remember: This is not about you. If you go, accept that you are a guest and, as a guest, it's important to respect your hosts and their customs.

4. Don't bring weapons, alcohol or drugs.

Under no circumstances take weapons, alcohol or drugs into the camp. Yes, marijuana is legal in Colorado and many other states, but it is not legal in North Dakota. Remember that any infraction — like having illicit substances at the camp — can get you arrested and the camp shut down.

This is a peaceful camp; the tribe doesn't want anyone to get hurt. Drugs and alcohol can be triggers to recovering users, not to mention a distraction from the task at hand. Go to Standing Rock to help, not to party. This isn't Burning Man; it's not Coachella.

5. Recognize that there's more to do at the camp than join the direct actions.

I went expecting to be put on the front lines. I grew up in an activist family and thought that going to Standing Rock meant that I might experience the worst of what I'd heard: clashes with police, rubber bullets, pepper spray. But it wasn't like that at all. Even though I'd had exposure to direct actions before, I hadn't gone through the training at Standing Rock. Every day the camp has a meeting where one of the tribal members guides you through what to expect when you go on a direct action and how to collaborate as a team to work against the police in a peaceful manner. At this meeting, we were taught what to do if someone is pepper-sprayed, we practiced walking arm in arm as a group, and discussed what would happen if we did get arrested.

While this meeting happens every day, direct actions don't. You could be on the camp for days and not experience a direct action. And that's okay — there's a lot to be done at the camp. Right now, the natives and the people who are living on the land with them are busy building structures for the winter. If you can go to Standing Rock for an extended period of time — like two weeks or so — be prepared to help construct these structures. If you can only be there a few days, as in my case, there is still plenty to do, from carrying and chopping firewood to chopping onions and peppers for meals to helping with childcare. Be ready to help out any way you can.

See our slideshow of the Standing Rock camp.