Friday, November 18, 2016

Squash, Rice and Roadkill: Feeding the Fighters of Standing Rock By Kim Severson

CANNON BALL, N.D. — On any given night, supper lines here at the dusty prairie camps near the Missouri River where the last piece of a 1,170-mile pipeline is set to be placed might include young Navajo women from Arizona who have never camped in the cold, and older white women for whom chaining themselves to a fence for a cause is nothing new.

There are protest tourists in new boots, Lakota elders who spend hours in prayer, parents from the suburbs who have dragged the children away from their video games.

They have all driven for hours — sometimes days — to join hundreds of protesters at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. And they all need to eat.

The camps grew fast over the summer, sometimes swelling on the weekends to what both organizers and the North Dakota state patrol said was well over 3,000 people. The original intent was to stop or at least change the route of the Dakota Access pipeline, a $3.7 billion project that will stretch across four states.

The camps have since broadened into a gathering of people focused on bringing attention to environmental issues and the rights of indigenous people. As the number of teepees and yurts built to withstand the brutal North Dakota winter has grown, so, too, have the camp kitchens.

No one is directly in charge of the chaotic but robust network of what amounts to several free restaurants, which reflect both the broad spectrum of the nation’s diet and its battles over food politics.

“There is no rhyme or reason, but everyone gets fed,” Rosetta Buan, 40, a cook from Asheville, N.C., who is on her third trip here, said Sunday. “There are little miracles every day. Dishes get washed. Bellies get filled.”

The clash of food cultures is writ large here. A sizable contingent of vegans and vegetarians struggle in a culture that is based on hunting game.

Although everyone tries to be respectful, a kitchen shift can get tense. At the nearby Sacred Stone camp, the Lakota woman who runs a kitchen that can feed up to 200 people a day struggles with a white cook from Montana who insists that using propane is disingenuous when they are fighting an oil company, and that children should not be fed white sugar.

“You put some love into the fry bread and it makes it feel like home,” she said.

That desire for homey food led to breakaway kitchens run by different tribes that have the feel of extremely rustic neighborhood bistros. Pueblo cooks might serve bowls of red chili stew while the Oglala Sioux fry venison. One night last week, the Upper Klamath Basin kitchen offered elk stroganoff.

Winona Kasto, 47, a Lakota cook from Green Grass, a small community on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, ran the big kitchen for a time. She left to start a little kitchen she calls the Soup Kettle House. With help from a rotating band of volunteers, she turns donations delivered by sympathetic national food companies and whatever else shows up into meals that Lakotas want to eat.

“I just want to feed the people and our ancestors the proper way,” she said.

When a donated buffalo was butchered, she got the lungs and some other internal organs. She boiled them into soup. That day, some young protesters tried to swim across the river to the construction site and clashed with the police. Someone rushed into her kitchen and said they needed hot soup at the front lines.

“I packed it up and they ran it out there,” she said. “Even the white people were eating that lung soup.”

A version of this article appears in print on November 17, 2016, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Rice to Roadkill: Dinnertime at Standing Rock.

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