Demonstrators against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are facing below-freezing temperatures and militarized North Dakota, making their protests increasingly dangerous. But tomorrow, thousands of “water protectors” who’ve assembled at Oceti Sakowin Camp will enjoy a short, delicious reprieve at the nearby Standing Rock Community School in Fort Yates, where a group of chefs, celebrities and volunteers are currently preparing a Thanksgiving dinner they’re calling "Because We Believe Them We Feed Them," or Wowichuniah Un Wowichunkunpi. The dinner, a collaboration between entrepreneur Judy Wicks and the non-profit All It Takes, with contributions from several food providers and chefs, is free and open to all.
“It’s reimagining Thanksgiving as a way to honor native people for their contributions throughout history in protecting Mother Earth,” Wicks said. She got the idea for the dinner over a month ago. She’d been following the events at Standing Rock in the news and wanted to help in some way. “I feel like this has become the front line of the battle to save the planet, really. So I wanted to do something to support the native people here at Standing Rock,” Wicks said.
For 15 years, when she owned Philadelphia’s White Dog Cafe, Wicks hosted an annual Native American Thanksgiving Dinner that included members of the local Lenape tribe. Why not, she thought, organize a similar dinner at Standing Rock? Knowing that Thanksgiving is “a touchy subject for many people, especially native people,” Wicks called Tom Goldtooth, the director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, to get his thoughts about the idea.
"I thought it was a good idea as far as mobilizing more people to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline. To bring more people in is always the goal. The idea Judy had of sharing food with native people to provide a different narrative than traditional Thanksgiving was something I saw that was needed,” Goldtooth said. “I hope this gesture of bringing food will lift up the serious concern of injustice that is going on at this time.”
Wicks initially raised $10,000 online to support the initiative. Now, all additional money sent her way will go toward the construction of Brown Earth Lodge, or Makagi Oti, a straw bale community center that will serve as a gathering place and kitchen for the community at the Oceti Sakowin Camp. The fundraising effort is still ongoing.
The meal will include 30 free range, non-GMO turkeys from Bill Niman’s BN Ranch, enough for 500 people. “When Judy called I felt I needed to do what I could to help in that endeavor, that feast. There’s a responsibility for all of us to acknowledge the importance of what’s going on there,” Niman said.
Jeremy Stanton, who owns The Meat Market butcher shop in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and Fire Roasted Catering will be roasting the animals using a pedal-powered “spit cycle,” with his staff and serving them with other foods originally cultivated by indigenous peoples, including wild rice, beans and squash. Stanton arrived at the camp on Monday and he said the the mood there is “somber but strong.”
“It’s a great honor to be here and be of service and give something back. It’s something I know how to do and this is the way I can be of service in this fight,” Stanton said.
Food for an additional 1,500 will come from All It Takes, a non-profit organization founded by actress Shailene Woodley and her mother Lori Woodley. Actress and activist Jane Fonda will be among those serving the diners tomorrow. She’s also donating five butchered bison and four Mongolian yurts to the camp. A group from Santa Fe led by Angela Kirkman, meanwhile, will bring vegetable-based dishes, and volunteers from the Standing Rock Sioux will help with all the cooking.
“We want this to be a day where we give back to Native Americans for the work they’re doing to defend Mother Nature. I want them to feel that we honor them and respect them and we’re here in humble service to them,” Wicks said.