Evanston artist delivering goods to keep Standing Rock protesters fed and warm

People continue to gather in temporary camps on the edge of North Dakota's Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, even though the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit last month for the pipeline that threatens the tribe's sacred lands — and despite brutal winds and temperatures dipping well below zero.

Don Pollack, an Evanston artist whose cross-country bicycle trip brought him face-to-face with Standing Rock and its people, is gathering and delivering supplies to keep them warm and fed.

Pollack, an adjunct associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has partnered with northwest suburban Trickster Art Gallery to collect blankets, winter gear and nonperishable food, which he will load in a cargo van and drive to North Dakota in early January.

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"A lot of native people are in it for the long haul,'" Pollack said.

Native Americans, environmentalists and veterans have joined forces to stand against a project that would bulldoze sacred sites and put the Missouri River at risk of contamination, should the 1,172-mile pipeline leak. Many of them view the Army Corps' December permit denial as a temporary victory at best.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called the Army Corps' announcement, "big-government decision-making at its worst" and tweeted, "I look forward to putting this anti-energy presidency behind us." Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the $3.8 billion pipeline, called the decision a "purely political action," and its chief executive, Kelcy Warren, told NBC News he's "100 percent sure that the pipeline will be approved by a Trump administration."

Meanwhile, as Alexander Howland, a 21-year-old New Mexico resident, told NPR recently:

"I'm going to stay as long as it takes to ensure the safety of our future generations, to make sure that they have water for their children, for my children, for my future generations to come, for everyone's future generations to come. I'm not going anywhere until I see the drilling equipment leave. I'm not going to go until they disassemble that drill and leave this place for good."

Pollack led a team of scientists, teachers and other artists on a two-month, 3,000-mile bike ride from Chicago's Indian Boundary Park to Cape Disappointment, Wash., in 2015.

"We set survey markers to revisit the idea of Manifest Destiny and rebrand the trip as a journey of tolerance," Pollack told me. "One of the things that occurred is we were just going to all these historical sites and listening to the stories."

He titled the project, "Crossing the Great Divide," and he writes this on his blog that chronicles the project:

"We are the land and the land is our body. A wound on the land is a wound to our body and our emotional state as well as a scar on the Earth. The connections we make must be taken care of with great patience and understanding between all people."

One of his fellow bicyclists was Mark Cleveland, a musician who is part Cherokee and a board member at Trickster, a Native American-owned and -operated art gallery in Schaumburg. Cleveland connected Pollack with Trickster CEO Joe Podlasek, who's been raising money to purchase tents and other supplies for the folks camped out at Standing Rock. (Podlasek shuns the term protesters. "They're water protectors," he told me. "They have clearly been unarmed protectors of the water and Mother Earth since the beginning.")

Podlasek is collecting wool blankets, hats, gloves and coats, as well as nonperishable food, at his gallery.

"Every three weeks to a month, somebody will make a run out there and come back with a fresh list of what's needed," Podlasek said. "They're going to stay the entire winter; the least we can do from here in our warm homes is help in some small way."

Pollack has been asking his students and fellow SAIC faculty members to pitch in with donations, which he'll add to January's haul.

"This is an issue for everyone," Podlasek said. "The people of Standing Rock decided to make the stand first, but if they cut through that river, you're talking about a couple thousand native people, but you're talking about 3.5 million other people who depend on that river. This is very much an issue for anyone and everyone."

The Missouri River, the world's 15th longest, flows through Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota and past Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas.

Pollack views his upcoming road trip as an extension of his 2015 bike trip, and the donations as a simple act of humanity.

"The native people haven't benefited from acquiescing their lands for the building of our infrastructure," Pollack said. "Their contributions to United States infrastructure always seem to bypass their tribal needs.

"So, as far as what I can do in the moment?" he continued. "They need some basic things, like winter clothing, and I am going to literally drive it out there to them."

Donations can be dropped off at Trickster Art Gallery, 190 S. Roselle Road in Schaumburg; 847 301-2090. Financial donations can be made at trickstergallery.com/nodapl-fundraiser/.

hstevens@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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