In April 2016, protesters set camp to protest the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline in southern North Dakota. The pipeline would go through Standing Rock Sioux territory, including through their water supply. The plan was opposed by the tribe, and protest camps were formed as people of both indigenous and non-indigenous ancestry came to voice displeasure with the decision. The camps were not abandoned until late February 2017. In efforts to end the protests, authorities sprayed water hoses in freezing temperatures, deployed tear gas, used attack dogs and fired rubber bullets
Jenni Monet was there for six months covering the protests as a freelance reporter and shared her experience Thursday as part of Reynolds School Speaker Series. She gave a presentation and answered questions on lessons in reporting on race and her time covering Standing Rock.
Monet outlined some of the challenges facing journalists today.
“It’s a very interesting time in America,” she said, “but it’s also a very interesting time to be a journalist.”
Her goals were “to not have it seem like going to an Indian reservation is some kind of foreign concept but now a part of our everyday jobs. Going to the projects, going to a scene where there’s an Asian community that’s being marginalized all of a sudden; to no longer treat these neighborhoods, these communities as some kind of other, because that’s all of us now.”
While covering Standing Rock, Monet was arrested and is still facing charges of criminal trespassing and engaging in a riot. These two Class B misdemeanors could result in jail time and fines. She has a trial set June 2018 but is fighting for charges to be dropped, as the charges against other journalists have been.
Her lawyer believes it to be a result of negative feelings towards independent journalists, women and indigenous persons.
“That’s what we’re dealing with, that’s what you’re going to deal with,” she said. “It’s an uneven America right now and our job is to understand that and be in the thick of that, and almost be immune.”
Monet also discusses the ways she handles sources while covering such tense topics. She advised journalists to first meet with subjects, not in interview settings, but just as people —go get coffee with a source, establish yourself as a person looking to tell their story, not as someone looking to exploit them.
She even described a rancher she talked to near Standing Rock who “was bigoted he had a really vicious dog; he was threatening, he was throwing derogatory terms my way . . . really off-color remarks.” But she talked to him for four hours, and despite the combative nature of the conversation, he turned into a great source. She never directly quoted him but used him to gather background information.
While the protests were unsuccessful and the pipeline was built, Monet said it “galvanized an indigenous-led movement that was unseen in our lifetime. Hundreds of tribes came to stand in solidarity with Standing Rock.”
Monet continues to cover issues indigenous people face after Standing Rock with her podcast “Still Here.”
Kevin Bass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @NevadaSagebrush.