North Dakota Access Pipeline protesters target Wells Fargo & Co. in downtown Billings

December 2, 2016 GMT

More than 50 people gathered in downtown Billings on Thursday afternoon to protest the North Dakota Access Pipeline and march through the downtown Wells Fargo & Co. bank building in an attempt to pressure the banking company to withdraw funding from the project.

Before the protest, participants circled on the Yellowstone County Courthouse Lawn for a sacred pipe blessing, smudging ceremony and prayer led by Ben Cloud, a Crow Agency resident who attended with several family members.

“The prayers we did, the prayers I was doing, was giving strength for everyone,” Cloud said afterward. “Everyone here and everyone at Standing Rock.”

“It’s unforgivable what they’ve done to our people up there. It’s sad,” he said.

One relative of Cloud’s, Don Medicine Horse, said he is a registered member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and at one point lived less than 10 miles from the protest camps.

Medicine Horse said he came out on Thursday to support his family both in Billings and at Standing Rock and “to protest the black snake.”

The image of a black snake has for some come to symbolize the proposed pipeline which would transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

According to one protest organizer, Kristen Owenreay, the black snake as a symbol of the pipeline is derived from a Lakota Sioux prophecy of a dangerous black snake which people would one day be forced to confront when it appeared.

An effigy of a black snake was present at the protest and eventually held aloft by several people as protesters walked through the mostly empty Wells Fargo lobby and sang protest songs before exiting onto North 27th Street and continuing to chant, sing and hold signs. One protester, Hank Fuller, said he used to make window displays and made the snake over the course of a few weeks after he was inspired by a visit to a protest camp in North Dakota.

Owenreay said the protest was part of a national call to action from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Wells Fargo was targeted because it is one of several groups financing the pipeline.

Protesters were of a variety of ages and genders. One of the older protesters, 77-year-old Laurel resident Fred LaBeau, said he was there because “we have no respect for the gifts that we have.”

“Water is one of the gifts that belongs to you and me and her and everyone and they’re willing to sell off our water for profit,” LaBeau said, gesturing at the Wells Fargo building across the street.

“It’s just overwhelming to face these gigantic multi-billion dollar corporations, but what I can do is get out here and carry a sign and let them know that I’m not going along with it,” he said.