Something changed for Jerry Thex when he saw a Sept. 3 video of Dakota Access Pipeline security using dogs to drive protesters off private land.
He got frustrated.
Another video on Nov. 2 showed police in riot gear firing rubber bullets and pepper spray at protesters, who were approaching the shoreline during a water demonstration in Cantapeta Creek north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
“I couldn’t even finish the videos the other day,” said Thex, a Northern Cheyenne tribal member.
He left for Standing Rock in September and again in October, each time bringing a flatbed trailer stacked with logs. He pays for the trips himself, putting a little money away when he can.
Thex works as an administrator at the Heritage Living Center in Ashland. He’s also on the board of commissioners for the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Housing Authority and volunteers for the Ashland Fire Department.
“The more I watched (the videos), the more I felt like something reached out, grabbed me and pulled me over to North Dakota,” Thex said.
Thex, who was in the U.S. Army Reserve for eight years, wondered if any of the officers at Standing Rock had been in the military. He said he felt ashamed of how police were treating civilians while people in the military like him put their lives on the line for those same civilians.
After his military service, Thex got a job as an ironworker, then a roustabout for the Tongue River Lumber Co., and finally a utility worker at the Colstrip power plant. He understands the police and pipeline laborers have a job to do to support themselves and their families.
“You don't have to stay and work there, either, if you have that kind of skill,” Thex said. “You could work somewhere else.”
On Nov. 4, Thex made the trip to Standing Rock again, bringing winter jackets, cases of water, canned goods, drawstring bags full of toiletries and more logs for the camps’ round-the-clock kitchens.
Wood use has become a top priority for protesters planning to camp into next year. Frosty mornings at Oceti Sakowin Camp, the largest of the five camps, prove North Dakota’s winter is just around the corner. Tribal elders have begun to tell campers to share fire space and save more wood for when snow covers the ground.
The last two times Thex brought logs to camp, they were immediately unloaded, chopped and distributed to different areas of camp.
Each trip takes more than six hours of driving on a two-lane stretch of highway into rural North Dakota. Thex spends a lot of that time thinking.
“I get kind of emotional when I think about it,” Thex said.
The situation in Standing Rock mirrors the “same old story” dating back to the 1800s when tribes were still fighting for their land, he said.
However, in his lifetime he has never seen a gathering of tribes like this before.
In September, Thex took his 11-year-old son, Jerry, to Standing Rock.
“I said, ‘Son, you may never ever see something like this again where all these tribes come together like this,’” Thex said.
Hundreds of flags representing different tribes trace the borders of the camp and go down the main road. Thex has met people from Alaska to New York and even one woman from Kenya.
“I think Native Americans are fed up now,” Thex said. “They are tired of being pushed around, tired of not being heard, and this is going to be their story.”
Thex said he is a part of that story by being behind the scenes and helping.
Although Thex wants to go to the front line to protest, he said he has too much at stake back home. He's a father of six.
His way of standing with Standing Rock is to bring the logs and let people know he is there for them. Every time he pulls his truck out of camp and returns to Montana he feels guilty. His desire to help is more intense after every visit.
“This is definitely not my last trip this year,” Thex said.