Robert, what is it with you and this pipeline in the U.S.?

More and more people ask me why I care so much about this pipeline in America. The events around the Dakota Access Pipeline don’t seem to concern us. We can think of more serious causes to support than an Indian revolt against a pipeline in one of the richest countries on earth, right? Isn’t it a luxury thing? The answer is no. The construction of the pipeline concerns all of us, I think. Because it’s about the power of Big Oil, Big Corporate and Big Banks over the common people. The same way royals and clergymen dominated us in the Middle Ages, we are now being dominated by these big three. Finally a group of people dares to stand up against these forces. One of the most spiritual people on earth is making a peaceful fist and says NO. Why? Because they have nothing to lose anymore. They have been supressed by these three forces, the American government in disguise, for 500 years.

Just like most Dutch people I wasn’t aware of it. I assumed the Native American people were doing fine. In an online video I saw that President Obama sympathised with them. He’s taking care of them, I thought. I couldn’t be further from the truth. In September 2016, when Obama was still president, I saw the dreadful images of the Sioux Indians for the first time. They were being attacked by militarised police using tear gas, rubber bullets, dogs and water cannons.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline to transport crude oil from Canada to Illinois. Originally, it would be constructed along the city of Bismarck (predominantly white inhabitants). The inhabitants protested, after which it was decided to place the pipeline onto the Standing Rock reservation, one of the six Sioux reservations.

The pipeline crosses holy ground and runs underneath the Missouri river. 18 million people are dependent on water from the Missouri river. An oil spill would be a disaster. This is why the Sioux decided to protect their water by peacefully gathering at the construction site. They sang, they danced and they held ceremonies.

The government reacted with brute violence. Millions of dollars were made available to help the police, National Guard and private security companies to drive the Sioux away. As a response over a hundred tribes from all over America joined the Sioux. Next to this, activists, military veterans and other concerned civilians from all over the world came to Standing Rock and joined the Sioux. They called themselves Water Protectors, rather than protestors, because they were protecting their land and their water. The government, in turn, responded with more severe violence. Armed Humvees and other vehicles were used to stop the movement.

Big interests were at stake. Many people, including the governor of North Dakota and Donald Trump, had invested in the pipeline. Furthermore, 17 big banks had helped fund the pipeline. The Dutch banks ING and ABN AMRO were among those 17 banks. Interests needed to be protected. If need be, with brute violence.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the images. Was this really happening? One of most spiritual people in the world were being supressed by the country that called itself the king of democracy. A comparable situation to the Tibetans in China and the Palestinians in Israel. I cried that night. I had to do something! But what? What can Robert from Zwolle, the Netherlands do against the powerful American government and international banks?

In the past nine years I have experienced a period of personal development. I have met many shamans and other native North American teachers. I knew they had been through a difficult past. Despite the image in the West, it was a horrible war between the Americans and the natives in the past 500 years. Entire villages were slaughtered. Through manipulation, violence and alcohol, they were forced to sign several treaties. Eventually they were put into reservations that were only a fraction of their original living space. I knew all of this. However, it was new to me that they we still being suppressed. This time it was because of a pipeline through their holy ground and water supply.

At the Bridgeman Academy I teach coaches and trainers to follow their heart. Passion is the soul’s GPS. If you follow your passion then you’re the right thing. I felt passion burning inside of me and I decided that every little helps. Even if I’d be a drop in the ocean, at least I would have done everything in my power. But what could I do? After giving it a lot of thought, I came to the following actions:

  1. Making a film to show the world what was going on
  2. Pressuring the Dutch banks to withdraw from the project

At the time I was busy shooting for the documentary ‘Meat!’, to be released in February 2018. My friend and co-filmmaker, cameraman Lex Olthof and I had already been working on that documentary for two years. I texted Lex and asked him if he wanted to join me to go and film at Standing Rock. “Of course”, was Lex’s reply. He is a man of few words. More people joined our team. Rianne Reijnhout committed herself to marketing. Ingeborg Tuinman played her part in PR. Petricia Siepman helped us with translations and Danny Dekker designed the logo and website John Akerman Ozguc, a Dutchman in Canada, offered to compose the music for the film.

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You can find the campaign here.

Through several connections we received the money to be able to pay for airline tickets and hotel costs. After a month of preparing and making contact with the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the Sioux base near the drilling site, we were ready to go. The flight was an adventure in itself. Stories of journalists and filmmakers who were sent back had reached us. The customs officers in America raised their eyebrows at our plan to go to a protest, as they called it. We brought small cameras, so that we would not be seen as film crew. Eventually we reached Standing Rock.

And there we were, two Dutch boys in the middle of the largest prayer camp in the world. Luckily, in the weeks before, we were contacted with several camp residents (thanks to Karin and Brigitta). In the week before our arrival there had been over 12.000 Water Protectors. Because of the death of my grandmother, we were there a week later. We found a half empty camp with about 2000 inhabitants. We had to use the first day looking for someone to give us permission to film at the camp. Integrity before everything else. From that moment on, things went well. We interviewed Siouw, Water Protectors, Headsmen (Chiefs) and activists. The story took form. However, we only had three days in which a lot needed to be done. We couldn’t stay any longer than that. Luckily, we gather a lot of useful interviews and images.

We were invited for the annual Bigfoot ride, this was a very special moment. Each year a group of Sioux rides from the place where Chief Sitting Bull died to Wounded Knee. In 1890 a bloodbath took place at Wounded Knee, when the 7th US Cavalry slaughtered 150 unarmed men, women, children and elders. One of the Sioux tragedies. On the picture above you can see Lex (bottom right) with the horses in the background.

When we were back at home we had our work cut out for us. We have been assembling for four months now and we are almost finished. We’ve put many hours of work into this project, but we did it. A film on 500 years of oppression of the Native Americans by the government of the USA. The film shows that the situation at Standing Rock is actually the next step in the genocide of the Native Americans. ‘Genocide, aren’t you taking that a bit too serious?’, you might think. I disagree. The American government has done everything to wipe out the First Nations. They were slaughtered and until recently mercenaries were payed to kill Indians. Over ten thousand children were taken away from their parents to be brain washed in white schools. They learned that their way of living was inferior to that of the white man.

Through the images and interviews, we share a disturbing story. In the film you will see how the holy burial sites are being destroyed by bulldozers, how elders are being arrested and how the police use tear gas, dogs and bullets on the peaceful Water Protectors. You will also see the power of the prayers and ceremonies. You will learn to know the role of women, of the grandmothers. You will be inspired by the connection that the natives still have with mother earth, nature and spirit.

By the way, you don’t want to know how much work it costs to make a documentary. Editing takes a lot of time. As a filmmaker you have to take in account the sound, the musical composition, the rights of the images you’re using. Finding a film festival to house your première and using several marketing and PR tools to get to the people. You have to consider several parties and people who have played a role in the project. From the beginning of the film to the closing credits, everything has to be perfect. An incredibly intensive process, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. A privilege I am grateful for. And proud. ‘More than a pipeline’ will première on May 7th at the Standing Rock Nation Film Festival in North Dakota. Another thing to be grateful for and proud of. Here’s the link to the festival:

Our second goal was to motivate ABN AMRO and ING Bank to withdraw from the project. The more banks would withdraw, the bigger the message would be to the American government that this is unacceptable. ABN AMRO was ready to receive me at their main office. In an hour long conversation I told them everything I knew about the situation and about what I had seen at Standing Rock. Nog long after they withdrew from the project. I hadn’t been the only to pressure them. Many accountholders had switched to more sustainable banks. Greenpeace the Netherlands, Banktrack and ‘Eerlijke bankwijzer’ had drawn a bead on the bank. And the Dutch Carmen Mahadew, who had spent two weeks in Oceti Sakowin, passionately fought against the bank.

We needed a different strategy for ING. Accountholders, Greenpeace, Banktrack, ‘Eerlijke bankwijzer’ and Carmen had already started talking with the bank. I decided to write an open letter to Ralf Hamers. ING’s CEO. The letter on our Facebook page was read 80.000 times. Not long after ING spoke with several members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The bank decided to withdraw. I don’t deserve credits for this. The big NGOs I mentioned, they deserve them. Every little helps and we were only a small part of this. After the withdrawal of ABN and ING, the Norwegian bank DNB and the Belgian BNP Paribas followed. A clear European message to the American government.

The essence of this story is that we can do so much more than we think. We often think that we cannot exercise influence as an individual of as a small group. I hope that our story inspires you. If you really go for it, you can make a difference. If you follow your heart, you will be taken care of. Let’s unite and stand up every time we see injustice, every time when we see suppression and abuse, wherever in the world it may be. Every little helps. And many drops in the ocean will make the ocean bigger. Our film will be released on May 7th at the Standing Rock Nation Film Festival. An incredible honour. After May 7th we will release the film online on our website

Because our objective is to reach as many people as possible and to create as much awareness to the story of the Sioux and the other Indian tribes, we will not ask you to pay to be able to watch the film. This means that we would like to meet our expenses for editing, sound editing, musical composition, subtitles, marketing and other with a crowdfunding effort (of course we hope you are willing to help as well). Here is the link to our crowdfunding platform.

I don’t know what happens next. I hope the film will be shown in schools all around the world so that children don’t have to learn about the dream stories about cowboys and Indians like I used to. But that we will realise that an immense tragedy has taken place and still takes place today. A peaceful people who greatly value generosity, humility, and compassion is supressed by fear and power. This has nog only been the fate of the Native Americans. Governments all over the world, from Brazil to China, disgracefully deal with their original inhabitants. Their forests are being cut, their land is taken away and they are abused and supressed. This has to stop.

The original inhabitants of the earth show us the way. They do not take more than what give. They honour Mother Earth and they teach us to live a pure and simple life. Our Western way of life has created huge threats to our planet. Deforestation, climate problems, polluted air and oceans filled with plastic are signs of the destruction of our home planet. This will eventually lead to the end of humanity. Do we allow this to happen? Or do we stop suppressing our original inhabitants and do we follow in their footsteps of a new awareness of wisdom, compassion and love?

Lex and I need your help. We want to distribute ‘More than a pipeline’ for free to share the story of the Native Americans with as many people as possible. We want to share their story of the injustice that has been done to them and how they stand up against the powers of oil, banks and multinationals for all of us.

Would you like to support our Crowdfunding effort by placing a donation?

You can find the campaign here.

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I would like to thank everyone who has helped is! The support we have received, on as well as off Facebook, is heart-warming.

Robert Bridgeman

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