LA Times: Wounded on the front line at Standing Rock, a protester refuses to give up her fight

by Sandy Tolan for Los Angeles Times


On the night Vanessa Dundon was shot in the eye, she was on the front lines looking up at a phalanx of police.

It was after sundown on a cold night at the Backwater Bridge at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Dundon, 31, a Navajo and mother of four, had arrived two months earlier to join thousands of others in their battle against the Dakota Access pipeline.

Working security for the pipeline resisters, Dundon trailed a group of men as they approached two burnt-out trucks, abandoned on the bridge during a chaotic day of mass protest and arrests. Now pipeline foes wanted to clear them and open the road for emergency vehicles.

The men moved onto the bridge. Police in riot gear fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets from behind barbed wire. As Dundon took cover, she heard a woman yelling for help. She looked up. A flaming canister was headed her way. It was too late to duck.

“I knew it was going to hit me,” Dundon recalled later. “I just had to embrace it. I figured, it’s coming. Just got to take it.”

Dundon closed her eyes.

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Dundon’s injury is one of the worst in the confrontation between police and those who’ve been gathered here for months to protest an advancing $3.8-billion, 1,172-mile pipeline. Hours after Dundon was injured, 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky, a recent graduate of Williams College, nearly had her left arm blown off by an explosive device.

Dundon faced obstacles at every turn as she sought medical help, but Wilansky was flown to a Minneapolis hospital in the hours after the explosion. And Dundon’s injury received a fraction of the attention given to journalist Erin Schrode, whose Facebook post of her injury from a rubber bullet received nearly 2.5 million views.

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