Eleven days ago, when Matt Musselwhite pulled into an encampment at Cannon Ball, North Dakota, in a 5-ton flatbed truck, he had no idea how he would unload the three tiny houses he had just hauled 1,500 miles from southwestern Oregon. Almost immediately volunteers emerged from the throngs of mostly Native Americans. Within hours, teams of 10 people were starting to assemble the first of the 144-square-foot wood structures while circulating free food and coffee.
“This feels like a new America I want to be a part of,” said Musselwhite, 41, a carpenter and woodworker based in a rural community tucked into the mountains that cross the Oregon-California border.
These houses are part of a project that began in the Yale Creek watershed southwest of Medford, Oregon. Early in October, as the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and supporters intensified their opposition to construction of the Dakota Access pipeline across Indian treaty lands and the Missouri River, Musselwhite and his neighbors wondered what they could do to help from so far across the country.
Winter was on its way. The Standing Rock community’s tents and summer tipis would not work in 20-below weather. A call went out from the Red Warrior Women’s Media Collective for donations of winter housing, something the rural Oregon forest community knew it could provide.
The Oregon project named itself Shelter for the Storm and began with five large trees on private lands. All were dead or dying—perfect for milling into lumber for houses. Using the trees landowners donated and a barn vacated for the construction, several volunteers built three modular homes in three short weeks.
Rodger Parrott, owner of a metal-roofing company in nearby Merlin, donated the roofs and enough screws to reassemble the structures once they arrived at the Standing Rock camps. “I’m just grateful to see people that are willing to step up. Someone has to stand up for the planet,” Parrott said.