Many people in Bismarck, N.D., have taken sides in the Dakota Access pipeline controversy, and that divide was exposed by an explosive confrontation in an Olive Garden restaurant there one recent evening.

Three Native American “water protectors,” three Caucasian supporters and a journalist had debated among themselves whether to enter the restaurant—“a white establishment,” as it was characterized by a member of the group. A Native American named Olive, who went to North Dakota from West Virginia last April to join the NoDAPL movement, said “it would not be safe for indigenous,” but after Dawn, a Native American from Bismarck, argued that it would be OK, the group entered and sat to order dinner. (The Native Americans have asked that their full names not be used.)

Soon, a tall, heavyset man approached and shouted, “Are you protesters?” Those at the table tried to ignore him. He yelled, “Are you protesters?” a few more times. Dawn asked, “Can we help you?”

The man’s fury grew. He threw up his arms and shouted, “People of Bismarck, Mandan, North Dakota,” as if to make sure he had everyone’s attention before addressing the table again: “What are you doing in this town? What the hell are you doing in this restaurant?”

Dawn replied that she had a right to be there. When a white activist in the group, Heidi, took out her smartphone to record the man, he violently batted the camera away, hitting Olive on the head. Quickly, someone at the table shouted for security, and the man, after resisting, was escorted out.

The Native Americans told the journalist that many white locals feel hostility not only toward indigenous people but also toward anyone who has come to the area to be in solidarity with the movement at Standing Rock. Tension is palpable in almost every local business. Rarely do confrontations of this kind take place, the Native Americans said, but antagonistic stares and other displays of displeasure are common.

Many of the locals feel that the path to economic prosperity is through the oil industry and resent the indigenous people. “I don’t feel like they respect anything they are given,” said a masseuse. “I don’t feel like they have an agenda. I just feel like they are out there to cause problems.”

Other North Dakotans made harsher, unprintable comments about the water protectors and their supporters.

Of course, not all locals are hostile. After the Olive Garden incident, the restaurant manager and waitress apologized profusely to the group and expressed sympathy for the NoDAPL cause.

A mother sitting with her family at an adjoining table gave Dawn a $100 bill and told her that she was courageous and an example for all the children in the restaurant. “Not everyone in town is against you guys. You must feel alone right now. We want you to know that we are here for you and want to pay for your meal. … We are all God’s children, and all have a right to have our own beliefs.”

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