Environmentalist from Letchworth who worked in Hitchin and Stevenage stands tall at Standing Rock

Kevin Gilbert

Kevin Gilbert - Credit: Archant

On the ice-covered banks of the freezing Cannonball River in North Dakota, deep in the heart of the American midwest, environmental campaigners from all walks of life – including a man from North Herts – are cautiously celebrating what they see as an important victory against the corporate world.

Vanessa known as Sioux Z may lose sight in her eye after Dakota police fired projecticles at Standin

Vanessa known as Sioux Z may lose sight in her eye after Dakota police fired projecticles at Standing Rock - Credit: Archant

A permit to drill under the nearby Missouri River, the longest in the US, to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline has been denied this week – handing a major victory to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their thousands of loyal supporters after a long and painful campaign against the proposed plans.

Among the campaigners has been Kevin Gilbert, who, along with many other like-minded people, has supported more than 300 Native American tribes who united against fears the pipeline would contaminate their water source and destroy sacred sites.

Kevin – who went to school in Letchworth and later worked as a salesman in Hitchin and Stevenage – was one of thousands who made their home in a sprawling encampment on the banks of the Missouri. He has been protesting peacefully and raising awareness – until he shot to fame earlier this month.

The 38-year-old, who calls himself a water protector, filmed the local police firing tear gas into peaceful demonstrators. His footage was then shared on various social media platforms, and uploaded by coast-to-coast news organisations.

Campaigner Kevin Gilbert at Standing Rock, where he has been opposing plans for a Dakota Access Pipe

Campaigner Kevin Gilbert at Standing Rock, where he has been opposing plans for a Dakota Access Pipeline. - Credit: Archant

Even former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders retweeted in support, leading to the former Fearnhill School pupil’s video being viewed more than 4.5 million times in the last few weeks.

Passionate Kevin, speaking to the Comet from his tent in sub-zero temperatures in North Dakota, said: “The violence I saw was from the militarised North Dakota police. I saw the police use multiple rounds of tear gas into where a large number of people were unable to disperse.

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“More than 12 people sought hospital treatment from being hit by projectiles. One brave water protestor may lose sight in her eye.

“I just filmed the truth of what was going on and it went from there. I’m just an individual with no training or financial backing who, along with many others, is just trying to make a difference.”

Kevin says indigenous land is being stolen by authorities, but the native Sioux have come together with other tribes in the largest show of unity by Native Americans in a century to try and protect mother earth.

He said: “The pipeline had been slated to go through Bismarck, a predominantly ‘white’ town, before it was turned down and re-routed through Standing Rock where the Sioux tribe reside.

“There is a sense of community here, with everyone working together. It’s a microcosm of how planet Earth should be.

“The response has been incredible. My life has been changed.”

However, Kevin – who says he is on a spiritual journey after he was bullied and fell into drugs when he was younger, before he found a path that led him to Standing Rock – is also a realist.

With the companies behind the pipeline having the full backing of the incoming Donald Trump administration, he added a note of caution, saying: “People have reached out from all over the world, but essentially nothing has changed.

“I’m going to be here as long as it takes and continue to use the platform I’ve got to help raise awareness and spread the truth of what is happening here.

“But this isn’t about me, it’s about protecting our planet.”

To find out more visit facebook.com/letyoursoulplay, and follow Kevin on Twitter @MrHappyChap.

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