Forceful convictions:

by Robin Huiras

In the frigid air of the early morning, the wind howls outside. The hazy sunlight offers no warmth. The fire burning close to the tent offers a bit of heat and the first thought of the day is to get dressed as quickly as possible and run to the fire.
This is the situation 21-year-old University student Garrett Daun wakes up to most mornings.
For six months, a group of environmentalists and American Indians have been actively protesting the reroute of Highway 55 through Minnehaha Park.
Daun has been an active part of Earth First!, a movement fighting to preserve the environment, for more than eight months. The group maintains that the land through which the state wants to reroute the highway is sacred to American Indians. Daun has maintained a presence on the encampment despite the threat of physical harm, law enforcement and bitter cold.
Daun decided not to enroll in classes this quarter to concentrate his efforts on the protest. Although he works in the Natural Resources Administration building’s computer lab, he wants to pursue a degree in the creative arts.
In the meantime, he is focused on the present — protecting the environment. And he’s willing to put himself in physical danger to stop the reroute.
“I may do just about anything,” Daun said. “If I see there is an opportunity to take a stand, I take it. I’m not willing to compromise anything as far as the environment goes.”
The Protest
The protest of the reroute of Hiawatha Avenue began Aug. 10. More than 10,000 community members have signed petitions to stop the road and about 35 people remain actively protesting the reroute, which is part of the first phase of the development of a light rail transit system in Minneapolis.
Initially the protestors set up an encampment which occupied seven vacant homes and the surrounding area in south Minneapolis near Minnehaha Park. However, a police raid on Dec. 20 resulting in 36 arrests and the demolition of the vacant homes forced the protesters to resettle.
Bob Greenberg, an Earth Firster! said Daun was one of the first people to go back after the raid.
“I thought if we didn’t start a new camp right away people would leave,” Daun said.
The people, including Daun, didn’t leave. They spent Christmas Eve chained to trees and sleeping in small blue tents. They camped when the wind chill dropped far below zero. They stayed when snow fell day after day, burying the tents. Despite the destruction of their camp, Daun and the other protesters assert they will hold their ground and refuse to give up.
The new encampment is built on land owned by the Federal Bureau of Mines. It is nestled next to four gigantic oak trees, the same trees which are to the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe the birthplace of the world and the four colors of the wind.
These trees and the land, according to the tribe, have been occupied by their ancestors for hundreds of years, long before European settlers forced them out of the area. Activists say the land contains artifacts from ancients and the trees were used as death scaffolds — a place to suspend the dead in preparation for burial.
The city has said the claims of the tribe are not valid and that the land does not warrant the value activists place upon it. Trees similar to the four sacred oaks have been tested by geologists and proven too young to have served as scaffolds.
“To date there has not been any substantiated evidence that that area has value,” said Bob McFarland, public affairs director for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
But community members disagree wholeheartedly to the response of the city.
“Their claims are valid. If someone feels something is sacred, how much justification do you need?” Daun said.
McFarland said the city wants to continue its efforts in testing the ground to prove or disprove the validity of the tribe’s claims, but the group of protesters is blocking the process. A temporary restraining order is currently being reviewed by a state judge. If approved, the order would keep city officials off the land as well as prevent city archeologists from studying the trees and the ground.

Protecting the environment constantly weighs heavily on Daun’s mind. The destruction of everything — land, trees or natural springs — motivates him to stay and fight for preserving the wilderness.
After having spent most of his childhood in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, his family moved to Princeton, Minn. when he was in ninth grade. Living about an hour and a half from the Twin Cities, he first began to realize the innate beauty of the wild during his high school years.
“I wanted to live in the wilderness and realized there weren’t many places left,” Daun said.
Preserving what is left drives the environmentalist, whether it be four oak trees in Minneapolis or entire forests in northern Minnesota. He feels that humankind is the source of the many problems facing not only Minneapolis, but the world.
“It’s like self-defense. The wilderness is a part of you,” Daun said. “When you see someone cutting down a tree it’s like they are cutting out a part of you.”
Education is the key in alerting people to the fact that by destroying the environment they are destroying themselves, he said. People need to have respect for life in a broader sense — by not putting humanity above other forms of life.
“We have to acknowledge that we are all part of the problem,” he said.
Daun has accepted his role in the problem, but tries every day to fight for what he and the population in general have created.
“I think my clients fall into the category of people who can see into the future,” said David Shamla, Daun’s attorney. “Particularly with the betterment of the environment and calling social attention to items that are terribly important.”
Although Daun has held these views for as long as he can remember, his first major conduit of expression was through the Big Woods Earth First! Rendezvous in May. It was here he learned of all of the things that could be done to stop environmental destruction, including nonviolent protest.
People who know Daun say his assertions and opinions have not changed, but he has grown stronger as an individual.
“One of the things I’ve always told my kids is not to say you believe in something unless you’re willing to stand up for it. That was how Garrett was raised,” said Marge Fletcher, Daun’s mother.
This sentiment carries through Daun and his interactions with friends. His beliefs are strong and he is not willing to compromise.
“I think his convictions were always there,” said Bill Busse, an Earth Firster! and former state director of Greenpeace. “I’ve seen Garrett grow in many ways — he’s opened himself a lot more to others in thought.”
Danger seems not to be a consideration to Daun. His personal convictions outweigh the threat of physical harm.
He accepted being arrested for chaining himself to a backhoe Sept. 16. Charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a lawful order, at the arraignment he pleaded not guilty to the charges. Daun is awaiting a motions hearing and can expect a court date in mid-February, said Shamla.
Daun said he is not nervous about the charges and is willing to defend the land at any cost.
“When you get into it, you accept that (death) might come up. It might happen anytime — I’m willing to accept that.”