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Asheville restaurateur cooks for pipeline protesters

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) – Restaurant owners sometimes famously pin themselves to pet causes.

There was the wading into gay-marriage issues by Chick-Fil-A chief operating officer Dan T. Cathy. And owners of McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts restaurants lobbied to tweak Affordable Care Act rules to increase the hours employees should work to be eligible for health care.

But in left-leaning Asheville, causes tend to take a liberal slant.

For example, Rosetta Buan, owner of Rosetta’s Kitchen, an Asheville fixture for more than 14 years, has made repeat trips to North Dakota to help feed people opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The pipeline is a $ 3.7 billion Energy Transfer Partners project to transport nearly 500,000 barrels of oil a day in a 1,000-mile journey from North Dakota to refining markets. Plans are to build it close to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. Critics say it could pollute the reservation’s water supply and other areas along its path.

The Sioux are among a number of Native American tribes who have appointed themselves environmental protectors, conducting demonstrations in numbers that have swelled into the thousands and become increasingly heated as police presence increases.

In Asheville, Buan watched on social media as a woman tried to cook food for demonstrators over a fire, and heard of hours-long waits for bowls of soup at the Oceti Sakowin Kitchen in the main camp.

So on Sept. 14, with some crew and family members, Buan pointed a blue Sprinter van and bus into the sunset and drove for two nights, arriving near the Standing Rock reservation before dawn on the 16th.

Through friends involved in disaster relief, she’d secured a 12-burner restaurant stove, a 30-inch griddle, a 40-gallon tilt kettle, stainless steel tables and a couple of tents, which she used to help organized the camp kitchen.

Buan doesn’t want to be seen as a savior of any sort. “Using business as a tool to create positive change has always been a part of what we do, so it’s nothing new for us,” she said.

It’s nothing new for other restaurant owners in town, who have leveraged their spotlight in a food-focused town to support what they believe is a worthy cause.

Some have spoken out against North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which requires people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates, rather than gender identity.

As a representative and voice of Asheville Independent Restaurants, Elizabeth Button, who owns Cúrate and Nightbell with her husband, daughter and son-in-law, filed a May editorial speaking out against the contentious bit of legislation, often called the “bathroom bill”.

Button and other local business owners say the bill has cost them business as tourists have avoided the state out of protest.

“Our message to Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. legislature is a simple one,” Button wrote. “If your goal was to hurt small businesses and diminish job growth in deeply profound ways, then congratulations. You have succeeded.”

It’s a hard line for Button to take, particularly since she’s shied away from controversial topics in the past, declining to be interviewed for a 2014 Citizen-Times article about House Bill 937, which expanded gun rights to allow open carry in establishments serving alcohol unless posted otherwise.

Today, her response might be different. “I feel more comfortable in my community,” she said. “Also there’s a little security in that we are an established business, with a company culture that’s inclusive and caring.”

But she noted responses to her HB2 stance have been overwhelmingly positive, a notion echoed by Rick Corcoran, who owns Little Bee Thai with his wife. Near the bathroom doors at the restaurant are gender-neutral signs, with one hand-drawn sign that says, simply, “whichever.”

“They love them, especially in this town,” said Corcoran. “People say, I like your signs and thank you for supporting the cause. That’s all I’ve heard.”

But issues like HB2 and gun laws can be volatile ones.

On the weekend Donald Trump appeared at the U.S. Cellular Center, one customer left Nightbell angrily after noting a posted sign disallowing handguns in the restaurant, Button said. Employees told Button the man got into an altercation with someone on the street, and brandished his weapon before running off.

Buan’s own son, Luka Rzany, now 18, was arrested Oct. 22 during pipeline demonstrations and charged with criminal trespass and rioting.

Rzany had joined a group that walked onto federal land, singing, drumming and praying for another group that had been arrested. Police in riot gear attempted to quell the crowd with pepper spray and rubber bullets, said Buan. Rzany, along with 126 others in the group, was arrested, she said.

Though those events have gone viral on social media in sometimes shaky videos, the events are largely absent on the evening news, Buan said. And what the major media outlets are missing is important, she noted.

“We have the National Guard deployed against Native Americans on their own treaty land,” she said. “And shooting people kneeling in prayer with rubber bullets, and our population doesn’t know.”

But Buan wants to spread the word. On Sunday, she loaded up her van with more food and restaurant equipment destined for Oceti Sakowin Kitchen, which she called the “cultural heart of the movement.”

And the movement itself, she hoped, would be viewed through the lens of history as a turning point in relations between indigenous peoples, the U.S. government and the descendants of newcomers to North America. It’s important for Buan to be on the right side of history, she said.

But she asserted repeatedly that, though this is a cause she’s happy to fight for, it’s not her own.

Though she’s been met with gratitude for her shipments of food and her help in a kitchen pressed to feed too many with too few hands, she knows some Native Americans have chafed at the way newcomers have taken up the cause as purely environmental.

“This is a native fight, and something they’ve never stopped fighting for 500 years, but they’re grateful for the support and backup,” Buan said. “They will also tell us when it’s no longer needed.”

Native traditions, she added, have much to teach us about taking up causes with dignity.

“Our whole macroculture has to switch from competition and exploitation to collaboration and regeneration,” she said. “And the native people are leading the way for us there. I’m happy to get in line behind them and follow as they lead. It’s an honor.”


Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, http://www.citizen-times.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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