Standing Rock: A Warm Welcome
When I heard the Governor of North Dakota was going to forcefully evict water protectors from reservation land on December 5th, I knew where I needed to be: Standing Rock. I’m in the process of moving from San Francisco to Hawai’i, have a bunch of cold weather gear I no longer need, and know just the people to donate to – our water protectors.
There are, of course, other reasons. As an environmentalist, and civic minded individual, this seems like a grave issue. We all agree, we’ve wronged the Native Americans in the past. Now, a Texas-based natural gas operator by the name of Energy Transfer Partners, is about to, bulldoze over their sacred burial grounds, and endanger drinking water as well wildlife up and down the Missouri. Our own government’s response, feeble at best. Why isn’t mainstream media covering this issue? Why isn’t there more social media coverage, live from Standing Rock? If the issue is more involved, please educate me.
If we don’t stand up for the oppressed, that is the snowball, that leads to everyone else’s oppression.
My news sources on this matter have been limited to the occasional re-share and re-tweet, a handful of activist groups, and The Young Turks (kudos to them on their coverage.) On the heels of the recent US election, and its surprise outcome, this seems like the second time in a handful of months our media is failing us. I wanted to, I needed to, learn more.
Now that I’m at Standing Rock, let me start off with the easy ones – it’s cold here, really cold. Electronics refuse to work. Temperatures dropped to -5ºF last night, and with the wind, gusts up to 50mph, feels more like -30ºF. With a snow storm now upon us, I guess that makes it a blizzard. I want to say, this all pertains to outdoor conditions – indoors we’re cozy and warm – except when you’re camping, very little distinction. Exposed skin immediately turns frost byte. iPhones, Macs, portable Satellite Internet units, all spontaneously shut off, their own form of protest.
I did promise myself I would share my experiences here on the ground, and so, bring these gizmos back to life, I must. With a combination of sleeping bags, hand warmers, propane heaters, and a U-Haul, on the eve of Day 3, I seem to have a working, connected setup.
The welcome here at Standing Rock has been incredibly warm. In my mind, as I tried to mentally ready myself for this trip, I likened this to burning man -camping in extreme conditions, for an especially good cause. What I’ve found on the ground, so much more.
A morning walk around camp, reveals the true diversity. From the 300+ Native American tribes – the largest assembly ever recorded – to pastors, to Prius owners, to the LGBT and Transgender community, to Alternative Energy supporters. All people are represented, and welcome here.
The very first person I meet, coincidentally from Maui. I comment on her hat, asked for a photo op in front of Big Dome. She graciously obliges, adding she herself is a photograpgher. Only afterwards does she tell me she’s just been released from the hospital – pneumonia – and is now looking for a ride to Minneapolis to fly home. Noted, don’t get sick out here.
The second person, simply hollers at me “Hey, want to help the veterans move?” A little puzzled, I point out, I haven’t even been to mandatory orientation yet – that’s at 9am, and apparently with this cold, all I can do is sleep. Apparently, that’s no matter. Next I know, I‘m in the march, welcoming our veterans, the veterans marching in solidarity for our cause. This was a veterans, media-only event, and apparently I was security. Security from what? The march was along Black Water Bridge, where weeks prior, a Native American lady had her left arm blown off by a concussion grenade. The vets had come prepared for tear gas and sonic cannons.
The march is peaceful, full of solemnity and prayer. Media, including a number of representatives from the National Lawyers Guild, are here as observers. I meet the most wonderful, and diverse people. A vet from Kansas with his dog Guardian in case anybody needed protecting, a hippie handing out #NODAPL signs she had screen printer herself, a family of Indigenous people from Minnesota, in ceremonial attire, burning Copal and blessing everybody. Between our peaceful march, the observers presence, and poor weather conditions, sentiment on the ground is that we lucked out – opposition is a no show. We chant “water is life”.
By the time march is over, wind has picked up, and I realize, I need to secure my tent. Sure enough, now up against my U-Haul, it’s time for a second attempt at camp – this one, a more windproof version. All of a sudden, the fact that all cars in Bismarck are rented, and the smallest truck I can find is a 15’ U-Haul, seems rather fortuitous. My new setup features a roll away bed, and standing desk.
That first day closes around Standing Rock’s center camp, huddled around the Sacred Fire, listening to the Elders share wisdom. With over 300 Nations gathered here, this is the largest assembly of Native Americans ever recorded. Many have been deeply moved - this has been an opportunity to reconnect with a life past. Most touching, their hospitality transcends skin color, ethnicity, or sex.
One elder, the most spirited of them all, is soliciting stories from the audience. A reporter from Beijing steps up, and volunteered hers. She’s come to cover Standing Rock, from a specific slant, and having been here, on the ground, she’s likely giving that story up, she half laughs. She’s been moved by the geniuses and truthfulness of the people she’s found here, and hopes to incorporate that truthfulness in all her work going forward - “we are all warriors, and that is the Lakota Way” volunteers the elder.
He then launched into an oration about freedom - freedom of religion, freedom of government, the indigenous people of China, how brave they are, with how little they survived. The rights of ladies, how powerful and revered they are in indigenous cultures. Traditional mating ceremonies where pre-marital sex isn’t taboo, and promiscuity doesn’t exist – ladies have final say on their partner. “If you don’t want to go back, you simply stay with us. We’ll adopt you.” Pointing to another elder, around the fire, “All you have to do is call him Uncle, and he will treat you like family. Same with me. Here, we are all family.”
Physically exhausted, yet spiritually invigorated, I meander through the blustery cold night, back to my camp - no shortage of warm, fuzzy thoughts, to sleep on.
If you’re against big oil, in favor of sustainable energy sources, support our water protectors. Sign the petition at http://lakotalaw.org.