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Reflections from Standing Rock

This week I went to prep, serve and host a massive gratitude feast for 2000 water protectors on Thanksgiving Day. Standing Rock Sioux leaders named the feast: “Because We Believe Them, We Are Feeding Them.”

BALLE co-founder, Judy Wicks, conceived of the idea, fundraised for food purchases and shuttle buses, and brought a team of us, plus professional chefs. As it turned out, the Standing Rock Community High School principal (pictured in the center below with her sister and Jane Fonda), had had the same idea and we were able to join teams and host at her school. The night of the feast she teared up with gratitude that we had shown up, to back her community in what to her, is a very personal and local fight.

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The whole feast was a blessed experience. I got to see hundreds and hundreds of people file in cold and steely from camp, and leave after having showers in the gymnasium locker rooms, and enjoying a truly tasty, warm meal – smiling, softened, and with left-overs to bring back to camp. Several people sought me out to say that they couldn’t believe we were doing this for them. One young man cried and hugged me because he said he was overwhelmed. Indigenous leaders led a gratitude procession that I’ll never forget, mainly because of how naturally everyone filed into lines to offer their upturned hands and words of thanks.

The rest of the week we were in the camps. Much has already been written, but I found this to be a terrific overview of the situation. As for my personal takeaways, I can say that I was blown away by 1) the courage of native leaders in protecting our water in the face of ongoing violence, 2) how aligned their fight is with my BALLE community’s fight and 3) the depth of awe and humility I felt in the presence of the prayerful, peaceful generosity and inclusion from the native leadership.

Courage in the face of violence

At all times you can see armed police and police cars observing the camps from the ridge and the hills (and under big spotlights from the hills at night), but active “battle” is not constant. The hostility is strong however, and the flare-ups have been unbelievably and unconscionably violent against what is absolutely and specifically a spiritual prayer camp. This article aligned very much with what I saw, and I’ll also add a few of my own personal experiences without hyperbole.

  • I stayed at the casino/hotel, (which if you go, I recommend, or go to camp with total self-sufficiency so as not to use up any camp resources). We dropped off a woman camper right away after leaving the airport. A “guard” at the entrance was coughing mightily from being tear gassed a few nights earlier, and his colleague had stitches and a cast from the “battle” as well. These were both young native men – one from a tribe in Oklahoma, the other a North Dakota local. We brought them both back to our hotel for showers. The lobby was swarming with people from around the world, at least half are indigenous and some 300 nations represented. Many were in camouflage with bandanas and googles around their necks for tear gas protection.
  • Another night I met a 37 year old man, an EMT medic from Texas who is also staying in the camps and was in need of a shower. On Sunday night’s battle he had been in the frontlines washing a man’s eyes out with milk of magnesia when he felt a tear gas canister hit him right in the center of the red medical cross on his chest. He really felt it had been used as a bulls-eye target and he was shocked. He was overwhelmed with pain but stayed trying to help the other man who was then hit with a rubber bullet. He showed us the rubber bullet; it was purple and several inches tall and wide. He had also been drenched with the water cannons and became almost hypothermic so retreated to warm up before coming back to medic duty. He still truly could not believe this had happened to him and to these peaceful praying campers.
  • Another morning I hitched a ride with a native family from the Minneapolis region. The mother in the family told me that just before I got in the car, a Bismarck radio station (the nearby town that is 90% white) had made the announcement to “report any suspicious native American activity” and she was worried about her teenage girls.
  • A white friend in my group who arrived late at night was pulled over and when he told the police where he was going, he was written a ticket for ten miles faster than he was driving.

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While we were there, the Army Corps of Engineers wrote a letter to the tribal leadership saying that the main camp 0f 4000-5000 people – Oceti Sakowin – must be evacuated by December 5th.  Some people, including some tribal leaders had already been considering moving up to Sacred Stone camp this winter because Camp Oceti is in a flood plain and may not be viable in spring. Many of the campers however clearly have no plans to move.

As I walked through camp, temperatures dropped to an absolutely frigid 30 degrees with snow and wind. Knowing it will drop 60 more degrees this winter, everywhere people were digging in and building permanent structures. Plus it has already been widely reported that veterans are coming to back up the water protectors on December 4th. This all feels like an intentional set up for confrontation and I am very worried about what will happen next week. These are strong people, though while prayerful, will not back down. There are many who are willing to give their lives to protect the water and mother earth. We need Obama to step in here.

Though I witnessed the indigenous leaders here actively cultivating their and their allies’ ability to keep love rather than anger in their hearts, they have been and continue to be baited. For instance, we heard how the tribes surveyed the sites near the pipeline to show ETP, the energy company behind the pipeline, exactly where their burial grounds were, and within 24 hours, the drillers went 20 miles off the pipeline’s course to dig up those exact sites.

If this is true, it is inhumane and devastating to me as a fellow human being. I am humbled and horrified by all of this. The pipeline is supposed to make more than 200 river crossings, including the Missouri, the source of drinking water for many people in this country. These pipelines regularly leak, in fact this time-lapsed map shows just how dangerous they are. Native people are defending ALL OF OUR clean water. Their cries include “Defend the sacred”, “Water is life!” Yet somehow we are living in a world where law enforcers are fighting them.

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Standing Rock Community High School gymnasium where the gratitute feast was served to more than 2000 water protectors.

Shared fight with my BALLE community

We heard multiple times from native people that the “enemy” is a love of money over a love of life. That the enemy isn’t individual people – but big banks, and the system. That we need to cultivate a shift in consciousness away from imagining that poisoning water is a sane idea, and toward the recognition of our interdependence and our “one heart”.

This is the same “fight” we are in at BALLE. Act with love, and move your money!

For fifteen years we have been organizing with entrepreneurs locally for relationship-based, community controlled economies. Plus we just partnered in the launches of both Movement Strategy Center’s campaign to Lead with Love, Main Street Alliance’s campaign All are Welcome Here, and we are hosting Connection Circles in 50 communities and 5 countries and growing – all aimed at working together with business leaders to cultivate this shift.

Multiple times I heard the call to action to shift your banking to local credit unions or community banks.  I would add – also make sure the pipeline company, ETP, is not in your mutual fund. Also, move your credit card, that most likely supporting a big bank like Chase or Citi, to this card because it supports a community bank and some percentage even goes to Amazon Watch to support indigenous protection of biodiversity and mother earth.

In addition, native leader Dallas Goldtooth said, “The best part of the work we do is that it’s not what we’re fighting against but what we’re fighting for. We advocate for localized, small-scale renewable energy production. The same with food production, localized and sustainable.” BALLE shares this vision for our future. So we must support the water protectors AND we must support those who are connecting and building local business ownership and local production of the goods and services we need, in our own towns. (This list is a good place to start with gift donations.)

Our money is energy plain and simple, and how we use it determines what we will see in our world.

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A spiritually centered camp of prayers

Above all else, I was humbled to my knees by the love, generosity, and inclusivity coming from the tribal leadership. This is above all else – a camp of prayers. And while it is definitely an indigenous led community, the leadership makes everyone feel wanted and needed. Over and over, I heard appreciation for guests, and an interest in learning what they bring. We were constantly encouraged to be in circle and to note that we were four races, four directions, all nations, and together praying in unity, we would stop the machines. We were told that alone we were pebbles but together we were a rock and we could stand.

When we hosted the feast at the Standing Rock Warriors High School, banners were hung throughout the school reminding young people that a Warrior is one who walks with respect, courage, generosity and wisdom.

  • I saw many teenage boys wearing “Defend the Sacred” sweatshirts.
  • At the camps, women were told to step into leadership, and men were told their role was to protect their feminine leadership.
  • Over and over the elders, the children and the women were called to the front or the center – for honor or protection, and we walked behind elders – at their pace.
  • We were told that women give birth and have the water in us, and that when we oppress women we oppress life.
  • I heard that the hardest work for men was to learn to protect without anger but with love in their hearts. That we needed, all of us, to hold love in our work, the whole time.
  • We were told that the police are our families and to always extend an open heart to them, and be ready to welcome them. I heard people at our feast who wanted to bring the police left-overs but who were debating in consideration of whether they would be safe to do so.
  • We were told that it is now hard to find a native person in the camps who has not already been arrested and jailed in this protection work, and so allies were respectfully invited to surround indigenous bodies with our own on the front lines of potential arrest.
  • We were read the MLK principles of non-violence and reminded that MLK called out that the universe is on the side of justice.
  • Native women sang songs partially in their languages and partially in Spanish to “honor people of the southern imaginary border – and to honor the condor.”
  • I heard songs of “all nations rise” – rising up as warriors of love, answering to the ancestors above. I heard that this time it is not Indians vs cowboys, euro vs native, but now all nations together and that our enemy is fear. That we were fighting to replace our fear with love and that our true warrior weapons today are truth, faith, and compassion.
  • When I drove into camp with white drivers – we were always asked if we had alcohol, drugs, or fire arms – and reminded that these were strictly not allowed at the camps, that we were to remain completely unarmed in the camps. When I drove in with natives – the “guards” simply said “welcome home”.

How You Can Contribute

I think the most worthy place to send funds is directly to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Their leadership is central. They are not only paying for a lot of the legal, sanitary, and emergency needs, but during this time they also are losing money due to hindered casino operations, which normally support social services. There are now literally mountains of soaps, toothbrushes, canned goods, coats, boots, winter clothing etc that is coming in and being sorted, which is a beautiful outpouring. If you want to contribute stick to a Paypal donation to the Tribe so that they can decide in real time what is most needed over the winter including which medical and legal needs, and which warm lodging needs are going to be most in demand these next few months.

In addition, Yes!Magazine has created a great list of ways you can support the efforts of the water protectors.

Water protectors sharing in the gratitude feast together.

Also, thank you if you were one of the many who contributed to the Feast. Our group also has been raising funds for an Earthen Lodge fund for winter shelter and we would welcome and appreciate donations for that as well.

Categories: The Longview