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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Standing Rock Reflections

Over the second weekend of October, I had the opportunity to visit Oceti Sakowin, the camp in North Dakota where people from the Standing Rock Sioux and many other indigenous nations were living as Water Protectors.  The experience has left an impression on me that I'm still processing.  Here are a few thoughts that I can articulate at this moment.

Overlooking Oceti Sakowin north of the main gate (Photo by C. Borchardt)
This picture and video below may be a bit different from others you have seen of Oceti Sakowin.  The pictures you are familiar with probably show a place full of people, tents, and teepees in late summer heat and glory. 

It is now October and a stiff wind is moving over the prairie landscape whipping less secure rain flies and tarps on tents around and making a holy racket.  The door to our pop-up camper may fly open with the slightest encouragement or slam shut depending on if the wind was blowing from the north or the south.  The low temperature our first night was 30 degrees.  The last morning we rose there, miniscule sleet pellets danced on the vinyl walls a bit before strong winds from the north literally rocked the whole camper. 

It is no wonder the population of camp is lower.  The stress of long-term direct action is hard enough without having to endure the extreme winter weather of an outdoor living situation.  As folks discern their ability to stay and how to care for their home front left behind, the camp is adjusting and figuring out needs, roles, duties, decisions. 

While I was there, folks from the Oglala tribe were moving a teepee into space vacated by abandoned tents.  These seemingly simple structures of long poles and taut canvas were built for their strength and durability.  It was hard to believe that these incredible structures were in the same scene as tents flexing and flapping in the strong wind.  They hardly moved.  It's as if the teepees shared the same deep abiding strength of the people who lived in them.

A friend of a friend's drive by video of Oceti Sakowin, a week later than my visit.

As I assisted a horse farrier in her work and roamed around collecting trash, I started seeing interesting connections between this place and my home. 
  • Both are near confluences (Bdote) - Standing Rock is where the Missouri and Cannon Ball Rivers meet.  My home is near where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet (Wita Tanka, or the colonized name of Pike Island). 
  • Both have been places where Native people have lived. 
  • Unfortunately neither location was by happy choice.  The encampment at Wita Tanka was a forced concentration camp under the watchful eye of Fort Snelling for 1600+ Dakota people following the Dakota-US War of 1862.  300+ folks died over the harsh winter of little food and shelter.  (source: Wikipedia)
As I pondered this similarity of military observation, I wondered if this might be an opportunity for white people to choose differently. 

154+ years ago, white European settlers following the lead of the government choose to claim land they were lead to believe was "theirs" and were fearful of these folks who inhabited the land before them.  I imagine the noisy, wild sounds these native inhabitants made were alarming because the vocalizations were nothing like the settlers heard or created themselves before.  Being in a new wild location trying to make a courageous new life, any unknown is seen as a threat and treated with the same worst case scenario fear of flee and flight.

Now, almost two centuries later, we can look back and understand the stories differently.  We can now recognize these people as the First Nations who lived here first, since time immemorial.  We can see that the Doctrine of Discovery (Wikipedia) used by our European forefathers to claim this land violated the basic human rights of these First Nations people and is horribly wrong.  We can realize the beauty of how these Native peoples live at one with nature, the land, water, and air. The contact is so seamless that others don't see an impact.  We can acknowledge our fear of the unknown and the other in ways that don't cut us off from each other, but open. 

With this refreshed view of history, can we recognize the right to clean water for them and really, all of us who live downstream?  Can we honor the beauty of nature and all of its resources without pillaging it for our own excessive non-essential uses?  Can we awaken to the powers of industry, corporate marketing, and government run by individuals who are more interested in making a profit off others?  Can we live into a just society where prosperity is measured by all people having food and shelter, purpose and recreation, safety and freedom? 

How can we support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all the indigenous nations present stand for their rights to be seen and recognized as being valued, honored, and respected? 

It is my hope that we rise to the challenge of helping Standing Rock survive a brutal North Dakota winter and not let the Water Protectors suffer with inadequate supplies like their ancestors did at Pike Island-Wita Tanka that winter of 1962-63. 

Banners of support along a fence north of camp.
A Dances of Universal Peace song accompanied my first morning walk to the river and became my prayer along its banks.  "Wah! Taho! Taho!" is a traditional Sunrise Call in the Zuni tradition.  Finding the above banner among prayer ties and hundreds of other flags as we were leaving Oceti Sakowin felt very special to me. 

Wah! Taho! Taho!
Wah! Taho! Taho!
Wake! Ye, Arise! Life is calling thee,
Wake! Ye, Arise!  Life is greeting thee.
Mother Earth God, she is calling thee.
Mother Earth God, she is greeting thee.
Lastly, one of my travel companions was writer and Community Rights educator, Paul Cienfuegos.  His podcast reflections last week mirror my own and I include a link here to wrap up these thoughts: http://communityrightspdx.org/podcast/october-11-2016-reflections-on-my-recent-visit-to-standing-rock/

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