If you love water, then you must, or at least I hope you are aware of the fight for mni (water) going on at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has approved permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline to lay pipe into the land to extract oil. This is a $3.8 million project. This is supposed to be about job creation and a safer way to transport fossil fuels. To me, those jobs are just temporary, as it proved to be when the push for KXL was being proposed but thankfully, vetoed by President Obama in November 2015. Safer way to transport? I guess, but there are alternative resources to be explored that haven’t been. Cheaper oil for the U.S.? Sure. But as I said before, there are other ways to create, re-use, and sustain resources. This pipeline will go under the Missouri River, which is the primary water resource for the Tribe, and will affect anyone along the Missouri and Cannonball River. Should the pipeline leak, as they always do, would endanger approximately 18 million people. This isn’t just an indigenous rights issue; it’s a human rights issue. This endangers the Natives, the farmers, the kids who swim in the river, the animals, and the land. However, the Army, Department of Interior and the Department of Justice have put a temporary halt on construction in certain areas. The Army will not authorize constructing of the DAP on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe.
The fight to protect mni, started with Standing Rock’s very own, youth, followed by SRST Tribal Chairman, David Archambault II who has recently addressed the United Nations, Human Rights Commission to help protect. They saw how important water is; Mni Wiconi, Water is Life. That fight for protecting, inspired their journey from Cannonball, ND to Washington, DC, BY RUNNING. Yes, they ran from ND to DC, about 2,000 miles to raise awareness of what is going on. They are urging the U.S. ACE and the President to stop this pipeline. High urgency is directed to the President, as he came to visit Cannonball in 2014 where he learned to speak some Lakota, spent time with the people, and held our babies, promising to protect them. Well, the time for protection is now. Demand for action and accountability, is NOW. This movement has been successful at the grassroots level; the people are taking action, from all walks of life. Rally’s, walks, runs, fundraising, protests, social media, media (Democracy Now! and Lawrence O’Donnell, Van Jones, have really helped to tell the real story), and human shields are being used to help stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Over 280 nations have come together. When the call was put out to come to Standing Rock, and help fight, no one knew what the turnout would be, but it has been overwhelmingly great. Nations from all over the world have shown support by coming. A prophecy of “the black snake” was foretold. It mentioned that this would bring the Oceti Sakowin together, which hasn’t happened since the battle of the greasy grass or the Battle of the Little Big Horn. There will always be fights, while this is a fight for water and a fight to stop a pipeline…. one day… we will all be fighting for water, and that is a resource we can’t live without, a resource, that gets taken for granted.
However, this brings me to my story.
Last week, I woke up with the feeling of, “I have to go to Standing Rock.” It was an idea that I’ve had for a while now, but this thought felt more urgent than ever. With asking around, and a bunch of “not able to make it” because it was so last minute, and completely understandable, my friend and nephew were able to go. My nephew is 7, well 7 and a half, as he would emphasize.
So, we were off to North Dakota for an experience that would be less than 48 hours at the Sacred Stone camp. Completely worth it. With much snacks, music, conversation and sleep, we were able to enjoy a little down time in St. Paul, MN with some family, fueled up, and drove to Standing Rock. We were all excited. We didn’t know what to expect. But we took in the experience. My nephew was very excited and passionate about this mni fight. He asked a lot of questions, said a lot of powerful statements coming from such a young hoksila (boy) but he knew why we were going. We were there to bring supplies and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. We get onto highway 1806, and about 20 miles out, we were at a check point with the National Guard, who were very nice, smiled, and accommodating. They asked us if we were aware of what was going on down the road, to be cautious, and careful of people walking on the highway. Onward we went. To be back in the Great Plains, was amazing. It seems that the older I get, the more beautiful it becomes, and my appreciation for my homelands, grows. About 10 miles out, we see fences, signs, flags, and people camped on the sides of the road. That wasn’t the first thing I saw. I saw to the right, mounds of dirt piled high. That is where land was dug up to lay the pipe in. It was saddening to see but also endearing to see people camped right there, literally inches away from the highway that had no sidewalk or shoulders.
As we continue to drive towards camp, we see it. We see the Sacred Stone camp. What was more noticeable, were the tipis and the flags at the main entrance. We pull up to the entrance, inform them that we are camping, they smudge the car, and said have fun. Then, the venture to find the tipi began. First thing said by my nephew was, “I feel safer here with my people, than I do at my school in a city in Virginia.” This little akicita (warrior) just blew my mind during this trip. His statement saddened my heart, as it is difficult to live in an urban setting as a Native, but it also warmed my heart, because we felt at home. Ninety minutes later, we found it, set up camp, spent some time with a dear friend who let us stay in his tipi, and trekked through the mud towards the main camp to get dinner while we waited for our Unci (grandmother). As we were walking around, we were in awe. What we were seeing and experiencing was unlike anything we’ve all experienced. It was so wonderful to see tipis, hearing drumming, see horses, and see so many people, from all walks of life, here to stay until the Dakota Access Pipeline is stopped. The people were so welcoming and so kind. I didn’t feel out of place at all and already, I felt like I couldn’t leave. While my friend was off to look for our Unci, I waited in line with my nephew, and met some new friends. One person’s story of why they were there was powerful because prior to coming here, they had a hard life with substance abuse. Their sobriety journey began the day they came to camp. This is a place that remains unarmed, peaceful, and dry. If you break any of those rules, you will not be able to come back. This just warmed my heart so much as they were there for a purpose, which also gave them a reason to start a new chapter.
As we got our food, I ran into a good friend, and role model of mine, Amanda Blackhorse (in court against Dan Snyder, #ChangeTheName, #NotYourMascot) and caught up for a few minutes. She has such a powerful voice and is doing great advocacy to end racial slurs and images.
So happy to see her there! Finally, we met up with Unci, who was truly wonderful, and beyond excited to meet, we ate, sat around the fire, exchanged stories, and then headed to bed in the tipi. As we were learning stories from our friend, you could hear the singing and drums throughout the camp. It was magical. Then, I passed out.
I woke up feeling absolutely great. It was the best night’s sleep I had gotten in a long time. Albeit, I have a great mattress back in DC that I was so excited to have when I moved into my new apartment, and I end up having the best sleep laying on the earth, in a tipi. My nephew and Unci woke up first and when my nephew stepped out from the tipi, he said to Unci, “can we just live like our ancestors did?” as he was seeing all the tents and tipis surrounding him, along the river in absolute quietness. Again, this little guy just makes me smile ear to ear, as he is so spiritually connected to our surroundings at a young age. Finally I step out from the tipi, and Unci had oatmeal waiting for me. We sat around the fire, eating breakfast, making conversation with our neighbors and enjoying the moment. After breakfast, the Hopi Nation had arrived, as well as the Palestinians, who had a deep love and understanding of our fight, since they too, have had similar atrocities happen to them. They showed their support, addressed those around, and they were welcomed with open arms by the camp. After witnessing that, we ran into a friend, an Oneida from Wisconsin, who informed us that there was a basketball clinic at Standing Rock High School with Bronson Koenig, Ho-Chunk, (Univ. of Wisc, basketball player, Senior Guard). My nephew was more than stoked to see him, as he has watched him on TV. Also, he told us that there was an 18 wheeler coming to camp to deliver logs for firewood and other needs from it. There were our two tasks to partake in. The clinic went great. Right when we walked in, we saw our friend Brandon, Bronson, Layha, Chase Iron Eyes, and Cody Hall.
We were able to have our picture taken with Bronson, have a conversation and get his autograph. While we were sitting in the stands watching our nephew learn some new moves and learn the fundamentals of basketball, we were just a few spots away from the Tribal Chairman of Standing Rock, David Archambault II,
who was happily watching the 100 youth participating. Another idol of mine sitting not too far away was Jodi Gillette, who previously had worked for President Obama before accepting a new role at a law firm. It was just an amazing feeling being there. As I stepped away from the court briefly, I heard my name. Then I turn my head, to see AnnaLee running towards me and gave me a warm hug! She was one of the youth that ran to DC. Always a pleasure to see our youth and for me, I am just really proud of her, proud of all of them. Once the clinic was over, we all had a huge group picture taken, Omaka was smiling ear to ear, and we headed to the kitchen for some food. Once he filled his belly, back to camp we went.
The image from camp a couple miles away was still just as beautiful and powerful as it was when we first saw it. The pictures you see all over social media, doesn’t do it justice. Pulled into camp, we could see the 18 wheeler, met up with Unci, and headed over to help. Plus, we really needed some fire wood, since my nephew was just beyond fascinated with fire and smoke. He really enjoyed “tending” to the fire.
My nephew and I stood back as we watched the men and the heavy machinery unload those “ginormous” logs, as he put it. He was right. It took a couple hours, some men fell off the truck and were slightly injured, more men jumped onto the truck in their place to help them. As we waited, we saw Bobbi Jean, the one who started this youth movement. We were happy to see her and her little family, while exchanging some stories. And we were very proud of her. Recently, she had traveled with actress Shailene Woodley, to the Jimmy Fallon show, and walked the red carpet at the premiere of Snowden, where she wore her traditional regalia. Shailene has been instrumental in this movement, using her platform to help elevate this issue in the media. Bobbi has really put her life on the line to protect the water, her family, her people, and our future generations. After our conversation and my nephew showing off his new moves he learned, we both grabbed a large piece of chopped wood, and hobbled back to camp. Just remembering this, makes me giggle, because I am sure we looked a little sad, as these two men stopped us on our way back, asking if we needed help then offered us to take any of their firewood. We were happy and relieved as the walk was 50 yards away, and pieces that were much lighter to carry, and didn’t require me to use an axe. That would just end terribly.
While some of the wood was being chopped, and a mini fire was created, our neighbors, who made fresh tortillas, gave us some, and we prepared to make sandwiches and soup.
After dinner, and in awe of the red moon that arose, we enjoyed some fireworks that my friend, Richard helped light. My nephew was smiling ear to ear and filled with so much excitement. Once they were over, and we tended to some little things, we were off to explore the camp by following the drums.
We made our way around camp in a clockwise manner. Visited Onondaga, Red Warrior camp, a hand drumming circle, another group, and then ended at the main camp with the dancers and MC. The nephew was so excited to use his new drum stick and to sing. That is all he kept saying he wanted to do. Throughout the days at camp, he’d say “that’s a double beat” or some other comment. He strolled right up to the drummers, someone grabbed a chair, and he scooted right in. Such a proud Tunwin moment for myself. He belonged there. After many pictures and videos, I stood back, talked with Bronson, talked with Unci, talked with my cousin from Rosebud, and embraced what was happening. After my nephew was done, we stood around, listened, and enjoyed what we were seeing. Then my cousin strolled up with some food, and there was frybread. So, I stayed, and they all left to get some frybread, and also came back with salmon donated by Yakima. After we filled our bellies and a brief heart attack moment when our nephew fell off a log, we were ready to head back to the tipi for sleep.
We woke up to another beautiful and peaceful morning. I look to my right to see my nephew not lying on the air mattress and completely wrapped up in the blankets, lying on the grass, crooked. After we all woke up, slowly, he was ready to get out and start another fire. I woke up feeling thankful, but also sad, as we only had a few hours left here at camp. I really didn’t want to go. We all didn’t want to go. As our Unci put it, we created a great little tiospaye here at camp. As I started to fold all the blankets and organize the car, I kept thinking about what else I can or we can do to help, and when the next time is I/we can come back. This truly is an experience and all of us coming together for this purpose, for our mni, and for our future generations, history is being made. After breakfast, our friend Aldo was back and the boys learned how to set up tipis while Unci and I were learning how to make fresh tortillas again, and consuming. During this time, my cousin from Lower Brule came over to visit, and talked about the current status of what is happening here at camp, back home, and what the future holds. My nephew was showing off his basketball moves again. Then, a dear friend, who I am happy to know through my bestie, Ariel, Tim Hallrud stopped by.
He came from Oregon, whereas he said, he makes epic shit happen at Nike, and was there to get the experience and document the story. After some pictures and short conversation, he was off, and we were back to getting everything packed up. Once we were all done, we took more photos of our little tiospaye, and another dear friend, Richard, joined. Always a delight to see him. We gave our hugs, took more selfies, and we were off. As we looked back, Doksa is what we could say as our family got further away. The overwhelming feeling of emotions, where for me, I wanted to cry, but could only smile and feel appreciative of what we were able to be part of for such a short amount of time. We left out the main entrance, and were on 1806 back to Bismarck. We drove by where the route for the pipeline was dug up. Then we stopped when we saw tatanka and took some more selfies. Back in the car we were, went through the National Guard check point, and in Mandan, where we OBVIOUSLY stopped for some Taco Johns. It’s a must. Then, we were on the road again, headed back to St. Paul to have dinner with family, before our trip back to DC.
The nephew enjoyed his time in the back seat either singing with us, talking; making weird/funny noises to go with his imagination, or was on that iPad crushing his scores. He was perfect on this trip. After our brief, but fulfilling visit with the family in MN, we were headed to Chicago, to see THE BEAN (you really have to say it loudly, drawn out and excitedly). Once my driving shift was done, I went to sleep, only to awake in Chicago about 5 hours later where we then started walking to THE BEAN, and found out it was closed. Although, the security guard let us take some pictures and see it quickly. Can’t say we weren’t out there. Back on the road again, back to sleep and awoke to grab breakfast a few hours later. My shift was up to drive from OH to VA. The drive back, all I kept thinking about was how meaningful this was, how blessed I was for this opportunity, and how I couldn’t have pictured it being any better. My travel buddies were the best.
Finally, we were in Virginia! And back in front of my cuwe’s house. The family greeted us with hugs, smiles, and some drool from my youngest nephew. After we unloaded my nephew’s things, we had an amazing dinner, with amazing frybread and told the family about our trip. We showed them pictures, and I just really enjoyed watching my nephew tell his story. The excitement was awesome to see and hear. After a couple hours there, it was time to go home, time to get back into routine, and back to reality. After the goodbye hugs, back home I went. The next morning, it felt weird to wake up in a bed and I really missed the camp. But, back to work for all of us, or back to school.
Our fight for mni doesn’t stop. Our voices will only become louder as well as our presence. But, when we speak about this, and really push for this pipeline to be stopped, we are humbled to speak, as the experience we were able to have, will carry through our heart and our voices. We are a people protecting what is sacred and what gives us life. This is a fight for our future generations. If you can go, please go. If you can’t, please donate, call the White House, US ACE and tell them this pipeline can’t happen. Mni Wiconi, water is life. Mitakuye Oyasin! XO
Please visit http://sacredstonecamp.org/ and see how you can help!
Legal Fund: https://fundrazr.com/d19fAf
Help Reach 1k Sold goal for Mni Wiconi shirts: https://www.omaze.com/made/standing-rock?utm_source=instagram.com&utm_medium=social&utm_content=omaze&utm_campaign=made.standing-rock&utm_term=1&oa_h=osxs5t