My son and I have recently returned from supporting the Water Protectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Many people have asked me to share our experience. It is difficult to put into words the many feelings, observations, and experiences. In truth, we are both still processing and I imagine will be for some time. My immediate impression and the one that stays with me is that this is a place of Beauty and generosity.
Before I share more, I feel the need to explain that I am simply sharing my viewpoint from my very limited time there. There is no way that I could ever speak for the Lakota/Nakota/Dakota people. We were only at the Oceti Sakowin Camp for 6 days. I was there to support the Medic + Healer Council and my son was building and helping the camp prepare for Winter.
When you enter camp, you are greeted by a combination of security/welcoming party. They ask questions, wanting to be sure that you are there to help. They also stress the absolute rule that no weapons, alcohol, or drugs are allowed in the camp (or in a person in the camp). And then they want to help orient you to where you need to go. They call you sister. They say, “Welcome! Thank you for being here.” They say, “Welcome Home!”
I need to back up a bit. This was my first time in North Dakota. The main highway (1806) to the camp from Bismarck is closed just north of the camp. There is an alternate route, that is longer. On our day of arrival, there were actions on this alternate route and that road was also closed. We were re-routed by a nice officer down other “routes” which were actually dirt roads. The landscape here is stark, very limited Trees. At this time of year, almost everything is brown. It is mostly flat, so you can see for miles. And the sky is immense! It is also very windy, dusty, and cold (though in reality the temperature was significantly higher than normal). This area has an intense Beauty that pulls at the inner artist, yet you know there is no way this can be captured.
As you approach the camp there is a sign that asks you to “Please drive prayerfully”. So the mindset and the realization that you are at werk with the Sacred occurs long before you reach the welcoming party. You drive by the camp before you can enter. From the road, you can see hundreds, probably thousands of flags and signs from around the world supporting the Water Protectors. And you begin to take in the immenseness of this place and this moment.
As I was there to help the Medic + Healer Coucil and was only there for a short time, I was focused on doing as much as I could. Therefore, I did not get to participate in any of the ceremonies. However, prayer was everywhere. I knew before I arrived that I should bring a skirt to wear in ceremony. Once there, I learned that ceremony is every moment, so please wear the skirt at all times. While I worked, I could often hear prayers and medicine songs over the PA speaker.
The Medic and Herbal tents were moving into beautiful, warm gers while I was there. My first night, I helped the medics sort through their inventory. There were huge piles which took many days to go through. My last 2 days at camp, I was sorting through donations of herbal medicines and putting them where they lived. This was so overwhelming and I was brought to tears often (from the generosity). The amount of support is greater than I could ever imagine. I have never seen so many herbs in one place. Everything was overflowing. A truck would pull up and more boxes would be delivered. There were times that I wanted to say, “No more!” And then I had to stop and remind myself what this was. Yes, these were herbs. More than that, they were support, they were Love, they were prayers from around the country! Of course, the tears would start flowing again. It is difficult to witness/receive this enormous amount of generosity and it is also very beautiful. Every once in awhile, I would step outside to get a breath or do something and I would see truck loads of firewood being delivered or truckloads of building supplies that someone donated. Every day there are hundreds of people arriving to show their support, most with a car load of donations. Take a walk around camp and you see food, clothes, solar panels, you name it, all donated! And with each donation, there is another wave of energy that helps to fuel the Protectors.
I was reminded several times that this is a resistance camp. That was a good reminder, because from where I stood it looked like a utopia. People are kind to one another. Generosity flows everywhere. People, regardless of their training and expertise, are willing to help do anything including picking up trash and doing dishes, for in reality most of the work here is very unglamorous. There is a recognition and understanding that we are all related and we are asked to leave our egos outside of camp. Humility is one of the guiding rules. (We were asked to follow the Seven Lakota Values - http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org/seven-lakota.) And synchronicity was abundant. I am used to things appearing at the right time, but I have never seen anything like what I witnessed at Oceti Sakowin. You ask for something, turn around and a stranger unknowingly hands you a donation of exactly what you wanted. And this wasn’t just my experience. It was a common experience. On top of all of this, I got to witness the medics, herbalists, midwives, body workers, and mental health professionals working together and supporting one another! This is something that for ages I knew we could do and it was happening right in front of my eyes. I saw medics do what they could for someone and then suggest that they go next door to the herbalists. And similar actions from everyone there. It was understood that by sharing experiences and modalities people could get a more complete healing.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t perfection. There are thousands of people at camp from such varied backgrounds and many have serious wounds/traumas that they bring with them, including the generational trauma of the Indigenous who have been suppressed and abused for hundreds of years. We all were/are learning how to live with one another in community, how to support each other, how to heal one another, and how to heal ourselves. All while joining together to protect the Water and honor the Sacred. And of course, many of the traumas are triggered and created by the abusive behavior of the Police and DAPL security. (Note: while we were there, the actions were fairly calm. This was before the horrible attacks on November 20th.)
Still from where I was, this is a beautiful community of Love. And that is a scary thing to those who are “in charge”. For you cannot control people who know their worth and who are in touch with their power. This is why people who are armed with smudge sticks and prayers are said to be violent. This is my first time experiencing aggression and hatred like this and it has me reeling. Which also has me coming to terms with my “White Privilege”, for I realize that for many people in this camp this is not a new situation.
On our way home, I tried to put my address into the GPS, though it wouldn’t recognize it. I could not remember what my house number was. I eventually asked my son. I told him I thought our number was 1806. He just looked at me because that is the road that Oceti Sakowin camp is on and I realized that our greeter was right, I did go Home. My Heart and prayers continue to be with the Water Protectors. I am incredibly grateful for those who stand up for the Waters and the Land. I am grateful for the lessons I have learned and continue to learn. I am grateful for the “law enforcement”, Energy Transfer Partners, and the others who have lead to this time where our shadows are brought into the daylight and we can begin to “come correct” and for the great opportunity to practice forgiveness. I am grateful for the reminder that at the Heart we are beautiful people with an enormous capacity to Love.