I can’t properly explain to you what it is to be at Standing Rock; not as an activist or as an Indigenous man. While I’ve written recently on the need for you and your privilege to be there, it wasn’t until my loveliest, Evita, remarked that I could talk about my sense response to being there, rather than try to find a millionth angle, which has probably already been covered.
I went to Cannonball, North Dakota, for almost a week through the Thanksgiving holiday and the plain truth is this: Standing Rock overwhelmed me. I have never in my life been involved in any Native protest spaces, in spite of my long history of involvement in activism. I mentioned to a friend while there that I had never participated in anything like this, that I was feeling overwhelmed by the energy of it all, by the impact of Standing Rock on my own life, on my own genocided blood lines, on Native culture…and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I simply experienced it.
The sounds of the camp were glorious: a constant stream of war cries and songs, drums beating in rhythm with my heart, horses galloping across vast fields with young natives clinging to manes. I came to know the voices that echoed in the morning, calling us to actions, warning of raids. I came to know the voice of the announcers at the Sacred Fire, joking about DAPLonia and the camp baby boom, announcing rides, calling out the names of the dancers, singers, and drum groups.
I smelt of smoke and charcoal when I arrived home, my room filled with the remnant scent of burnt cedar and sage and earth. I remember breathing in the dust after the riders passed, the freezing cold air stinging at my nostrils as I rushed from rest to action, my lungs working to adapt to the climate; the smell of cold storage when we dropped off supplies at the kitchens, the coffee we brewed non-stop, the scent of hope in the exhalations of those we embraced.
The taste of the coffee grinds that overflowed our camping pot remain, like the taste of stew and posole. I tasted the chicken and corn, the tobacco passed to me as offering. I tasted of a vision of a future I truly believe in, of camaraderie and justice and hope, of an earth loved and loving.
I felt the cold. I felt it deep such that sleep for the first two days eluded me, till I was given a -20 sleeping bag and dreamed so deep that visions came. I felt hands as old and rugged as the earth herself, and deep hugs. I felt the whip of the winds like the whip of the horse and I felt pride in my people and our allies. I felt at home, empowered, loved, and, simultaneously, terrified for the future…
…Because I saw hate, atop hills wrapped in razor wire, gripping shotguns and sniper rifles, pepper spray and batons, with flood lights drenching every inch of our time there with suspicion and violent aims. I saw police wrapped head to toe in oily blue and black, their faces shielded from view, their armored vehicles and prison transports always there to tempt our fears.
And yet none of that frightened us. I saw the most serious and powerful acts of individual human strength, of group solidarity, of passion in defense of right. I watched as young people rode a hand made bridge hoisted above our heads and rode it out into the water, surfing it to the far side, to temporarily claim back land currently held ransom by oil company billions and pliant police state agents. I saw the horses stomp into the earth carrying warrior women and watched as ancient faced elders danced and sang songs older than time.
I once mockingly wrote of the Malheur Refuge standoff and the subsequent non-charges, void of an experience at Standing Rock. I know now it’s much deeper than one group’s allowance and another’s disallowance. It’s about a genocidal for profit rampage against the earth and anyone, particularly non-white bodies, who oppose it.
Come from all Four Directions: Bring your Five Senses. And Stand.