By Colin Bradley
When I left Standing Rock at the end of November, my hands were so cold that I couldn’t move them. I had lost the gloves I got from donations. But when I first arrived, in the beginning of November, it was so warm! Peeling tree poles to build school yurts with black sap all over my hands and sweat under my four layers led me to delayer, and consider swimming. But then I thought, “Am I allowed to swim?” On our 28-hour journey from Vermont, we stopped to swim at a road side reservoir and thought nothing of it.
But this was the Cannonball River. The river that ran between Standing Rock Reservation on one side and 1851 Treaty Land on the other. On the Reservation side are Rosebud Camp and Camp of the
Sacred Stones, the original camp that was established in April. On the other side is Oceti Sakowin, which means Seven Council Fires. This is the Main camp, where the vast majority of folks are, and where the Indigenous Resistance leads. It is intentional that the main camp is not on reservation land, but on treaty land, which has been violated. The people have come here to pray for the water. Mni Winconi,
their main prayer, means “Water is Life.”
Luckily, before I dove in the river, I dove into an orientation with about 100 other newcomers. After a native man named Johnny introduced us to the land, we were led into an army tent. There, two white women activists laid it out for us. We learned many things. The most important thing was that this was an Indigenous led resistance, meaning we respect indigenous leadership and we support them as much as we can. This is a place where non-native people are decentered and First Nation people are re-centered. Another custom was women were expected to cover their shoulders and wear a skirt. One women asked if we could swim in the river. They replied that “women were expected to be modest, and it was pretty cold.” So… umm….. no.
This was typical guidance at the camp. The direction from the elders was not always spelled out. We all had to step up as decision makers and answer our own questions. Should I dance while the people are singing in Lakota? How many cups of coffee should I drink? Have I done my share of the work for my share of the water? Every action was a practice in compassion for and accountability to the whole community. Every morning, we met the sun with prayer.
Every morning, the women led the ceremony for the water. Every meal, we prayed to the four directions, to the creator, to life. On our first day, we sat by the river across from the water ceremony. When they finished the ceremony, they shouted love to us across the river! Warm water teared from my eyes. I felt at home.
But this was not my home. This is Lakota Sioux land, a decimal of what it used to be. Over the last few hundred years, with each of hundreds of treaties signed and broken by the European invaders, their land shrank and shrank. Their way of life has all but been destroyed and their people continue to be discriminated against. Their sacred warriors are now the mascots of colonial schools. Their land, which used to be thriving prairie lands, with plenty of hawks and prairie dogs and buffalo, is now mono pasture for cows.
It was important to keep this in mind while I was working. I built yurts, washed dishes, chopped wood, guided kids, built composting toilets, participated in direct actions, so they can survive, so they can win, so an Oglala Sioux grandmother can be warm enough this winter. I worked to support their movement. When its all done, it’s their water that they have to drink, not mine. My water is safe and clean in Vermont… or is it?
Pipelines leak. Especially when they have to go under waterways. I know because I talked to a guy there who works in the oil business. He says that there’s no way to check or fix the pipeline when its down that deep under the water. He says that DAPL putting the pipeline here is like a farmer with 10,000 acres putting their hog house right next to your house. It is extremely disrespectful and completely unnecessary. There are acres and acres of land for it to run through. It used to be scheduled to go through white people’s land, but then after the largely white population of Bismarck voted against it, they moved it to reservation land. That’s racist, plain and simple. My friend wants a compromise, a big arch that runs over the river with a sign that honors indige- nous sovereignty. That doesn’t fly for the “black snake killas” though. They will stand for nothing less than no pipeline. Many say DAPL will keep drilling and pay all the fines. I heard the Army Corps say that they won’t be able to drill be-cause of flooding.
May we not just see what happens, but create what we want to happen, together. Our Earth Family needs us. Let’s remember our tribal oppressed ancestry and our uprooted colonial ancestry. We are the ones we have been waiting for. If you are a rock, rise up like a mountain. Stand with