My wife and I had been tracking the continuing drama unfolding at Standing Rock for several months but it wasn’t until the fascist coup in Washington that we finally felt the imperative to take action regardless of the cost to our business and disruption at home.
How could we sit down at Thanksgiving for a celebration with the absurd political situation in mind. Even hope seemed to be defeated. Thus, we arrived at the Oceti Sakowin Camp a few days before the holiday. Two blocks of cars were queued up at the entry point. The site was astounding reminiscent of old photos of huge tipi encampments of Native Americans. We saw tipis, yurts, and tents, and vehicles for as far as the eye could see through the smoke of hundreds of wood camp fires.
Oceti Sakowin Camp: A Small City – photo by Hilary Beaumont
Along the raised road and on the sides of the main road entering the camp were tall flagpoles with the flags of countless tribes, nations, and activist organizations. There was a constant movement of thousands of people. Many hundreds were gathered around the sacred fire where the elders of the Lakota and other tribes kept sacred songs and prayers flowing. The smell of sage, cedar, and sweet grass permeated the air. Upon arrival we joined hundreds of people and circled around the sacred fire slowly turning in dance fashion in a clockwise circumambulation of the fire.
In retrospect I realized we had entered liminal space where time and locality were replaced by sacred unity. It was very difficult to ascertain any sense of organization or leadership. The experience was of grounded chaos.
A feeling of an impending emergency was amplified by the intense activities and organizing to keep up with the constant flow of incoming vehicles as five to six-thousand people became between ten and fifteen-thousand.
The sorting and storing of food and supplies became an unending logistic problem. There were as many as eleven kitchens constantly preparing food and drinks.
Orientation and direct action training had to be ongoing to inform the rapidly expanding population.
I must say that my faith in humanity was elevated. This was an experience of functioning anarchy. Other than several directions from the indigenous leadership which included the fact that this was a nonviolent prayer camp with due respect to indigenous tribes’ culture of whom we were guests. It seemed the entire camp was a fine example of self-organization without any hierarchy of leadership. Every aspect of need and mutual support was addressed amazingly well. The love I felt among this diversity of humanity was palpable.
We soon were asked to help out at the Sacred Stone Camp not more than a forty-five minute walk further on private native-owned land.
Sacred Stone, overflow camp
Francesca, my wife, is a Chinese Medicine practitioner. We were asked to help organize a healing space in a long-house. The long-house was chaotic and one third full of medical supplies.
By the time we left, the lighting, heat, and a treatment space were functioning. We sorted and labeled the various supplies and stored them in tents behind the long-house. During that time I became familiar with the abuse of the water protectors by the various government and private police. The Water Protectors were non-violently protesting the intrusion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) upon indigenous land, sacred sites, and the threatened Missouri River watershed.
I learned that vets had been called and were being mobilized to protect the Water Protectors. As a warrior who has dedicated myself to protect and to serve the people, I was imperatively called.
I learned of the Lakota’s and Hopi’s Eighth Prophecy — that the black snake would come to cross the river. If it was not stopped the end of the world would come. Water is life. If it is polluted with oil and chemicals life will end. We do this for future generations.
We had to leave to return Francesca’s eighteen-year-old granddaughter, Kailey Hall, to school. With pride we saw her self-organize the Coffee Fire Brigade of young activists. A cyclonic blizzard circled over the camp as we left. It was like nature’s nod to our group intensity.
What I perceive is that nature itself has spoken through the voice of the indigenous people. The youth of the seven tribes of the Sioux have organized and called for help to protect the Great Mother of us all. The call was heard around the world and is being answered by us all.
During our first stay at Standing Rock, I spent my final afternoon with a fellow Arkie, a Native American who had spent many months and participated in many direct actions at Standing Rock. He raged on for hours and told me of how the private security forces and police who interchanged status and payrolls had viciously attacked water protectors – mostly native youth – with attack dogs, water cannons in sub-zero temperatures, rubber bullets, and both stinger and concussion grenades. My neighbor had had a grenade go off on his shoulder which set his jacket on fire, been sprayed with pepper spray, and shot with very painful bruising rubber bullets. One woman lost an arm and another an eye. The police targeted medical personnel and shot at the face and groin, he told me.
When I returned to my camp I openly wept recalling our rage in Vietnam after brain-washing had worn out. We knew we were fighting on the wrong side and PTSD was taking hold as it was with my friend, Simon.
SECOND TRIP TO STANDING ROCK
I knew then that I would return to fulfill my vow of a warrior, to protect and serve my comrades in harm’s way. I have consciously taken on the mantle of the archetypal warrior type which greatly empowers me. Within that role, imperatives override choice. I did however realize my vulnerability and that to protect the Water Protectors who had called for the veterans’ support I would need to “gear up.” I was able to secure a bullet-proof flak jacket two gas masks, a helmet, and to construct leg protection from PVC pipe.
Upon our return, we were billeted in the former long-house we had fixed up at Sacred Stone Camp. By then, it was a bunk house for folk over-eighteen. The building of places to house the swelling population of vets and others was at a fever pitch.
Oceti Sakowin Camp construction
Our camp at Sacred Stone, named for the formation of large round stones within the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, overlooked the flood plains of the rivers. On the opposite side was a raised island, a sacred burial site referred to as Turtle Island where police and assault vehicles guarded a platform where the pipe company was to drill under the river. This was to be and already had been the site of confrontations.
The intended action to come soon was to overcome the security forces there and stop the drilling. I felt like I was in a medieval siege scenario with both sides feverishly preparing for battle. We stocked medical supplies and protective gear in warm buildings to house the wounded and probably hypothermic, Water Protectors. Hundreds had been previously hospitalized with such injuries while over six-hundred had been arrested and were further brutalized, often housed in dog kennels.
Native people were mostly charged with felonies while whites were charged with misdemeanors. Upon speaking with other veterans and other Water Protectors I realized we were possibly on a one-way trip. Injury and death were a real possibility. It would be hard to describe the sense of ultimate freedom and heavy exhilaration I shared with them. We were fearless in our solidarity. We were placing our lives on the line in what has become a confrontation between the forces which threaten the destruction of the environment, our species’ extinction, and what we know as respect for life itself. Thus, the battle cry: Mini-Wiconi (water is life).
Fast forward to the final day, December 4th, 2016, when a confrontation was to take place, earlier busloads of veterans had rallied at the school auditorium. There, an historic event occurred. Wesley Clark, Jr., who had been instrumental at gathering the vets, addressed the tribal elders. He donned the uniform of the 1st Calvary and on bended knee humbly apologized for the wrongs of oppression and genocide done to Native Americans by our army and the United States government. The elders wore full eagle headdresses while nobly accepting a long-deserved apology. I feel this act of atonement to be an important historical event.
That afternoon my heart and soul were being drawn to the singing and drumming of sacred songs by the elders and warriors of various tribes around the sacred fire. Chief Arvol Looking Horse spoke. He is the nineteenth carrier of the sacred bundle which contains the sacred pipe given to the tribe by White Buffalo Calf Woman (mythology and history converge).
He has the stature and facial characteristics of the ancestors. He is regal and beautiful to behold in his full eagle headdress.
He spoke recounting the prophecies of Black Elk….
Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.
And I saw the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father, and I saw that it was holy.
~ Black Elk
In Black Elk’s vision the Sacred Hoop of all relations was broken and the people scattered in the way of unity of peoples and nature was lost. But he said that in seven generations the hoop would again be united. Looking Horse said that we were the seventh generation and that those present could richly unite that hoop now. He directed us to follow the young braves on horse-back and form a circle of over ten-thousand strong around the entire camp of Oceti-Sakowin (which means the seven sacred fires of the Lakota).
I was honored to hold the mike while a warrior blew the eagle whistle signaling us to move out and that we did. It took over an hour to form the circle and finally hand-in-hand we cheered and whooped in unity.
Then the miraculous happened. It was not five minutes before the word was passed around that the Corps of Engineers had revoked the permit to drill. The exhilaration and euphoria was contagious and we cheered, hugged, and cried together. Many months of preparation, confrontations, and hardships had led to that final day. Although we did not need to take over Turtle Island we needed to follow through with the momentum we had gained.
Therefore at 1:00 p.m. we suited up to face off with the police and security forces. We blocked the road at the bridge where previous actions had taken place. We marched with flags flapping in an oncoming blizzard. Drums were sounding as the Water Protectors and the veterans led the crowd ten to fifteen-thousand strong to the barricades. There were people piled atop burnt military vehicles chanting victory cries as children rode sleds and toboggans down the adjoining hill. The blizzard hit with fifty mph winds and white-out snowfall. It was a motley crew of unrecognizable people buried in a collage of mostly donated winter gear. Many people became soaked and hypothermic.
Standing Rock Camp – Angela Jimenez for MPR News file
At the front of the throng was a troop of warriors on horseback, many riding bare-back. One of those was Wesley Clark, Jr. He wore no headgear and was in full camouflage battle gear as was I. Clark gave a fiery speech as his horse turned and reared at times disappearing in the storm. I do not remember his words but they were inspiring. However I will never forget that epic scene of victory. At any time he could have led a charge onto the oppressive forces but he kept his pledge of non-violence. Prayer, solidarity, and faith in the teachings of the elders won the battle.
We knew in retrospect that as in chess a pawn was lost on the side of oppression and destruction and we had moved one forward. But the story goes on. WE WILL NEVER GIVE UP. WE ARE THE PEOPLE. WE ARE THE EARTH. Mini-Wiconi (water is life).
I may not have
been to the mountain
but I have to the rock.
A sacred stone was lifted
by the people
of all nations
Gaia lifted the youth
to speak for her
They cried out
She responded with a nod of
blizzard force and tempest
while we held our bodies
against the consuming snake of darkness
Upon the rock
we stood as one
in sacred unity and prayer
Such honor and glory
to offer ourselves
to the beauty of life
Within the singularity
of unity and conflict
we held each other
in a timeless embrace of solidarity and love
That cannonball of the indigenous soul
was plunged into the ocean
of universal consciousness
Across the face of the earth
spread the tsunami of awareness
THIS IS HOW WE SHALL RESIST
~ Vela Giri
Standing Rock, February, 2017
Black Elk Was Right
Task and Purpose
Iyuskin American Horse in Canyon Ball, North Dakota
Standing Rock Video
Wesley Clark Jr.
Chief Arvol Looking Horse
“…in the center grew one mighty flowering tree….”