I was asked to speak about my journey to North Dakota. To Sacred Stones Camp. Why I felt compelled to go, and what I saw there. I felt compelled to go for a number of reasons, none of them clearcut. Perhaps, it is the fact that I once lived right on top of the 50 year old Line 6a, the Keystone sized tar sands line we have near Lake Mills.
Perhaps, it is that I now live near the beauty of the Crawfish river, which will be impacted by a spill.
Perhaps, I felt compelled to go in solidarity as a pipeline fighter.
Perhaps, it is because the Sandpiper which was coming our way, was diverted to the Dakota Access.
Perhaps, it is the wisp of Native ancestry in my genome, and some genetic memory contributed by an ancestor in my paternal line, that made me answer the call.
Regardless of the reason I decided to go, Sacred Stones needs more people to go, and stand with them. I profoundly regret that I had to return home quickly. I also regret that for me to stay could be a physical challenge, I may not be able to meet. I’m sorting through the possibilities in my mind right now. It’s rugged, it’s hard and it is a challenge for those who like to test their mettle. I’m thinking I will test my mettle. Soon. I may be crazy.
Nowhere is the cut of colonialism more evident than the painful gash near Standing Rock Reservation. When you see it, if you are truly in touch with being human, it will wound you deeply to the soul. You will not recover your former self. If for no other reason than self development, go, and stand with the Native peoples, but go humbly, and go to learn. Go as a student. Go with an open heart. Go knowing that our western way of life, our comfort caused this great tragedy. Understand you will be wounded. You will eventually heal but you won’t be the same person. Understand this will take some time depending on your ego and it’s fragility. You will be bruised and built up at the same time. This trip will cause you great emotional and physical discomfort. If it does not, you went for the wrong reasons.
I have spent this last week mourning this gash inflicted by Enbridge, and I am some one who regularly sees their gashes here in my own neighborhood. I know I am partly responsible for that gash. It’s been a week of struggling with how to best impact this situation in a positive way. A week of feeling hopeless, helpless and humbled, and guilty for being in my warm dry house, yet inspired and uplifted by the strength of the people out there on the Plains especially the native people OF the Plains. It’s been a week without time, a week of grappling with cultural differences, a week of struggling with my own perspective on culture and race. A week evaluating my own ecological footprint, a week of quiet weeping and insomnia. I am endeavoring to integrate my experience and move forward. I’m still so in the depths of my own struggle, my own inadequacies concerning this issue, that I was very reluctant to speak about my trip. But here I am.
I arrived in Sacred Stone Camp last week about exactly this time of day, 2 pm on Sunday. The wind had been strong that day, and all of the tents except for the tipis had toppled or sustained damage. We had only planned a 3 day trip, as we had my grandson with us, a child we parent full time. My rainbow child. He is African American, Native American and Germanic in ancestry. He tells me he has a little of everything in him, and that he is just a kid. Just a gentle reminder, that a lot of what is going on is a bit above his comprehension level despite his effort to understand. He is wise beyond his years. This 6 year old child quietly endured a 12 hour ride out and a 12 hour ride back in 3 days. We arrived in Fargo to spend the night, at 8pm, only to find not a single hotel room was available. Every hotel parking lot was packed with white Silverado trucks. The oil field workers and pipeline workers from man camps filled the only city around, for 4 music concerts in town that night. Oil money buys you a big white truck and a ticket for the music concert of your choice, and a night at the priciest hotel in town. Yes, even that was full. It was the first gut punch. North Dakota is oil country. Oil is it’s major employer. It’s rich from oil and oil infrastructure. We had to back track 57 miles to Fergus Falls Minnesota to spend the night, whereafter my grandson forgot his beloved stuffed animals in the hotel room that morning. After a panicked call to the hotel, we learned they had found them, and they would keep them for our return. We spent the night of our return at the same hotel, but this time did NOT forget the stuffed animals on our way home. It was much cheaper this time, too.
We were pummeled by rain and/or high winds the entire trip both coming and going.
There is nothing of note between Fargo and Bismarck. I kind of liked that thought. There is comfort knowing there are parts of the planet devoid of identical strip malls. I made a mental note to myself “Do not run out of gas there.” Ironic, I know. The very toxic syrup I was going to fight, is what transported me to the front lines of the battle against it. This speaks to our relationship with fossil fuels. Sad addiction. It is addiction. It will hurt like hell to wean ourselves off of this and there is no getting around it. We might as well get started as soon as possible and maybe give the next generation a chance at existence.
You are better off singing camp songs than listening to the radio. Cell phone coverage is iffy. Thinking to myself, plastic cell phone full of rare earth minerals. Every one drives a Silverado. No one drives a Subaru. Sticking out like a sore thumb already. I am conscious of being 2 hours shy of the Canadian border. I admit, part of me wanted to bolt. Part of me wants to live in a log cabin off grid, in the wilderness, and to never admit I am the legacy of the dark side of American history.
We arrived at the camp and were signaled through the barb wire gates by men whose faces were hidden. We were firmly told no pictures, we honored that. My only photos are from the road and purposely include no faces. We made our way to the donation area. We brought donations, both new and gently used. What is needed most are survival supplies, although we brought glass beads and supplies for beadwork, fiber supplies such as drop spindles and raw wool which Sea School has custody of now. We brought some brand new toys for the kids, mostly toys to keep kids busy. Even raw survival needs some pleasant distraction. We brought military grade glow sticks and space blankets. What was most appreciated is what they asked for, Carhart jackets and boots. They are most in need of housing that can weather the wind and cold, tipis and yurts. I’m thinking a shed, with a deck for a foundation would be useful as a warming house. Foundations for buildings are a problem as nothing is permanent and everything has to be able to sustain high winds.
After housing, they are most in need of winter gear, hardy cowboy type gear, and they are in need of people to stand with them, people who can endure the rigors of winter on the Plains. People who are willing to act on their beliefs. Brave people. There have to be some of those around.
Don’t send blankets…one of the Native women named Gertrude, if I am correct, and myself had a good laugh over blankets. I quipped with her if you ask white people for help, we send blankets. She rolled with laughter at my self effacing remark, as she gave me a hug. They have piles of blankets under tarps….given the history of blankets as gifts to the Natives, I suggest that the zero degree sleeping bags be substituted. The comforters were sent home with me. Sleeping bags are more appropriate to the rugged conditions of the camp.
The Confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball River is beautiful. The river is an ever changing sparkling stripe of sandy brown, navy blue, and pale aquamarine. Sometimes indistinguishable from land, sometimes easily identified, bright blue like the sky or a deep navy. Horses are pastured in large fields. Paint ponies graze. Prairie grass undulates like waves in the sea. There are stubby buttes and unique boulders. I can understand the attachment to the land. It’s beautiful. I would fight for it myself. It’s a step back into time in more ways than one. It’s steeped in history. You can not escape it.
But, the landscape can also be also cruel. The wind was relentlessly blowing so hard one could barely stand. The bumper of our car had actually separated at the corner and was beginning to peel off the front. The stuff of civilization was blowing everywhere as if Mother Nature wanted to blow it all away, including our car. Synthetic mountain tents flattened, their supports broken, and they looked like colorful pancakes all over the Plains. I sensed her anger…she wanted to scrape all the junk off the surface….scratching us like we were a troublesome itchy rash on her skin. She may succeed in ridding herself her affliction soon if we continue to burrow like troublesome mites in her epidermis.
The medical tent at the small camp swayed. The medic, Nick, was just recovering from the wind and putting supplies back on the shelves. I asked him how I could help. He asked for a back board and cervical collars. There is no way an ambulance can access the small camp, they need a way to carry folks to the main road. I imagined the difficulty in the dead of Winter, in the dark. He told me he has been on duty 2 weeks with no relief and the guilt set in. I wanted to stay to help. I promised to work on the backboards and C collars and getting help. I felt deflated at that moment. Overwhelmed.
But as we left camp, I could see the tipis stood, strong, tall and pointing to the heavens, like icy mountain peaks. And I took some comfort in that. They have bent under pressure but not broken. They are an ingenious form of shelter perfect for the environment. Native people have a relationship with Nature that so far exceeds the average person’s concept. To the average person, nature is out there, not within here, in us. To the average western mind, nature is something to be feared and conquered, subdued and utilized. At Sacred Stones, nature is clearly part of the people. She is respected and loved and the Native people have the wisdom to survive. The Native people can speak more poetically and profoundly about their relationship with Nature than I ever can. The Native people will lead this. My role is as a humble student if they are willing to teach me. I have a lot to learn.
Nevertheless, the people of Sacred Stones Camp face a monumental challenge to survive winter without electricity and fossil fuels that allow the comfortable existence of all of us here at home. They are going to survive it. I have no doubt. But many more will attempt it, if we can open our wallets as readily as we open our mouths. We received contributions of very generous donors for our Brave Wisconsin mission. I can’t thank them enough. It just takes so much more and so many more of us.
Brave Wisconsin opted to outfit the volunteer workers at the camp. I have outfitted two. I would like to outfit many more. It isn’t cheap. A Carhart jacket and Kamik boots run over $200. But this is what they need. It’s also a highly personal gift, which makes it fulfilling to give. We were taken to meet LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, founder of the camp. I left my prayer bundles with her. I could sense the burden of running the camp in her face. It’s hard to be responsible for the fate of so many people and a movement of such historic significance. Leadership can be a lamentable situation for the person in it. I am sure it’s a mantel that many leaders would have preferred to have shed or never attempted to carry. But she did.
I am not the person to be the spokesperson for the NoDapl movement or even more so, for Sacred Stones Camp. I’m just a writer. I’m just an organizer. I am just a member of a pipeline community, whether here or there we share a commonality. But with the camps on the Missouri River, I can only document my observations from the view of someone on the outer perimeter right now. I feel like I am looking at a scene in a snow globe and wondering do I really want to be in it? There is no escaping it once I’m in that bubble.
This is a very old struggle, out there on the Plains. To think that this is about anything other than that is to delude ourselves. At least I can look back now, and answer the question if I had lived 150 years ago, where would I have stood. I would have stood in the same place I stand today.
All I know, is I long to go back.