The Oceti Sakowin Camp looked like the promised land after a grueling 25+ hour drive. The terror I felt about coming to a place depicted as a war zone on social media had already started to dissipate, and then I saw a beacon: a massive tipi with a large turtle emblazoned on it. This was significant. Because weeks before, I’d chosen the sea turtle as my sign and asked the universe to show it to me in times of uncertainty and fear, to let me know I was doing the right thing.
A Standing Rock Sioux warrior woman welcomed us at the gate. Her words enveloped me in warmth, but also in sorrow for the 500 years of suffering her people still endure today. Tears trickled down my face, and they streamed as she wrapped her arm around me and spoke proudly of the camp’s matriarchal community. This place is the beating heart of the movement, she said.
She advised us to stay there, away from trouble on the front line where militarized police have used pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades to break the spirit of the water protectors standing between the sacred waters of Lake Oahe and the Dakota Access Pipeline. All she and her people asked of us was to stay in peaceful prayer with them.
We unloaded an overflowing trunk full of food, medical supplies, wool blankets, subzero sleeping bags, firewood, cold-weather canvas tarps, solar chargers, fire extinguishers, and other miscellaneous necessities for the camp’s winterization efforts; these were all donated by our generous friends and family. Then we set up camp among children offering “No-DAPL apples,” indigenous people communing, and warriors of all tribes, races, and nationalities tending to everything needed to keep the camp running—from cooking three meals a day for all the water protectors to sorting and distributing donations to creating functional works of art in the form of shields and signs to embolden the mission here: to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline.
But this is far more than a dispute against an oil pipeline. This is the culmination of centuries of systemic racism against Native American people. This is a spotlight on corporate greed and political corruption. And this is a war cry to save our Mother Earth, which indigenous people have honored and protected since long before Europeans colonized this land—and which those natives’ descendants have never stopped honoring and protecting to this day. They seem to know they’re the only line of defense against billion-dollar corporations believing they can get away with polluting our water supply just so a few people can get richer.
Some might even call DAPL a modern attempt at ethnic cleansing. When the original plans to run the pipeline through a predominantly white area were met by discontent from the residents, Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, decided to re-route through Native American treaty lands. Because, historically, indigenous people have been treated as second-class citizens, and that hasn’t changed in half a millennium. (And black people share a similar struggle, as we’ve witnessed with the years-long Flint Water Crisis.)
The 700+ tribal nations plus thousands of non-Natives who’ve converged at Standing Rock show that we, the people, will not accept that. Brothers and sisters from the entire Sioux Nation—from Cheyenne River Sioux to Rosebud to Pine Ridge—are there. Apache are there. Navajo. Even Māori all the way from New Zealand. This battle is universal. Every single person on this planet has a stake in this.
The Standing Rock Sioux and everyone who stands with them are leading a climate revolution. TYT Politics quotes the academic Ismail Serageldin: “The wars of the next century will be fought over water.” Honestly, a dystopian future in which only the rich can afford clean water isn’t hard to believe, especially after this mess that’s happening right here in America. The more we subscribe to our high-carbon lifestyles and empower big-oil billionaires, the faster climate change will devastate our planet. People and wildlife in low-lying areas will be displaced. They’ll be refugees, and hopefully we don’t live in a society by then that would turn them away. Our resources already are becoming scarce, so that could happen. Imagine it. Rationing water might become our reality. Especially if we don’t protect the water supply we have now.
We need to engage in activism like what the Natives have been doing silently since colonial times, but we should also draw inspiration from them in another way: simplify our lifestyles. Reduce consumption. Banish materialism. Embrace nature on a spiritual level.
Even in their home of North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux have no true refuge. The governor Jack Dalrymple recently issued an evacuation notice for the area surrounding the Oceti Sakowin Camp, citing harsh winter conditions, as if he’s actually concerned with the welfare and safety of the water protectors. If he was, he would order the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and their multi-state militarized police, who are endangering peaceful citizens and viciously violating human rights, to back off.
CNN, among others, falsely reported that any new visitors and supply deliveries to the camp would be met with a blockade, which the governor’s office quickly debunked. The state never had any intention of enforcing this “evacuation,” according to the original notice. No, Governor Dalrymple’s warning is not a call for public safety; it looks like a ploy to deter allies from coming to join the natives at Standing Rock. He’s another puppet of the big-oil industry, just like many other politicians. Obama might be, too. His silence on this issue is deafening.
On Monday, December 5, the Army Corps of Engineers is supposed to be closing the land that Oceti Sakowin and the front line occupy. They’ve said they won’t be forcibly removing anyone from the area. But we really don’t know what Monday will bring. What we do know is that the water protectors intend to stay. The warrior woman who had welcomed us to the camp said they aren’t leaving, even by force. Next week the temps will dip into negative degrees Fahrenheit. Their bodies and their spirits will be tested now more than ever. So send donations to Oceti Sakowin to help them sustain their camp through an epic winter.
They still need boots on the ground to hold the camp and the front line, too. They need warriors to join them in prayer and ceremony and solidarity every single day until the pipeline gets shut down. So if you’ve thought about going to Standing Rock, now is the time. Go ASAP. You will make history. You will help change the world.
But never forget: this is the Native American fight. They’ve been fighting for their lives and defending Mother Earth for centuries. They don’t need us to save them. We don’t need to be their “human shields.” We just need to stand with them. The Native American spirit is powerful. So don’t be afraid. You will be thousands strong.
I went to the sacred fire, which burns 24 hours a day, to give my love and blessings to one of the elders. Her head was dressed in a helmet of feathers, her body swathed in furs. Next to her was a messenger bag with an etching—of a turtle. My sign. I knew then that this was my place. We were all born to be here, in moments like this, standing with our brothers and sisters demanding a better world. We are water. Water is life. Everything is nature. And nature is everything.
Update: On December 4, 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers denied Energy Transfer Partners the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe. The Standing Rock Sioux will continue the legislative fight against DAPL into the next presidential administration, but currently no longer need additional help to occupy the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Please continue to support them at standwithstandingrock.net.
Featured image shot by Asher Stacy