Standing Rock

Sign for Veteran's Rally Point near Eagle Butte

The sun was just starting to rise in the horizon as we left Rapid City for Standing Rock Sunday morning. As we drove we talked about the pipeline and politics and everything in between. As we approached Eagle Butte we saw a sign for a Veteran’s Rally point; we knew that hundreds of Vets were traveling to Standing Rock to show their solidarity with the Water Protectors and we were excited and humbled that we might see some of them. As it happened, we accidentally ended up in the middle of a caravan of Vets who were being escorted to the Oceti Sakowin camp by Tribal Police. The hour and half drive there was emotional and I found myself crying more than once. Nearly every car we passed was either pulled over to show their respect for the Veterans or they drove by with their fists held high out their windows, cheering the Vets on.

Traffic slowed from a crawl to a stop as we approached the camp entrance, which I was grateful for because it gave me a chance to take it all in. Oceti Sakowin is an awesome sight to behold. Before you even enter the camp you can feel the energy, the unity, the purpose of that place. As we were waiting in line we heard cheers erupting from all over the camp – that was the moment the Water Protectors heard about the permit being denied. People were walking along the roadside spreading the good news to the cars parked in line. As we entered the camp people were smiling and hugging each other, singing songs and cheering over the good news. I feel so blessed to have been a witness to such joy from so many who have been fighting so hard, for so long. Shouts of “Mni Wiconi!” and beating drums could be heard all over camp.

Traffic entering camp Oceti Sakowin

Despite the thousands of people flooding in everyone was friendly and helpful and patient with each other. I had been asked to check in on a friend’s family and at first I was doubtful we would even find their yurt, but the directions my friend gave me and all the helpful people in camp made it easier than I thought – we found the yurt within the first 10 minutes we were there. I went inside and asked them if they needed anything, then took some containers to fill up with water and left them two gallons of drinking water. As we left the yurt we were excited to help (though it seemed like such a small gesture to us) and took off to explore the camp.

The air was crisp and smelled of campfires, sage and generator fuel. In the distance you could hear nails being pounded into wood as people prepared for the incoming blizzard and the nearly constant buzz of the helicopter circling the camp above. We found the water tank but the nozzle had frozen and a few people were working on it so we decided to walk around some more. We came upon a totem pole of signs that people had made to show where they had traveled from. I was stunned at the distances people have traveled to support the Water Protectors, they are coming quite literally from all over the world.

sign totem

We had been warned that some may not be very welcoming to us, since both my friend and I are blonde, white girls (as my friend described us to her family, we are “Lily-white girls with big hearts”), but everyone was so nice to us. Within the first half-hour of walking around I was offered food and something to drink (both of which I politely declined because we brought our own supplies; it was important to my friend and I that we didn’t strain the resources of the camp beyond us simply being there and our bodies and vehicle taking up space). It is nearly impossible to describe the feelings you have when you are in Oceti Sakowin; though it was cold and windy, I don’t remember even thinking about that, I was just so grateful and excited to bear witness to history happening. There is a strong sense of community, and everyone was either doing something to sustain the camp or help each other. As we walked by the water tank with the frozen valve at different times that day we saw different people working on it, each one doing their best to make it better for everyone. That simple, plastic water tank, to me, was a powerful symbol of the spirit of that camp materializing.

Finally the sun was getting low in the sky and we decided we should get the water and take it to my friend’s family before it got dark. We said our goodbyes and got into the car to leave camp as the sun was setting. As we left the camp behind us on Highway 1806, the dark sky was lit with the red glow of taillights from the stream of cars hundreds long still pouring into camp.

I left Oceti Sakowin with a full heart and a new understanding of humanity, or at least of what it should be.

Though Sunday was a victory for the Water Protectors the DAPL is by no means defeated and the fight is not over. (The fight against oil should never be over, until it is a thing of the past and clean energy is used.) Here are some sources you can go to for updates on the DAPL and the Water Protectors fighting it:

Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council

Sacred Stone Camp Facebook page

My personal thoughts on the Dakota Access Pipeline

I believe the DAPL is important because it is bringing attention to two very important topics – the continued genocide of Indigenous People and the price our environment is paying to corporate greed and consumerism. I am getting tired of seeing snarky memes on social media saying “Now which pipeline am I supposed to be mad at?” over a map of all the pipelines in the United States. The answer to these ignorant folks is this – ALL of them! The DAPL is getting attention because it is threatening a group of society that has been marginalized and oppressed for centuries, and they have had enough and are making a stand like no one has before against government corruption, corporate greed and the destruction of our environment. And I say good for them! I #standwithstandingrock