REPORTERS’ NOTEBOOK: Ready to Lead

By on November 8, 2016

One local’s unfiltered perspective from Standing Rock.

Members of the Peace March returned to Oceti Sakowin camp after reaching a new milestone in this solidarity movement when activists shared waters with DAPL officers. (Photo: Wade Dunstan)

Members of the Peace March returned to Oceti Sakowin camp after reaching a new milestone in this solidarity movement when activists shared waters with DAPL officers. (Photo: Wade Dunstan)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – For us, it began on social media. A limited scope of images and accounts of what looked like a lost time, but happening in a nearby land. Scenes of Native American tribes coming together to confront police lines, all in an effort of solidarity, to shed light on the violation of Native American civil liberties, and the protection of the world’s most important resource: water.

Over a mid-morning coffee on Thursday, my friend Anders Berling suggested that we, several Wilson Elementary School chums, go see for ourselves what is happening in North Dakota. Soon, our small contingent of four was joined by two others as we gathered an assortment of foul weather gear to donate to the cause, from jackets to gloves, goggles and even a box of condoms. (As Tyler Babcock reminded us: “Just cause there’s war doesn’t mean you can’t love.”)

By 7 a.m. Friday the cars were loaded with a reserve of log rounds, camp gear, food, warm clothes and a destination. “It’s like jumping into a void, we don’t entirely know what to expect,” noted Kyle Craighead Haynam when we picked him up in Rapid City en route. It’s true, the idea of Standing Rock, and actually being there were two very different concepts. What was the situation on the ground and the front lines like and how did it compare to those images emblazoned in our minds?

After a long drive across the great plains of Wyoming with several stops taking in the beauty of the state, the road led north into the Dakotas. Our first glimpse of arrival was two large operational command vehicles operated by the state police. Soon afterwards, we discerned the outline of tent poles and hundreds of flags backlit by the glow of an enormous camp.

Arriving at 2 a.m., we were welcomed by the 24-hour Sioux security at Oceti Sakowin Camp (Seven Council Fires Camp) after a short investigative exchange. Entering the shadowy camp exhausted, we considered simply stopping and camping at the first open grounds, but after a short walk about, I returned having discovered a small zone by the river with coals warm from the previous camp. Through the night one visitor joined into the wee hours alongside the campfire, Bluebird from Wounded Knee. It signaled the warming hospitable nature of Standing Rock Indian Reservation, now juxtaposed by the glaring lights of the Dakota Access Pipe Line.

In the morning, we set out to see the camp. Immediately we came upon a series of well-established tents. Medics, donations, volunteer sign-up, a media tent for permission for filming and photography, Direct Action Orientation.

“Are you prepared to be arrested?” was the standing question.

Were we?

The feeling of being in the camp is remarkable, a united community of otherwise separated tribes from across North America coming together for a common cause. People from many walks of life bonded together as they worked to ready the camp for winter, make displays of solidarity, to embody the mission at hand.

On Saturday there was an unsanctioned ‘action,’ an attempt to take Turtle Island, a symbolic point of strategic interest in the back and forth posturing of police and protesters. Several hundred protesters rode horses and trucks to the river bank across from the island, where they blockaded the river with a string of logs to prevent boats entering. Activists both forded and paddled the river, as the armed police force watched from above. Some suffered minor hypothermia and the DAPL armed forces sprayed mace from upwind.

Meanwhile another front formed on a nearby bridge. As a semi truck edged towards a blockade, we were told that the police were prepared to use lethal force because the truck presented a clear danger to the officers.

The elder council did not approve of the tense and potentially violent situation, and the protesters were called back to camp to regroup.

Sunday followed with a sanctioned action on the same bridge, a peace walk rally of several hundred to kneel on the bridge. A small group approached the barricade of burnt- out trucks and burnt sage to purify the area. They offered the police force water through razor wire and the water was accepted with smiles and laughs. A confrontation as rich and complex as it is full of symbolic acts.

But what can we, outside of the conflict contribute?

As Joe “Tomahawk” Tate of the Pima People said after sharing water with the armed forces on Unity Bridge Sunday, “We don’t have to wait for leaders. Everybody talks about waiting for leaders to act. We are all leaders. My grandmother says you never have to wait and be asked to do something. You’re a leader. You’re a leader. Why wait for them to make our decisions because we know what we need to do.” PJH

How to get involved: check ocetisakowincamp.org. If you want to donate, financial support and items are needed: Building supplies for the coming winter, specialized winter gear, tobacco for ritual purposes and water gear for the protesters braving the icy water that people are there unified to protect.

[For more on local efforts, see The Buzz 2, page 7. — Ed.]

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