Voices from Standing Rock

I traveled to many places this summer.  8500 miles by car, 40 states, speaking with hundreds of people... However, no moment was more powerful and telling than the time I spent at Standing Rock last month. Right now, it is 3 o’clock in the morning, back in San Francisco, and I wake from a heavy heart with dreams of the reservation, what is happening today, and concern for the people I so respect.

When we first approached the road leading to the camp, there was a police blockade which instructed us to “go around”. Going around in this case meant another 3 hours to get there. We did.

When we finally found our way to the camp, it was pouring rain. Within moments, I was helped into a garbage bag to cover my body, given a warm meal and shelter from the storm. An hour later, the storm broke and people were back to work. What could have been a chaotic environment was not. There were make shift signs and structures, campfires and kitchens being erected, as well as sparse resources doled out in an orderly fashion. 

Covered with mud, we all found our way to assist in the effort to build a community. The best word I can use to describe it is “flow”. There was a flow to this massive endeavor. Having a flow does not take away the seriousness that underlay the reason for being there or the breadth of emotions that were visible. We were visitors, but welcomed as part of the whole. The words “my brother”, “my sister” fell on my ears with a depth of meaning I had not experienced before. 

In my travels, I get to play the role of witness. I sit. I listen. I hold a space in my own heart for people to reveal what they need to hear themselves say. 

 As I sat there, on this land, in the mud and locking eyes with each individual, I became aware it's me that was being held and seen. As they tell their stories, I have a sense of being rooted to the ground, like I can’t move. I don’t want to move. I feel at ease… at peace. We are there and we can feel the sense of resistance that is building up, about to descend around this camp but there is a feeling of grace as well. There was an overriding feeling of grace. 

I don’t want to leave. I’ve spent the summer speaking of peace and the greatest sense of it that I've experienced was holding this ground, at this moment, with these people. As one man named Chuasa said, “Western culture goes on. It’s there. We are here. We are grounded here.”

In cities, it has become commonplace to hear people speak about finding their tribe. It is a modern day quest to find unity and a sense of belonging. The word is also meant to be about a group who is dependent on the land for their livelihood. This is a key component of what it means to be in a tribe. I feel that this is where we have gotten lost. The land and our identity have become separate. We rent. We OWN. We have no sense of its true value and history.

I am struck by all that has been taken away from these tribes and yet their association to the land has not faded, even remotely. “Ownership” does not have meaning. They are one and the same with the land and will protect her, just as a mother does a child or a child who will protect an elder. The land is a family member, who should not be harmed or must be nursed and cared for when ill.

Tonight, I sit in my bed with its clean sheets and I know that there are people who are out there holding the land and keep her safe for us all. 

We will be sharing their voices this coming week so you can all experience who is standing behind those banners and who we will owe a great debt for keeping this country safe from itself…

I send you love… my sister, my brother.