A bunch of us from MIWRC went to the Oceti Sakowin Camp in late August to bring supplies, donations, and to see if there was anything we could do to help. I have been to a few protests and protest camps, so I expected the usual charged atmosphere complete with the ego-boosted hot-heads going around talking like they are some kind of savior (who were most likely spies trying to incite violence to discredit the movement), or the super-entitled trust fund activists who look down on everyone who are not as “enlightened” as they are, or the “I’m down with the people” potheads who just want a real cool time and a really good game of hackysack, and the list goes on. I saw none of that. I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is not a protest camp, it is a camp full of people protecting the water, everyone's source of life, and the environment.
I saw people working together creating a culturally relevant space that was also inclusive. I saw people cleaning up after themselves and each other. I saw children playing and everyone looking out for them. I saw people chopping wood to keep the fires going. I saw folks talking about peace and tradition. I saw people walking around with sage and cedar cleansing the areas and inviting others to smudge. I saw people cooking and feeding people. I saw caring and love.
When we walked to the gate of the construction site, there were prayers and offerings. There was silence and respect. Prayer ties lined the fences of the desecrated land. The fence was hung with banners from too many nations to count, supporting the Oceti Sakowin. The mood was solemn and prayerful. My spouse and I were tired and out of water, so we went back to the camp to help one of our friends with her children and to cool off. The majority of the Protectors went on to where the company was destroying sacred burial lands. That is where the dogs were set loose on the Protectors and a journalist was arrested. We didn’t hear about it until later that day. We couldn’t help but notice the helicopter that was hovering low over the camp and the drones that kept poking up over the hillsides though.
That evening, the mood around camp was sad. The gathering place around the sacred fire was full and elders were speaking wisely about how non-violence is the only true and powerful weapon, and that if we raise our arms in violence we will have lost our way and we would have no ground to stand on. If we were feeling like we needed to use violence we should go back to our families to heal and not hurt the people who are still in the fight. And that there is nothing wrong with leaving to take care of yourself and others because there are many people to continue the fight in the right way, the only way that will win. The Company people were trying to get us to be violent so they can come in and wipe us out. I am only paraphrasing here, not as eloquently as those who spoke, but these are the things I remember being said.
I come from a family that has hidden its Native heritage. I was lucky enough to know and spend time with my grandfather’s siblings who had native pride. I like to think some of my core values come from my Aunt Delores and my Uncle Jack, and also my father who couldn’t pass for white. The things said around the sacred fire really struck a chord in me. I felt like I was with family, once again hearing how they spoke.
by Randy Vickers