Two years ago, we decided to join the Water Protectors at Oceti Sakowin to fight against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. For months, we had seen the battle unfold over social media, and our hearts were being pulled to North Dakota as we watched our relatives grow the #NoDAPL movement from one tribe, to ten tribes, to 100 tribes, and then to a global movement that included indigenous nations from every continent speaking out in solidarity.
I remember the day the boats began to arrive on the river, and the day the Hopi dancers walked through the Oceti Sakowin main gate. It was powerful! Indigenous people from South America, Japan, Mongolia, and Europe were marching and sending supplies to the camp. Activists were breaking down barriers and forming alliances. And, flags from every Native American nation were being flown at the camp. It was the first time I’d seen, in my lifetime, so many tribes united for one cause. All the warriors were rising up!
Our decision to join the fight happened in the Fall, and it was the best decision we ever made together (up until that point). It was scary! But, it was something we felt like we needed to do. How could we sit back and let everyone else fight this fight? We wanted to be there.
We arrived on a cold evening. The sun was setting below the horizon. With us, we brought medicine from within the 4 sacred mountains of the Navajo Nation. We brought cedar for prayer, corn pollen for offerings, bitter root for nightmares (and supernatural attacks), eye medicine for tear gas attacks, and mountain smoke for psychological healing. We brought supplies, food, & safety gear (goggles, ear plugs, gloves, ventilator masks) – all of which, were meant for our relatives who had been at the camp for months. It was for those who needed it. We knew the attacks that were reported were real, and we wanted to help combat those attacks the best way we knew how.
Our experience at the camp was life-changing on so many levels. The people we met there were so bad@$$, fearless, determined, and kind. The drums we woke up to every morning are something I will never forget. The memory of the cold, crisp air that shocked the whole body is something that sticks out in my memory, even on the hottest days. The smell of campfires, the taste of elk, the sight of those large construction light towers on the hills, the sound of drones… it all still resonates.
The stories we heard were stories of conflict with security, conflict with pro-DAPL community members, conflict with NGOs, conflict between governments – but there were also stories of healing and restoration. We heard from people who had been healed from depression, anxiety and addiction. We heard travel stories. We heard camp stories that included community-based justice, indigenous histories, camp politics, spiritual awakening, and tribal leadership.
On Action Days, we saw true movement, true unity, and true conviction. We experienced the kind of care and community that has extended to how we operate now, years later, in our own community. We feed, clothe, educate, protect and support our relatives and neighbors. Since returning, we are careful to recognize (and not take advantage of) our own personal privacy, protections, and privileges. And, mostly, we are more cognizant of the impact we have on the world around us.
In this video, we are telling a portion of our story to KNAU reporter, Aaron Granillo. Originally, Michael was invited to speak about his experience as an NAU professor who went to the front lines, something the majority of academics (at the time) couldn’t do because of job security, university regulations for non-tenured faculty, and political hierarchies that prevent that sort of activity and involvement. But, because it was a shared experience, Michael encouraged me to join him at the radio station. In the final version of the interview that was published on the KNAU website and broadcasted over NPR, my voice is completely cut out. In this version, which is the *RAW* version, everything is included. It is not edited, so you can hear all the little extra conversation cues, as well as, a song at the end that Michael performed.
As stated in the interview, this is dedicated to the WATER PROTECTORS. Our work, our story, and our actions are dedicated to everyone who made the journey to Standing Rock, to everyone who donated resources, to anyone who showed support online, to anyone who was jailed for protesting, to anyone who voted for #NoDAPL legislation, etc… Thank you!!
The photos in the video were taken by YKD and many, many others. We utilized photos found online to give viewers a visual interpretation of what happened at Standing Rock before we arrived, during our time there, and after we left. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and we agree. What occurred there should never be forgotten. We need to tell these stories for the rest of our lives. We need to show the world the injustices we experienced. And, we need to speak our truth!
Original music by: One Note Johnny – Click the link to hear the album!