I haven't drawn anything all week. In fact, I brought a sketchbook with me on my trip to North Dakota and I didn't touch it once. Barely looked at my phone. I went up there with a couple of my sisters to drop off the few supplies we could figure to bring and help out any way we could with the Standing Rock Sioux and their struggle against the pipeline. I knew we were only going to be there long enough to drop the stuff off, check things out, and come back home.
I feel guilty that I'm not still there.
If you don't know what's going on, here it is in a nutshell: A pipeline is being built on disputed land. It was supposed to go through Bismarck but Bismarck didn't want that poison near them, so they brought it right up to the edge of the Standing Rock Reservation. The land it's going through is, according to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, Sioux land. They're building it anyway. The Sioux camped out in its way and were met with billy clubs, sonic weapons, tear gas, rubber bullets, bean bag guns, mace, arrest, attack dogs and more. There are currently over 250 tribes camped out there, along with all types from all over the world. The Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL) has the Sheriff's Dept, local police, National Guard and militarized mercenaries in the form of "security" there to get them to move.
The Governor who dispatched the National Guard has stock in the pipeline. So does the Sheriff. So does Donald Trump, apparently to the tune of some $100,000,000 or so. President Obama and all the Federal constituencies have stood back, saying essentially to "ride it out, see what happens".
And that oil? We'll never see it. It's to be sold to foreign interests.
The Sioux and their relatives on the camp call it not a protest but "protection" of Earth. If that pipeline ruptures (which is almost a guarantee) it will contaminate an aquifer that supplies water to the entire Midwest. The ENTIRE MIDWEST. That includes the Mississippi, all the way down to the Gulf Of Mexico.
These guys are digging their heels in, and the cold weather is around the corner. Trump's announcement of Presidency is not a good sign. President Obama's indifference is not a good sign. The enormous amount of power behind the pipeline is mind boggling. But these folks are digging in for a long winter, no matter what.
I stopped up there for two days to drop off winter gear and some solar stuff I'd been able to put together, along with some other junk I hope they needed. I planned on dropping it off and turning around, but we stuck around for a couple days and I saw things, beautiful things, heard amazing things, that I will take with me forever. Also saw some rugged, scary things.
I saw the sniper aiming at my face from the disputed bridge, saw the ATVs at the hilltop keeping the buffalo in a barbed wire confinement without food or water. I heard the helicopter in the "no fly zone", buzzing over the camp into the early morning, and the constant droning of a plane with no lights flying above, while everyone's phone mysteriously goes crazy. I saw the massive SWAT vehicle with the sonic weapon on its roof, the barbed wire, the men on the hillside watching us through binoculars or scopes.
I listened to stories about the raid, when they pulled men and women out of teepees and sacred sweat lodges near naked and after arresting them confined them to what were essentially dog kennels. I heard about the sacred items that were smashed, urinated and defecated on, and left on the side of the road in a pile. I heard many, many things.
There were other things I saw and heard, like the Elders during the morning prayer talk of possible infiltrators from DAPL. They told us, "If you see someone suspicious, invite him to sit by the fire and have a cup of coffee. Talk to him." TALK TO HIM. He told us about the cycle, and that our ancestors have been through worse, and this was our time. He said things that make my eyes well up even now, thinking about it. He called everyone his relatives. All were welcome at the camp, no matter race, religion, or sexual orientation. Weapons, alcohol and drugs were not. The slogan, heard passionately yelled out from time to time, is Mni Wiconi. "Water Is Life". It felt like a final stand for things beyond my comprehension and way beyond my control. Everyone was united for the purpose of protecting the water, the earth, the future.
Never have I been anywhere like that place. I am half Irish, half Ho-Chunk and I don't talk about it often because it's been a complicated part of my life and introduces uncomfortable conversations that I usually just don't want to deal with. But being in that camp made me realize some things. We ARE all brothers and sisters. This planet IS sacred, and we MUST do what we can to protect it. And if you feel, if you KNOW in your heart that what you are doing is true and good, you can be fearless in the face of anything. I've SEEN it.
I wanted to share that last part with you because we are living in a time of massive change. If I spend more than 5 minutes on social media I'm convinced we're all doomed. Even now I have a nugget of discomfort in my belly, and hopelessness creeps up. What I felt out there in Standing Rock was a oneness that I've never experienced before, a singleness of purpose that was so simple and so profound that it seemed to encapsulate every problem in the world and solve it for me as well. Protect the earth. Love each other. If I know in my heart that I am doing what is good and true, and harming no one, I can be fearless.
By no means am I perfect. I'm a grumpy, angry man with more character defects than I can list here without turning it into a Tolstoy novel. But I felt a strange hope for the first time in a WHILE up there. Not hope that everything's going to be okay, because it probably won't. Hope that just doing the right thing will lift this pain, this fear, this hate. That loving my fellows (as well as I can), loving the earth, will justify me in a way that goes beyond the material world.
Next week will be a tough one for the folks up there, and they can use your help. My suggestion would be to contribute to their Legal Defense Fund, because it's a pretty much guaranteed arrest to go against that law enforcement. If you can donate any kind of cold weather gear, that would be helpful as well. Here's their website, which has all the ways you can help:
Sorry for the long "blog", but I've been chewing on this for a while. I hope I can be, in the future days, nearly as good as I saw them be. I hope I can sustain the vitality they gave me in the face of the adversity to come. I hope I can be a good guy.