Reflection on a mid-September 2016 visit to Standing Rock where the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Sioux are in non violent resistance to the building of a crude oil pipeline under the Missouri River, their main water sources, and across land where their ancestors are buried)
In September 2016 I drove from the Black Hills in South Dakota to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannonball North Dakota with a large suitcase full of winter coats, blankets and an air mattress – feeling compelled the way a blood cell in might race towards the heart with a sense of purpose, duty and joy.
I had a long standing trip planned to South Dakota for September – and my proximity to Standing Rock – albeit 300+ flat prairie miles away – exerted a inexplicable magnetism on the needle of my inner compass. In retrospect, here’s how I am beginning to explain it to myself.
My story of Standing Rock, and I’ll wager many of yours, starts with “I saw it on Facebook.” It was early July when a friend started reporting about her role as a legal advisor at the Sacred Stone camp. She talked about calling on her full quiver of legal tools to stop the boring of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River next to the Standing Rock Reservation. She also talked about the muddy road and no sleep, about her devastation when the Army permitted Dakota Access’s access to the lands of the Heartland, about her own human failings and her tenderness towards her all too mortal allies. I entered not just through issues but through her heart.
Mni Wiconi. Water is Life.
I began to learn a new hashtag vocabulary. #mniwiconi. #waterislife. #noDAPL, I learned about the issue, about the 1200 mile pipeline, about that Enbridge Energy Partners began without all the permits in place, about the 500 gallons of Bakken crude oil per day that will run through the pipeline when it’s complete, about the fact that it won’t even feed America’s habit for oil, but rather feed Energy Transfer Partners’ bottom line as they sell it to China, about how they will bore underneath the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, about the inevitability of spills, about the millions who will lose access to their water when that happens, about treaty rights being abrogated. In the mirror of these facts I saw the fact that the rent check on this edifice of stolen land and broken promises and genocide is coming due.
Why did this campaign strike my heart when so many other posts float by on my screen, the cheerful celebrations of marriages and babies, the indignant links to murderous wars and black men falling on the streets of our cities?
The refrain Mni Wiconi, Water is Life drew up from the well of my past my own relationship with water and spirit.
Nearly 50 years before my pilgrimage to Standing Rock I embarked on a classic generational pilgrimage. in 1969, just 23 years old, I went on the road with a van, a dog and a guy. By early winter we’d passed through CA and followed the sun to Mazatlan, Mexico. There I walked into the warm Pacific Ocean with enough LSD in my veins to open the doors of my heart to a sense of Universal Love. For hours I let the waves wash my fears away and walked out feeling reborn in the earth’s original baptismal font. I sat up all night with 3 friends under a dome of stars still winking iridescent colors, pouring out a river of words about the shape a life base in love might take. We bonded as a module of 4 around those words. A community grew around us, the remnant of which I was slated to visit in South Dakota.
By 1979, 10 years of back to the land, space age motor home building and further spiritual quests under our belts, we were traveling in said motor home on a self-styled mission to be of service to others. The vision on the Mexico beach, though, had become like a religion. I’d become good but not quite real.
We camped for a few days at Lassen Volcanic National Park at, as I recall, Manzanita Lake Campground. We planned to start breaking camp by 7 AM, but I was up far earlier and walked down to the Lake. Fog hung low below the trees and mist rose from the lake in the early morning light. A loon’s call struck my heart, the sound of a solitary soul. I took off my clothes and walked in the water up to my neck without flinching at the cold, my breasts floating, skin goose-bumping in alarm. I wasn’t cold or lonely or rehearsing the story I’d tell later. I felt profoundly free, the way I had in the ocean. Baptised again as the ever-present quiet self, always there behind the big ideas and high ideals.
Mni Wiconi. Water is Life.
Thirty five years later I was living in a large house in Seattle with a group that had grown out of those early days. Your Money or Your Life had been conceived, written, published and become a best seller in that house. I was 15 years into traveling the world as a missionary for putting money in service to life (and life in service to love). In February 2004, though, that all came to a screeching halt. I was diagnosed with a cancer the size of a proverbial grapefruit in my gut and had just had it removed. Recovering on a couch in the living room, I had three prophetic dreams on three successive nights. The first two dreams are for another story, though I will say they have informed my life ever since. In the final dream I was walking across a parched landscape, my mouth dry and lips split from thirst. As I woke these sentences came:
I am drinking dead water.
I need to drink living water.
By water I will be healed.
More awake, a fourth sentence came: I have to leave this house.
As I puzzled what to do about such a dream, I spoke with a friend for whom cancer had also been a teacher.
“You know that living water is how Christ spoke of himself to the woman at the well.”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Dead water was everything dead in my life. Assumptions. Relationships. Even identity. Being almost 60, debris certainly circulated through my spiritual veins.
Living water was taking in only what added health and vitality to my body and soul. It turned out I had to live by myself to even discern what inside me wanted to live.
By water I will be healed. At first I thought that I needed to drink water from a spring, rather that the channeled, piped, treated liquid out of the faucet, far from it’s riverbed home. Then I realized it wasn’t water id drink, it was water beside which I would live able to see the great cleansing tidal sweep of the ocean.
Mni Wiconi. Water is life.
Fast forward to May 2016. I have lived for a decade on this island in Puget Sound, drinking wonderful water pumped from a well head less than 1000 feet from my home. I have been healed, and this place is part of it, the tides, the smallness of the community, the local food and nourishing relationships. If you recall the sweet tale, Madeline, about girls in a perfectly orderly little Paris boarding school, you’ll recall the head nun, Miss Clavel, woke one night and said, “Something is not right.” This is how I felt on my island as I learned about the fight to keep the black snakes of pipelines carrying Bakken Crude – from the Tar Sands in Alberta and oil fields in the heartland – from reaching any port on any coast. These healing waters are threatened by our thirst for oil.
I’d heard about Idle No More in Canada, First Nations elder women waking from the slumber of marginalization, ready to fight. I’d heard from Reuben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in Vancouver how by using their treaty rights they are stopping the Kinder Morgen Pipeline. Something in me said “Yes, this is how it happens!”
I now have enough arthritis that walking can be a challenge, though medicated I do much better, but when I learned that one of 350.org’s Break Free From Fossil Fuel actions would be in Anacortes, I could not stay away. The Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest organized a 3 mile march. Holding on to the arm of a young friend, I made it. There Jewell James celebrated that his Lummi Tribe had won their battle to stop the Cherry Point Coal Port from being built because of their treaty rights to their fishing ground. Treaty Rights. Not civil, not activist. Yes, this is how it happens.
Jewell James told us he carved a totem pole every year to deliver to a tribe that is battling big energy companies and that everywhere the totem pole went, the tribes won. Deborah Parker from the Tulalip tribe, one of Bernie Sanders’ picks for the Democratic Platform Committee, spoke as well. And again Reuben George who said, when Kinder Morgan offered to have a conversation about the impasse, “You are a corporation. I represent a nation. I only speak with other nations.” We also welcomed another tribe arriving by canoe – surely one of the canoes that was later towed to the Missouri River to paddle to Standing Rock in a show of solidarity.
I knew I was in the presence of the right relationships to turn the tide: grounded in the spirit of the land and of the Creator, indigenous led, asserting treaty rights. It was as if I had waited my whole life for the real grown ups to come and tell us hyper-active, self-centered kids to settle down and stop tearing up the house. Here are the earth-honoring people claiming their rights, their spirit-led way of life, welcoming us to walk with them.
Mni Wiconi. Water is Life.
We live here on the Salish Sea. We are defined by our watersheds, our inland waterways, our magnificent marine life, our annual rain and our tides. Water is life.
In just over a month, I read the first post about Standing Rock on Facebook and heard felt drawn to feed with my little load of nourishment the heart that is beating at Standing Rock.
Two months later I arrived at Sacred Stone Spirit Camp in my rental car with that big suitcase I’d hauled from Whidbey Island and dove in as one of many, in service to the complex society forming in good will and hard work and sobriety now that winter is coming and these Lakota intend it to be Dakota Access Pipeline’s last stand.
Mni Wiconi. Water is life.
By water we will all be healed, all who allow themselves to feel the pulse of Standing Rock and participate in stopping the black snake that a Lakota prophesy said would one day come up from the earth to spread death and destruction.
We all have a story of how we fit in these times when the tree of life is being shaken to its roots. We don’t have to understand or control the story, we just need to let whatever is alive within each of us feel the pulse and move, possibly leaving much dead water behind, allowing the tides of living waters to heal us.
Here is the report I wrote before returning to South Dakota and to the people who’d been magnetized long ago to a vision born in the ocean in Mexico of a community rooted in love and service, which I had seen in action among the #mniwiconi #waterprotectors:
A quick first impression before getting on the road. 6 hours is not enough to say anything true so pick your sources of information and stay tuned to them. I brought my suitcase of love, blankets and jackets from Whidbey to Sacred Stone camp which is on private land (Lakota Sioux LaDonna Bravebull Allard) where the winter camp is being built. No photos allowed so I could not objectify the camp, but just plunge in and offer help. Half a dozen teepee’s and for the rest it looks like what it is: an orderly squatters camp with strong will and big intentions with a sweat lodge by the river. (where they are doing ceremony… and consider themselves the ceremonial camp). Their intention is to build as alt energy, alt buildings and systems village as possible – and soon so they can endure the winter. I saw a typical lodge of a northern tribe being built – just the frame was up using sweat lodge building techniques.
I brought my gifts into a chaos of clothing. most of it like mine filled with love and solidarity but once unpacked simply a welter of jackets and pants, large and small, mens and women’s and children’s. I arrived around 3. by then 3 large storage tents erected. When I left around 6, 2 or 3 more had been assembled. Since pawing through old clothes is one of my skills, I worked with a team of cheerful women to sort, bag, box and we self-organized quickly. There’s an inner intelligence to emergent systems like this camp where the gap between vision and reality is great and everyone is there to help. A feeling on industry and good cheer. The camp leadership is clearly indigenous, but many of the workers were white and young, some with dreads, some having arrived on a colorful school bus painted with the Baba Nam Kevalam chant.
My main connection was a woman from Seattle holding down the medicine tent. I gave my $ donation to her for supplies as they at this moment need larger items like splints and stretchers to make a real infirmary for the winter. Folks asked me where to send money or what is needed. honestly, i am sorting that out. For eg: they asked for jackets, i answered the call but so did MANY others and it’s not clear how much is enough anymore.
The medic said they need teams who come equipped with skills, money, materials and time and who do a well executed project beginning to end – like the people from the northern tribe building a lodge. I can imagine my permaculture friends getting organized to build part of the winter encampment – a straw bale or cob structure – but I have no idea how such a team knows who to coordinate with. YET.
I can also imagine a tech team that can work with the people in the camp to keep the website up to date without having to be on site adding to the food in/poop out demands on the land. For now, they are overwhelmed with emails and just sorting through offers and such is big. As I said, emergent. As I said, I only had my eyes on it for a few hours.
I have friends who do church missions to the 2/3 world. I can imagine organized church groups figuring out how to help in an organized way. In a way, organization itself is needed and growing like a fetal brain there. There are now people taking on to keep the several camps working in tandem, sending what’s needed to the right place. As far as I can tell, there are 4 camps, some small, some large, some ceremonial, some statesmenlike with flags of all participating tribes and a microphone where groups can offer their blessings and solidarity
Here’s my top of the head sense of how we all participate:
1. Pray. Hold the highest and best outcome in your heart. There are apparently moles already seeding doubt and conflict (plus the basic mole called human nature). We all need to strengthen the good spirit and deep intelligence of the Sioux tribes leading this water protection. They offer us a great gift, showing us how to be #waterprotectors
2. Sustain attention. This is not a news cycle event. This is a long fight and we are being given by our tribal brothers and sisters a big opportunity to join them. We can keep researching the stories and telling them. Your Facebook and other social media, your email lists, your chances to speak in your groups are all the media. We can write congresspeople when asked. We can organize solidarity events. We can host booths at conferences and festivals to share stories and raise funds. We all have busy lives and short attention spans, so just the effort to keep the world’s awareness on this fight – here, in iowa and anywhere the black snake winds – is attention the DAPL folks wants to go away.
3. Legal and financial strategies are being developed. I invite you to join me in learning what they are and how to help. It’s a bit like a bull fight. We are small and colorful but we are learning how to bring down the raging bull (Wall Street). Legal battles and pressure on those who fund the oil industry to divest are like the picadors who put in darts that begin to bleed the bull’s energy. I have seen in the past few years the movements coming together – from issues to understanding the source of our collective distress in the financial systems and the national security state. More of us see more of how that system operates. The bull can out wait us. It can find an opening and charge through. It can distract us, even with our inner doubts and guilts. So I for one intend to stay close to those who are developing the legal and financial strategies and will support them however i can.