Guest post by: Dave Wolfe
About events occurring on and around December 11, 2016
Edited by: Ben Szioli and Jeff Epstein
For hundreds of years, the native population of this great nation has been exploited in the name of progress. This pattern was repeated once again in 2016, when Texas based Energy Transfer Partners was set to run a pipeline under Lake Oahe. The battle at Standing Rock was bigger than just a pipeline, however. It was a battle to ensure the integrity of a water source that is depended on by more than ten million people. It was a battle for indigenous rights, against corporate greed, and against a militarized police force bent on furthering a corporate agenda. The battle at Standing Rock was a 21st century David and Goliath: one side armed with automatic weapons, water cannons, grenades, and more, the other side standing in unity, armed with only love and prayer. Victory can and will be achieved, but it is going to take a continued effort on the part of native and non-native people united together in love and prayer.
From the moment we entered the camp, we felt completely at home— like resting in the loving embrace of a grandmother. We could hear the faint sound of drums accompanied by a song in the distance, and the smell of campfires lingered on the breeze. The main road was lined with the flags of all the tribes, groups, and organizations that have joined the Standing Rock Sioux in this fight. Everyone at camp was moving about, diligently pursuing whatever endeavor they had chosen for the betterment of the camp. Carpenters were busy building structures to provide shelter throughout the winter. First responders and medics scrambled to give aid to the water protectors returning from the front lines. Men could be seen chopping wood, while people joyfully went about, picking up whatever trash managed to fall on the ground. Everyone at the camp was hyper-conscious of the waste they created daily and took great steps to correct that behavior. All of us within the camp were ever mindful of the horrific history between the United States government and the indigenous population of this country, and many there carried the weight of ancestral sins on their shoulders.
The knowledge that the native population of this country has endured hundreds of years of genocide and colonialism imposed by Europeans weighed heavily on the hearts of all those at Standing Rock. Nevertheless, the camp and all the residents within were engulfed by the ever-present feeling of love. The word agape was personified within the camp, and never in my life have I felt such a spiritual connection with people whom I have never met. Prayers to the creator ascended into the heavens, carried by the smoke rising from the sacred fire. It was this love and those prayers with which the water protectors armed themselves in their quest to kill the black snake.
Unfortunately, the opposition was armed to literally destroy the lives of those warriors bent on protecting the earth and water. The narrative being spun by the Morton County Sheriff’s office was completely false. They used lies to justify their aggression towards water protectors. They continued to propagate a false narrative in which the water protectors were violent, and they said that this alone justified the need for a militarized police presence.
I personally witnessed the hacking of people’s phones, low flying crop dusters at all hours of the day and night, and a military-style drone circling high above in the clouds. It was quite obvious those tactics were used in an attempt to, not only spy on, but to intimidate water protectors. I also saw armored personnel carriers outfitted with automatic weapons, positioned behind rows of razor wire. While in Bismarck picking up supplies, we were even followed by the police until we left the city limits. The whiteness of our skin was probably our only saving grace, as stories of people leaving camp only to never return were told every day. We were instructed to never leave camp alone and to never leave camp at night for fear that we might disappear, captured by DAPL forces in what could only be described as terror tactics. That would not be our only encounter with those bent on furthering the agenda of the oil companies, however.
On our last night in camp, maybe an hour after the sun had set and all the warmth had left the wind, we joined some people at the base of Turtle Island in prayer. We were all huddled around the fire when suddenly, loud threats could be heard coming from the DAPL forces on Turtle Island directed towards the water protectors to our left. Exactly why this altercation began is still a mystery, but what happened next just goes to prove how powerful love and prayer can be.
Tensions escalated quickly, and before we knew what was going on, blinding floodlights rained down on us. Private DAPL security forces and Morton County Sheriff’s officers, armed with gas cannons and automatic weapons, scaled down the hillside and were on one side of the bank, screaming threats to all of us on the other. As threats were being made, the red dot from a sniper rifle became visible, bouncing from person to person. Many of us began to tie bandanas around our faces to protect ourselves from the expected barrage of tear gas and rubber bullets, which had become somewhat of a calling card for the force opposed to us. All of a sudden, almost like a whisper at first, a prayer could be heard being sung behind us.
The song began to increase in volume, as more women began to join in. Every time a threat was made by the occupying force, the women’s song grew louder. It grew so loud that soon all that could be heard was the love and passion in the voices of these powerful women, and although these women desired peace, they showed no fear — even as the sniper painted their chests with his red dot. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the floodlights went out, and the silhouettes of the Morton County Sheriff’s officers and the private DAPL security forces could be seen retreating back up the hill. I believe it was the strength and compassion in the voices of these brave women that had touched their hearts and allowed them to surrender themselves to peace. Love had won the battle, and, on that night, everyone went home unharmed.
The elders instructed us to arm ourselves with love and prayer, and that is what everyone at camp did every day. There was no “I” at camp, only “we.”The events at Standing Rock were bigger than any one person or one pipeline. The feeling and what went on inside the camp were best described by a young man I met, Nate Patton. He described it like this:
I’m convinced that Standing Rock and Oceti Sakowin is Mother Earth’s answer to ISIS, al Qaeda, US foreign policy, corporate greed, etc… This is love’s answer to terrorist training camps: a spiritual training camp, a place where you get fed, educated, and armed with love and information: a place where you leave a piece of your heart and take the love back to your hometown. Instead of creating terrorist sleeper cells, we create active love cells: love warriors.
Those opposing the water protectors armed themselves with instruments of death and continued to propagate a false narrative that the water protectors are violent. Despite this, Camp Oceti-Sakowin remained grounded in love and prayer. United against cultural oppression, opposed to a militarized police presence, and armed with love and prayer, the Oceti-Sakowin and their non-native allies will win this battle, and the black snake will be killed. I have been forever changed from my short time at camp, and I carry the love that was given to me within my heart every day. Although the current administration has taken great steps to destroy any progress that was made, one thing they cannot change is the awakening that has taken place in the hearts and minds of people throughout the world, and it is this awakening that can bring forth real change.
Excellent article, beautifully written. David transports the reader to this “hallowed” ground. I felt like I was right there, listening to the echoes of the distant drums…