I’m currently confined to a hotel room, and I’m stir crazy and more than slightly exasperated.
I purchased well over a thousand dollars worth of supplies for the Oceti Sakowin camp, and without the proper vehicle, there was no way for me to deliver any of it. The weather had turned, and I was stuck. It’s been difficult to not feel useless the last couple of days.
This journey, however, is much like a philosophy that anyone wishing to go to Standing Rock should embrace: release your preconceived ideas and agendas, and just go with the flow. If there is one concrete thing I can impart about my experience, it’s this: If you go to Standing Rock with your own agenda, you’re not only doing a disservice to yourself, but you will also find yourself in contradiction to the camp and the heart of the movement itself.
There is an inherent selfishness in trying to control or dictate the journey of life, but this becomes an acute issue when approached through the lens of being a non-Native American coming to Standing Rock. I had so many things I wanted to do with my time here, but I often found myself unable to follow that agenda. In hindsight, I would say it was for the best, honestly. I’ve made no secret of the fact that this journey was me following the pull of the Universe or Spirit in this adventure.
I haven’t always understood or even agreed with the way things have gone on this trip, but then again, I have no control over things like blizzards, icy roads, or the fact that there was a dearth of 4-wheel drive cars, making it impossible for me travel back to the camp on my desired timetable.
Here’s an ugly truth I’m not sure I want to admit.
If I’m being completely honest, there is a part of me that wanted a fantasy on this journey. The baser parts of me wanted to ride into camp like some kind of savior to the people. That mindset is ridiculous at best, and it’s a typical, privileged, white man desire at the very least. My intent from the outset was to just come to be a witness. It was the ego whispering in my ear, telling me I could do more, that I could or should do things well beyond my purview.
I suppose I should be grateful that Spirit took away from me the opportunity to indulge the idiot ego inside me. For at least one-third of my time in North Dakota, I was locked down in a hotel – nowhere to go, and no way to get there even if there was a place to be. It was stressing me out wondering what I could do, and also wondering what would happen to all the supplies. Should I find a local Native American charity? Could I find an Oceti Sakowin sympathizer in Bismarck who would agree to take them for me? Would I have to ship everything I could, and count the wood and propane as losses?
I tried contacting Mike, the sweet, old activist from camp, to see if he was still in Bismarck. I knew he had a 4-wheel drive, and I knew he was headed back to camp, but even he told me he didn’t have time to meet. It was an understandable choice on his part.
Even as I left today, the roads were significantly better, but it’s not saying much when you might be able to do 35 miles per hour instead of 20. I respected Mike’s position, but I was frustrated by the situation, to say the least. I had made a promise. A promise that might now go undelivered to those who entrusted me and helped with their own money, love, and support, but there was also a tacit promise made to the people at Standing Rock. Granted, those people didn’t really know me from Adam, but my spirit had agreed to do this in their honor.
I was at a loss.
Then, like the overarching theme of this expedition, Spirit delivered something unexpected. A young woman, whom I have yet to actually meet in person, a woman to whom I was introduced through a mutual friend on Facebook, posted that she was returning to Standing Rock. We messaged back forth, and I learned that her flight was coming in about 30 minutes before my flight out was scheduled to depart. I learned that she was meeting someone to pick up camera lenses for her own reporting needs. Without hesitation, she agreed to give me the gentleman’s contact information. I called him.
I explained who I was and how I knew our mutual friend. I explained to him the entire situation, and he graciously agreed to allow me to drop off all the supplies, so this young lady could retrieve them. I arrived at his business, and he helped me unload two large bins, stuffed to the brim with supplies. He came back for a second and third trip to procure the loose items as well. As I was leaving to make my way to the airport, I shook this man’s hand and thanked him for his generous spirit. “Anything to help.” he replied.
It wasn’t impossible to find Water Protector friendly folk in Bismarck, but it certainly wasn’t easy either. I was grateful to have found an avenue through this gentleman. “Merry Christmas!” he called after me as I headed toward the door. Merry Christmas, I called over my shoulder. I hopped in the truck and carefully made my way to the airport.
After I made it through airport security, I texted my journalist friend and discovered she was downstairs at the rental car counter. We were within a mere 200 feet of one another, but it wasn’t meant to be that we should meet at this time. I gave her a basic list of the items I had left for her. Wool hats, gloves, socks, propane, bundles of wood, food, and so much more. I included every winter item I had purchased for my own use, from the hat on my head, to the coat on my back, down to the boots on my feet. Nothing was to be wasted or misappropriated.
Her response to the list was indicative of the Spirit that has brought most all the rest of us to camp, and I wasn’t surprised in the least. “Honored to deliver it to camp,” came the reply. And it was an honor. For all of us. The Universe, Spirit, God, it matters little to me what label you slap on it. Something had made this experience, this mission possible when, much like the fight at Standing Rock, it had seemed ill-fated, forgotten, and even, at times, impossible.
As I’m now sitting on a plane back to Denver, I’m left with a feeling that there is a magic to the Native American people.
I don’t care if you don’t believe it, can’t see it, or perhaps can’t recognize it. I don’t even care what you might think of me for believing in something so lofty and ethereal. I can only tell you what I personally saw, felt, and experienced. The totality of Oceti Sakowin Camp and the Native American people there are, in this man’s humble opinion, nothing short of magic.
I am honored to have played (and will hopefully continue to play) whatever role was meant for me. I am grateful to have learned many things from this experience, and the Native American Spirit. To all the Nations and peoples represented, to the camp itself, and to all those I met along the way, I say thank you. Thank you for all the lessons so freely given.
There are too many lessons to list, and even some that I’m not quite sure how to articulate because they manifest more as feelings, but there are three that walk together entwined. Funny thing is, I already know them, but in times like these, I think they bear repeating.
Have faith. Let go of the outcome. Trust the ride.
Did you miss the other parts of this series?
Wondering what to do next? We have started an Environmental Social Interest Group—and a lot of our discussion is about Environmental Social Justice and history-defining events like Standing Rock and #NoDaPL.
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