Today I wept.
The Army Corps of Engineers announced they were denying the easement today. But I did not weep for the victory of the people, although I was certainly happy for them, no, I wept for the heart of the people. There is a Sacred Fire at the camp where the Elders speak, where prayers are led, and songs are sung for Mother Earth. It’s the songs that struck me to the core.
A young woman from the Montauk tribe sang songs of her people, and I cried. A young man, about 6’4″, stood next to me while she sang. When she finished, she spoke thoughtfully and eloquently about Mother Earth, the need to protect Her, to respect her, but what really touched my heart was her passion for the Spirit and the Elders who she said had passed beyond the veil, yet who still continued to watch over and speak to us all. She then began to sing again, and it only took a moment to notice my tall neighbor was missing.
In the next moment, I found him kneeling next to me, in the mud in a pose of prayer. He kept this position for the entirety of her song, and when he rose again, I couldn’t help but notice his eyes looked like mine – red and full of tears. I put my hand out to touch his shoulder, and I asked him if he was okay. He replied that he was. He asked me the same in return, and I too, responded in the affirmative. Then we hugged. The hug surprised me. It’s not like complete strangers in Los Angeles just go around hugging one another, so it caught me a little off guard. I welcomed him all the same. He then surprised further me by saying, “Thank god we can still feel.” It didn’t strike me until later how significant that little sentence is.
We see so much of life through a screen, whether it be 70″ or a handheld, and what do we know any longer of real connection?
That’s what so many of these people (read: non-Native Americans) came here to experience. The Native Americans have never lost this understanding of true connection. Connection to Earth, connection to Spirit, connection to their brothers and sisters, black, brown, white or otherwise, they still see everyone as brothers and sisters. Even as they pray for the safety and healing of DAPL security, they see and feel the connection, something all the rest of us have seemed to have lost in myriad ways. I’m starting to believe that that’s the thing that called us all here – this desire for true connection. Even if some of some of us didn’t know it, or couldn’t articulate it, it is so obvious to anyone who can soften their heart enough to have the eyes to see.
There were others who spoke and sang.
A woman from the Mohawk tribe brought more tears to my eyes with an impassioned speech about respecting the Sioux and their intentions. She told how her people were not historically the most peaceful tribe, how they had often settled differences and disputes with violence. She spoke of the need for unity of heart, mind, and spirit. Her conviction moved me.
Soon after, a Tribal Chief from a nation in British Columbia came to the fore. (I missed his people’s proper name when my tall friend took a moment to say goodbye to me.) He and his family had just arrived at the camp. A 31 hour trip, he said. He spoke of the necessity to be united on a global level. All nations, all people, coming together to protect Mother Earth. It was this reason that had brought him to North Dakota. He told stories of his people, their history of fishing the rivers of their lands, the life force of water, and the fragility of Mother Earth. Then he sang.
Around the Sacred Fire, the Native American people often reminded those listening, that their songs were not just words and prayers, although they were definitely those things. They also articulated the belief that it was those Elders from beyond who came through them in song, to deliver the messages the people needed. When this Chief began to sing, I found myself believing this to be true. The sounds, the vibrations in his voice seemed to pierce through my flesh and into my heart. I could not keep myself from it, so I cried again. When he finished, he told us he had a gift for the Elders of the camp. A song owned exclusively by his family. It was theirs, and they wanted to give it to the people as a way to honor them. It was so personal and beautiful, it broke my heart even further. I could not be more grateful for all the tears.
Today was, well… it was something.
To accurately describe it seems elusive. There are so many mixed emotions. Like so many things in life, the struggle here is not always so black and white. We live in a world where people make good livings off of manipulating the media with the full knowledge that knee-jerk, reactionary mentalities will spread like wildfire across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And oh, how they play us like fools!
You would think that today’s announcement about DAPL being temporarily suspended would make for an atmosphere of celebration, but the reality of it was far different. Sure there were celebrations, and there was joy, and people certainly felt they had done something significant, but don’t be seduced by what you see on the news. I know there were fireworks, singing and dancing. All of that is true, but it wasn’t all there was to the story. The people who seemed the most excited, if I’m being blunt, were non-Native Americans. It’s not that the Native Americans weren’t pleased, but to have a party now, would be akin to going up 1 – nil in the first half of a soccer match, then celebrating that single, solitary goal to the detriment of the rest of the game. In other words, the job – this fight – at least as far as I can tell, is far from over.
Did you miss part one and two 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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