Fishbowler

I make art in strange places and blog about it.

Category Archives: Standing Rock

Political or Physical?

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“Don’t die for the wire, live for it.” Regarding Dakota Access PipeLine’s concertina wire, this was advice I heard passed along between some young natives around Oceti Oyate fire another snowy night between singing, drumming and prayer. It’s obviously a question weighing heavy. What symbolic act can heal these youthful hearts?

Honestly I go to the frontline so infrequently that I’m not the best one for a report from there and I can tell you it’s been because I’ve simply been disgusted by the actions there which lead to arrests. Becoming injured by the cops and security doesn’t appeal to me and I’m pretty sure these welts and bodily damage don’t lead to eliciting any kind of symbolic victory for our side.

The native folks will tell you this has been 500 years in the making. The oppression of a people is palpable in this area and I’ve seen the effects of it myself. Akichita is the Lakota term for warrior or soldier and there is a pride surrounding it that takes into account the familial/tribal aspect that non-natives will never be able to fully understand. The solidarity isn’t just for show.

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The frontline is a friction point in more ways than one but not just between cops and water protectors, there’s also contention between our people over what the point of it all really is here. What is our battle?

We’re walking this tightrope here in terms of the public relations invoked—how does the public view water protectors? Physical battles against the property of DAPL’s security forces become detrimental to our cause. We can’t lose access to the hearts of the world right now. It’s the reason our cleanup of camp is so important. We’re dealing with the leftovers of thousands of people who are long gone and all eyes are on us. Bob Dylan says to live outside the law one must be perfectly honest. It’s still a pigsty at Oceti Sakowin camp and all those tent poles, propane canisters and plastic bottles will be floating down the river if thaw comes too rapidly in the spring. That’s what’s called an environmental/PR disaster.

The casino recently hosted a two day conference presented by the United Nations on “Indian Treaties”. Their indigenous representatives were here to talk about indigenous rights around the world and to take testimonies from our water protectors, mostly with injuries sustained at the frontline at the hands of nasty spirited and overzealous cops and security officers.

I was happy to accompany my new friend Shara to the meeting as she’s a descendent of Iron Nation who signed the famous Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868. Her family standings make her a signatory for the Lower Brule band of the Lakota people which is the tribe generally called Sioux. The evening before the conference she and I encountered a passionate and confrontational young warrior type who hastily divided himself from us by dismissing us as political after use of the word “treaty”. He’s young but he’s not dumb. He’s a guy that I’ve talked to before and I hesitate to say his name here because 2 days later he was involved with some trouble between our people at camp and the DAPL security forces, allegedly getting shot at. I believe he’s been banned from camp as an agitator.

Shara says without treaties there would be no Lower Brule people or Sioux nation. At least it’s an effort at peaceful coexistence. Water protectors have started to step up efforts to police our own as trouble makers like him are the reason the Backwater Bridge keeps highway 1806 barricaded and closed to traffic. It’s the reason the Tribal Council has asked us to leave. With Trump’s latest announcements to overturn (?) the environmental impact studies required of DAPL we may see some abrupt about faces from the council. This complex fight, is it political or physical?

frontline image credit: Craig Roth

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Pray For It..

What is this prayerful resistance? What was once twenty people in a few summer teepees grew to 12,000 by early winter and has since receded to around 600 or so. There is an ebb and flow in everything. If we listen to it all at the core we’ll hear that calm river that sometimes likes to flood in the spring. Nature leads if we can listen. Prayer leads if we can hear it.

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Just now, with a handful of other hungry water protectors in Main Mess Hall, lunch started in prayer. My friend Clarence from Oklahoma is native and he gave us a Christian style prayer starting “Our heavenly father..” ending in “aho”. More typical around here is to hear prayer begin with Lakota or Dakota words. Here we’re the melting pot of melting pots. The mudras my hands formed into personalized my own prayer with a taste of Buddhism. Each to one’s own taste.

I’ve become more prayerful here than ever but I still have a long way to go to find the level of universal symbiotic spirituality that I know is there. We still have a lot to do away with, burdens that might hang on our hearts–luggage.

The message most prevalent at this moment is one of moving ahead face first into opposition. Let them oppose me because I find my strength from within. If anyone else is in agreement that’s just an extra bonus. I’ve heard it said that I must stand up for truth even if I stand alone so my prayer is the prayer to find the wisdom to accept the truth when it finds me. I’m finding that it’s the nature of agreement that weighs importantly on me right now. Can I be in agreement with someone who opposes me?

What might appear grammatically impossible might prove true. It takes all kinds as they say and this is a point I’d like to dissect. How can we move in unison with the opposing ways that we belong to? Can Christians and Buddhists and Lakota move in unison prayerfully? I’ve found, personally, that the most deeply spiritual will say yes, absolutely.

I think the truth is an energy that moves and morphs and it is no one thing. We can’t codify the truth but only experience it for the self. It’s only a simple notice to say that one searching for the truth must face the world with honesty. Domination is simply not honest. I must recognize that convincing can take the form of domination and as native peoples know domination is what it means to colonize.

As the helicopter circles above camp I hope their readings of our heat signatures show them our prayer circle in this mess hall. This lunch that warms us warms our prayers which warms our community which warms this dome of our protection which will warm this snow and ice and create an early thaw that will melt gradually the river’s flow safely past us.

This is my prayer.

Paha Sapa Wood Warriors

An intimate meeting in a cabin near Mount Rushmore, South Dakota hosts about 10 unlikely people grouped around a large wooden conference table before bedtime. After sage burning and prayers we talk firewood. The center of attention and our spiritual guide for the night, a character much bigger than his stature is Jumping Buffalo. He has one chronically injured eye, lives in Rapid City, and maintains that Sitting Bull is his grandfather, which I gather is meant in the spiritual sense more than in the blood sense but I’m not sure. I like him. He’s smart, takes charge, and he’s connected–in the firewood sense.16145597_1424656607547159_1148801483_o

Paul Freeman has been on a mission to connect our camp with a steady flow of firewood and the bridge between donors and lumberjacks has now been established. Not that it’s the first time but it’s the latest connection. Freeman, a tall ginger, has a soft honest demeanor with a very faint Nashville accent. He doesn’t joke much and he gets the job done. Kyle Schierbeck is another Standing Rock Lakota Sioux who lives now in Seattle. Schierbeck is an entrepreneur who has taken it upon himself to print Standing Rock Reservation T shirts in an effort to raise money for the camp’s firewood.

Schierbeck brought a couple business associates and Jumping Buffalo brought his chainsaw crew in addition to locals they recruited. Schierbeck informs me that the operation is called Paha Sapa Wood Warriors. Paha Sapa means Black Hills. A neighborhood friend of theirs, Bob, will be supplying the truck and heavy equipment–without profit! and I can report personally, crossing South Dakota is not the most diverse haul of highway, and quite noticeably barren of trees. Jumping Buffalo and Schierbeck–who’s Lakota name is Shunktokta: Coyote–agree that this is the region from which Standing Rock has traditionally gotten its firewood. Please allow me to reiterate: it’s a long drive.16144994_1424656594213827_1342168809_o

Connecting all the dots takes an army of dedicated souls whose mission it is to do their best in terms of the fight against the corporate centralization. A lot of people are willing and able to forego profit and salary for the cause of the water protector and when buying a T-shirt can bring warmth to our heroes the collective effort spreads further and farther. There are four elements that care for us, the Paha Sapa Wood Warriors start with fire.10590671_862586083754217_779198226393161777_n

Message Kyle Schierbeck on Facebook to order shirts, price $25 with $17 going toward camp’s firewood.

Walking Wolves

There’s no better way to tell the oil industry we don’t need them than by walking. The excitement in camp was broadcast on the bullhorn “North Gate to greet the Canadian walkers.” Yesterday was sunny and I took a jog up Flag Road to find out the details. The youth walkers were cresting the hill from the South into camp coming down Highway 1806 and I thought walking to greet them would make sense. Toe warmers and boot chains would be needed for this story.

15781228_1628945804076703_910714071224723380_nYouth Unity Journey for Sacred Waters came to us from Stanley Mission, Saskatchewan, Canada and the day I compared temperatures it was a full 20 degrees colder there than here. 825 miles to our North, these Woodland/Rocky Cree kids started out on foot 46 days ago in fur & snow boots, orange vests and face masks and carrying flags. 6 kids would walk the full route, the youngest of them, 13 years old.

“The journey really had a life of its own, no one could control it,” explained Rob Ballantyne, whose Indian name is Grey Wolfman. He refers to himself as the group’s wolf pack leader. I had hopped in his car a quarter mile up the road for a quick conversation as the walkers came into camp in front of him accompanied by a hundred or so of our people, one on horseback. Grey is the uncle of Charlene Charles, one of the walkers who insisted her uncle come to lead this trip. Grey was living in British Columbia so travel across his country was necessary to make this journey with the kids. Together through the car window we admired the buffalo in the snow who had come down the hill to greet the  walking Canadians.

Another adult leader of the walk was Marge McKenzie, who had walked from a town in Ottawa to Stanley Mission after she found that out of Canada’s 1.4 million lakes, only 96 of them were environmentally protected. “A month before we left Stanley Mission a pipeline in Prince Albert leaked.” McKenzie spoke in the dome with the circle of walkers after their arrival. She spoke of the need for traditional values as all the females wore skirts for the journey, “We must respect our grandfathers.” Grey Wolfman agreed “Our people are sleeping, we gotta’ wake them to traditional values. Our people know civil disobedience–we have the eagle feather!”

Wolfman found that implementing talking circles with the group helped to keep their inspiration up, to keep going and to voice their concerns as they arose. At least one from the Americans, a group of walkers from our camp who came joined up at Four Bears, N.D., mentioned the beauty of this system of cleansing the mind as doubts arose in the group.
One member of the group sustained a frost bitten ear and finances were slim for items such as replacement gloves and boots. The obstacles were physical, emotional, and economic. Approaching the American border the group was down to its last $40.
Ricky Sanderson Jr. devised the walking plan from a vision he had after there were a couple suicides in his community—one 13 and the other a 14 year old. “I was suffering from sleep paralysis. We must start to think about our children, prepare for them, protect this water for them now. Our own Prime Minister turned his back on us. Thank you all for welcoming us.”

Ricky senior, his father added, “You can’t survive without water. You can’t survive without fish.” He also foreshadowed for me in a late night conversation at South West Hogan last night a fight to come, “We were looking at these pipelines and noticed where the oil sands are. It’s where the Churchill River begins where our water comes down from the glaciers.”

Legaleze

While the rest of camp is questioning when their departure date will be and discussing how clean we can leave this land once the spring flooding starts, it occurred to me that the legal team will still be defending our people in North Dakota courts long after most of us have moved on from Standing Rock. It could take years for them. This seems to be at least part of the state system’s plan to break us, the waiting game is common and a lot of our people are feeling the brunt of this powerlessness. “[Our water protectors] are right to be livid,” explained Sarah Hogarth, communications director for the legal team.

Over 570 water protectors have been arrested since our conflict with DAPL & state started last summer and this is why our water protector legal collective has grown to 80 volunteers working in civil and criminal with a paid staff of seven. Formerly called Red Owl, they operate on a collective model. I wanted to connect the hotline number sharpied up my arm with some faces. I got to speak with a handful of them.

At camp, under the cloak of night the dome had filled with smoke, electricity was out, and the post meeting drumming had begun. Headlamps were in order and I had to find the legal team by this method. The people started to file out and legal team member conducting a lot of meetings at camp, Angela Bibens, remained to answer questions. Introductions came and we hopped in a little 4 wheel drive to transfer ourselves to Rosebud camp where the team’s brand new tan arctic tent resides along the frozen shoreline of Cannonball River so we could gather some thoughts and pick up some legal forms for use in court the next day in defense of water protectors in the battle engaged with a federal grand jury regarding the case of Sophia who lost her arm in an explosion in a tangle with “the law” on Backwater Bridge, November 20th.

The civil rights violations and abuses on the ground are so prevalent it would make a mob boss cringe and in the court room they can’t disallow fair & neutral defenses like the governmental bodies seem to be working to do. It’s complexity of the highest order working in these conditions bridging the worlds of 20 below zero sleeping bags and federal court subpoenas.

“I know these folks are getting inadequate council. They don’t even get phone calls and can’t say beforehand what their public defender looks like.The sheriff tainted his own case with their Facebook page. He’s so confident about never getting caught, it’s suspect.” said Redford-Hall.

All members of the legal team I’ve spoken with have reiterated the view that this legal contest outdoes any protest that has come before it stressing the challenges in dealing with mass arrests and the environmental battle, not to mention apparent collusion between DAPL and law enforcement. Legal’s tent in Rosebud with wood stove is only one outpost for the team in their efforts to survive here. They keep a comfy room at the casino for appointments and also have a town office close to courtroom action where the townsfolk are none too nice to us. Anyone defending water protectors generally won’t find support. According to one story a local was heard addressing one of our people: “Stuck in the snow? If you’re with them water protectors you can stay stuck.” North Dakota is harsh and the weather is only part of that harshness.

Anne Redford-Hall, a senior member of the collective who had a conversation with me in legal’s room at the casino offered, “They’re playing hardball at all levels.” How many levels? 1st: county (Morton) 2nd: state (North Dakota) and 3rd: federal (U.S.) and believe it or not our legal team is even fighting at a fourth (4th) legal venue which is the Federal Grand Jury from where the subpoena was issued. And criminal court is one thing while civil is another fight. Examples of civil court are the people bitten by guard dogs and then there’s the legal battle over the closure of Highway 1806. The declarations signed by many of us regarding police brutality are for the civil case. Basically all harm done to our people falls into the category of civil. I’m told even federal court cases are easier to fight than the civil considering who it is being charged: government instead of citizens.

‘Pro hac vice’ means “on this occasion” and that’s the name of the motion our people are pushing for with the North Dakota Supreme Court. The deadline for the letters in support of this motion was December 30th and our team collected over 120 signed letters in support including one from Amnesty International found here: http://www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/Choice_of_lawyer_comments_to_NDSC.pdf. We await the state’s decision.

It’s been proven we can gather the criminal defense but in this state these attorneys can’t practice without this pro hac vice granted. “Other states have less restrictive procedures for out of state lawyers to practice. With so many defendants we’ve simply hit our max,” explained Angela Bibens.

Our defense lawyers certainly have a lot on their plate. Just the pro hac vice process involves first informally requesting the temporary change from the state supreme court, then litigation against the state, and then the public comment period is open for organizations & lawyers to weigh in which gained us backing from 200 law professors and step 4: we wait for the state’s decision.

Legal even supports our defendants needing plane tickets to get back home. See: www.waterprotectorlegal.org. Like with so many things in life there’s a lot to take into account. I’m glad I got to take this ride.

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