Pilgrimage to Standing Rock (3)

November 5, 2016

Yesterday Rabia and I took the provisions we brought — sacks of rice, potatoes, carrots, nuts, and dried fruit — to the Lakota camp near us. They cook for 600 people every day. We said we wanted to give them this food in the name of our late Lakota friend Kiefer Foote (Spotted Eagle). Many years ago Keifer traveled with us to Southeast Asia to share with indigenous leaders of Thailand what Native Americans have learned about cultural survival.

horsesLater in the afternoon I went back to the Lakota camp and scrubbed nine enormous cooking pots stuck with grease and burned food. Squatting there in the dust scrubbing those pots, my hands blackened, I felt I had found my rightful place in this historic camp. I won’t be arrested, I won’t make strategy with the elders, I won’t join the inner prayer circles. But when a native woman walked past me as I was working — when she smiled down at me and said, “Thank you!” — I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

The camp here at Standing Rock has expanded dramatically since we arrived. People keep coming; our van used to have no one camped near it, but now we are surrounded by tents and trucks. This morning as I walked through camp I saw a large group gathered, so I went to see what was happening. It was an orientation meeting for new arrivals (we had missed that because of the interfaith gathering we were part of). The young white women who led the meeting were impressive — articulate, sensitive, and strong. They stressed three guidelines for everyone:

1. Be of use. Everywhere there are things to do: wood to chop, donations to sort, winter housing to be built, food to be prepared.

2. Keep the indigenous center. We are guests here. Be aware that we of the white culture lead with our heads; we come in with our ideas, we want to fix everything. When you find yourselves doing that, Step back, pause, and listen. Observe what’s happening. They went on to describe many ways to respect indigenous customs, leadership, and ceremonies.

3. We are creating a new lineage. This is how they expressed the feeling that we all have here, that the seeds of a new world are being planted — not just here, but in places and hearts around the planet.

At noon today a large band of “horse people” galloped in, including Chief Arvol Looking Horse in a fine feather headdress. He was followed by about thirty young Hopi men who had run and walked all the way from New Mexico. A huge crowd of us — maybe 1500 or more — gathered around them to listen to what they had to say and to the chants and drumming of a circle of men and women. The air split with the piercing sounds of eagle bone whistles and the ululating cries of the women.

The words and prayers spoken here touched every heart. Here are a few of them:

“Remember that this is a prayerful and peaceful gathering. Remember that you do not have to be angry to be brave. In our history we sometimes fought each other, but now all the nations are coming together. We are not protesters; we are protectors. We come together to protect our land and our ways, and to protect our sacred water for all our children and grandchildren.

“And you who are not indigenous, we love each and every one of you. You have left behind your families, your communities, your obligations, to support us. You are welcome here. You are our relatives. You will not forget what you see and experience here, and you will take that back to your people. Our encampment here is not just about Standing Rock. There are many Standing Rocks. In your communities and regions there are many pipelines. We must learn a new way to live on Grandmother Earth. We come in prayer and respect to learn that new way, together.”