Back in our camper, by the light of the Shabbat candles, I’m musing on this astounding week. We arrived at Standing Rock still flummoxed by election returns, and fixated on daily newscasts out of Washington and New York. To our delight we found no mention of the T-word, no fretful forecasts. That’s because the story here is far more compelling, and the historical context of the Dakota Access Pipeline battle much broader–four hundred years in the making.
This week I witnessed a new culture alive in our country, one that’s vast and growing.
I had pictured Standing Rock as a few tents and a tepee or two. In actuality there are hundreds of tepees, yurts, and easily a thousand tents spreading out as far as the eye can see. Building is going on in every direction; vehicles continue to pour in.
These are folks of all colors, ages, and states, who refuse to buy into the capitalist values that cater to a white majority. Unlike mainstream America, this emerging culture holds to wise leadership at its center, indigenous elders steeped in a long tradition of prayer and ceremony, rather than the cult of self, wealth, and materialism.
Here at Standing Rock I have not seen people walking around mindlessly on their cell phones, snapping up photos, or speaking loudly. There is nothing for sale here and you wont see Standing Rock becoming a commercialized venture any time soon. Anything you might need—food, toiletries, medicine, warm clothes—are available for free at open air dispensaries.
The camp orients around four principles:
We are indigenous centered. That means that those of us who are not native to this land and are not people of color must wake up to our assumptions of white privilege and get a new program. In this place, the elders, women and children are seated first, eat first, speak first. Can we white folks wait patiently? Sit with our questions and brilliant ideas? Listen more than we speak?
We are building a new legacy here. It’s a legacy based upon the wisdom of the elders whose lives are steeped in prayer and ceremony. The frame itself is radically different, not our normal Western causal orientation, but one that is utterly uncynical. The Earth actually is our Mother, the Ancestors do guide us when we pray and listen to them. And most salient: Water is life.
Every person is important and useful. There is much to be done. Whether you pick up garbage or write a blog, cut wood, scrub pots, or go out on a direct action, every act you do is a prayer and all acts are sacred. In this place there is no hierarchy in the realm of work.
Bring it home. What is happening at Standing Rock and so many other places on our despoiled earth is the result of unchecked power and greed. This is a moment to prevent more ruin and repair what has been spoiled. What are the issues alive in your own neighborhood and how is the earth, water, and air needing your help? The work before us is everywhere.
I came to lend support to an isolated battle and found an entire movement here, thousands of people who have found renewed purpose. I am one. Together we stand in solidarity with our native nations—at long last—to defend their inalienable rights in this country and fight for the health and future of our earth, which is threatened by the monetary interests of a few. And there is great sense of hope. As one young Standing Rock native said: As long as we stay united and in prayer there is nothing we cannot accomplish.