As I drive through the flag-lined entrance to the camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota, I feel the excitement and drumbeat of ceremony around me. After quickly setting up my tent under the floodlights of nearby police and the private army of the Dakota Access Pipeline, I follow my heartbeat to the drumming and call of the ceremonial circle. “Mni Wiconi! Mni Wiconi! Mni Wiconi!” (mini which-oh-nee). It means, “water is life.”
This is the foundation for the ceremony of prayer and protection at Standing Rock. Joining the camp, I entered this living prayer and became part of living ceremony. I realized profoundly over the next four days that ceremony is not something performed or attended; rather, it is a way of being in the world. The camp operates in this state of intention and grace.
The Lakota people have issued a global call for support against the pipeline. More than 300 tribes and thousands of supporters from around the world have joined, representing a nexus of issues: oppression, social and environmental justice, climate change, corporate greed, and government siding with corporations against the rights of citizens.
For the Lakota, the Dakota Access Pipeline recalls a prophecy that says the world will cease if a huge black snake is allowed to cross the land. A further prophecy of Crazy Horse is that the seventh generation (the Millennials) will rise up, reuniting the red, yellow, black and white people, bringing them together under the tree of peace. The Lakota are peacefully fighting for this future.
Learning the principles
All newcomers attend an orientation, learning the principles of Lakota life: Prayer, respect, compassion, honesty, generosity, humility, and wisdom. This meeting is critical to understanding our place in the culture and how to have the greatest impact. Step back; defer to natives; volunteer. We also learn non-violent demonstration techniques.
On Thanksgiving Day, like every morning, I and fellow Eagle resident Liz Gauthier rose at 5:30 a.m. to the call from an elder awakening the camp: “It’s another beautiful day in Standing Rock! Come make your prayers for water this day!” Trying not to brush against ice coating the inside of our tent, we threw on our warmest outer clothes and joined the ceremonial circle. I made coffee and served hundreds as elders spoke about the day, making prayers for water, safety, and future generations.
We paraded en masse to the river and I was honored with an invitation to share the sacred water offering we had brought from Eagle. As we walked behind the elders, I felt our community with us, and knew that each of the several hundred people behind us were also bringing their communities. Standing Rock is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Later we marched to a bridge where four days before, 167 unarmed protectors were maced, tear-gassed, water cannoned and shot with rubber bullets. One girl nearly lost her arm. Some of Liz’s friends lost teeth, broke an arm and one boy was shot four times. This after he and 10 others ran over 500 miles in solidarity for Standing Rock.
Prayers, drumming, song
We heard prayers, drumming and songs. Helicopters, drones and planes circled incessantly, drowning out many words but never dampening our spirits.
A mile away, Water Protectors crossed a branch of river where, in October, they were attacked, maced, tear gassed, shot, and set upon by dogs — all this while standing in the river praying. The Protectors now wanted the police to move off a hill known as Turtle Island, a sacred burial ground. The police, while non-violent, refused to leave. The standoff lasted five hours.
As I joined the Turtle Island action, we chanted to the police: “We are your relatives. We honor and respect you. We are like you. We need clean water. You need clean water. We do this for our children. We do this for your children. We do it for all future generations.”
Then some 500 of us created a gigantic circle in the tall prairie grass and prayed for the police, government, and corporations.
Standing there, I noticed a large eagle’s nest in a nearby cottonwood. Beyond, a sniper stood at the ready, his sights on our group of unarmed people, praying on land stripped from its original people, commandeered as the bed for a pipeline to deliver profits to mega-corporations in an outdated paradigm of human existence on the only planet we have for our survival.
The surreal irony broke my heart. A part of me remains at Standing Rock as I walk with newfound grace in a world that makes little sense.
When people ask what they can do, I say, “Pray in whatever way suits you, and find your personal Standing Rock. Know what you stand for and stand in it with fierce courage.”
For more information, please visit http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org.
Eagle writer and activist Susie Kincade will be returning to Standing Rock at Christmas, pending the outcome of a current threat by the Army Corps of Engineers to clear the camp on Dec. 5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.