You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
“Wild Geese”, by Mary Oliver
The Day We Left
People congregated in the 7th Generation kitchen for coffee, snacks, and to thaw out by the barrel stove. Veterans, water protectors, renegades, rascals, rapscallions, patriots and political prisoners; all hung onto the last few hours in a place that had cultivated us with truth and beauty for many months. The prior day, a great thundercloud came out of the west drawing flashes and purpled fingers and roaring over the camp and police reminiscent of tephra.
We had less than 24 hours before the insurgence of law enforcement officers reclaimed Oceti Sakowin under Army Corps jurisdiction.
“The Plains and Pacific Coast Indians ranged over larger expanses of land in their search for plants, animals, and shelter to meet their needs, and adopt seasonal homes to take advantage of natural bounty of different areas during different times of the year. Their movements were directed by natural events such as annual salmon spawning runs, periodic bison migrations, or seasonal abundance of nuts or grains. In some areas, Indian communities established more permanent settlements. Some dug irrigation channels and flood damns to capture water for their crops; some established villages where water and other resources were plentiful. These early water users viewed the resource with reverence; water was the life blood of their communities.”
–Searching Out the Headwaters: Change and Rediscovery in Western Water Policy
Back to stand in the mud and the snow with the heavens above and the devil below. To the north is the army, the south BIA, to the east are floodwaters, and to the west are journalists begging to see for themselves what is really going on. The few steadfast men and women stand strong in their centers.
There was a time when Standing Rock was an active resistance with daily efforts to create havoc for DAPL and the greater communities. Those communities, Mandan and Bismarck, would be the primary beneficiaries of DAPL and would shoulder less risk to their communities. Standing Rock, like every indigenous community in the United States, would also benefit from the expanded wealth of our nation – however, Standing Rock would have to live with the consequences of this health hazard at the headwaters of their homes. Camp sent out caravans of a hundred cars in four directions to disrupt construction and make the voice of the people be heard. I remember laying in a pickup truck with five other people riding somewhere unknown. It was terribly cold in the open air, and we huddled together on the hour long pilgrimage into Bismarck. One girl began to lightly sing sweet lyrics swept up by the wind.
Our courage was reinforced through confidence in one another. We unified in song, prayer, ceremony, and actions. Camp was a light rolling comedy of people arriving with starry-eyed surprise, bursting with good ideas, as elders and natives rolled their eyes – oh, brother – have we got some decolonizing to do. Friends and relatives met in the dining areas after days chopping wood or building out camp for the new Water Protectors. From aerial photos, camp appeared to swell on the weekends and contract during the week, like a heartbeat pulsing four times per month. My body was exhausted at the end of every day. I would curl inside two sleeping bags and listen to the DAPL airplane circling as if strung on an infant crib mobile. Cognitive dissonance was at an all-time low: DAPL was in the north, your allies were in the south, and infiltrators were hard to spot. It was not the same at Standing Rock after ceremony died and dark days descended.
Chase Iron Eyes Arrested Along with Water Protectors on Last Child Hill
The conversation on treaty rights and water rights is rekindled by civil resistance at Oceti Oyate.
We could see the police forces amassing in the north of the Backwater Bridge on 1806 from Last Child Hill. The bridge was the site of the November 20th water cannon fight, and still loomed in our minds at Standing Rock. An entourage was crossing it now from our side. In the middle, Chase Iron Eyes could be seen in a red jacket. The police came out to meet him. The police told him, if we refused to leave the hill, everyone would be arrested – it was private property. Chase refused, and chose to make a stand on treaty land, as (in his words) a defiance of the violence corporate state.
In the first week of his presidency, Donald J. Trump released a memorandum to expedite the permitting process of Dakota Access. Standing Rock has become a uniquely potent leverage point against the policies of the Trump Administration. Offshoots are popping up around the world. Public opinion is largely in favor of rerouting Dakota Access. In light of Trump’s memorandum on Dakota Access, the Honorable Judge James E. Boasberg will hold a review of the easement denial and instatement of the EIS on January 30th.
In camp, the spirits were like embers beneath the dry twigs of this news. The flags lifted in a faint breeze coming out of the north. My friend Little Crow and I wander the blue icy streets looking for stories to tell the world. Continue reading →
Have you challenged a trained killer to a fight only to end up crying in his arms? Did you go to Burning Man exclusively to fight this person? I did. Was it worth it? Burning Man is always worth it. So was the cry.
The graveled boatyard in Dillingham consisted of rusted cargo containers and fishing vessels up on wood blocks. I went to Alaska to find deckhand work in commercial fishing. Alaskan commercial fishing represented what joining the army might be to a boy from a red state. Rather than taking pride in notions of national service, you were catching dinner, for millions of people. The self-improvement vanities were similar too: become a man, pay for college, and learn discipline. I also wanted to stop feeling heartbroken for what seemed like an unfair amount of time.
My friend Kelly and I hitched to the boatyard from the small municipal airport and were dropped at the fishing vessel Shodan, a big-chested aluminum beast up on blocks next to a two story ramada and cargo container. Todd the skipper, Rubble the deckhand and their third member Mickey were very good to us, offering us chicken wraps and beer. Rubble had stubble and reminded me of a squat Sting. He was maybe in his late 30s, had intense blue eyes and a mohawk that was green. On his left arm was a fierce dragon tattoo that you could almost hear David Attenborough describing as “the creature’s way of signaling ‘beware!’.”
“What, after all, is an animal worth, or a mountain, or a redwood tree, or an hour of human life? The market gives us a numerical answer based on scarcity and demand. To the degree that we believe that such values have meaning, we live in a world that is desacralized and desensitized, without heart or spirit.”
After the veterans arrived, the movement reached a powerful victory. The Army Corps of Engineers denied the easement required to pass the Missouri River. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) then challenged the decision in federal court, but were denied. Unfortunately, our literal tears of joy were short lived. On January 20th, President-elect Donald Trump would assume office. He promised to resume the project. Over the next two weeks, ETP’s stocks didn’t seem to drop. Either their merger with Sunoco was bolstering them, or the investors felt reassured this was going to still pay out.
I’m sitting in an army tent draped in string lights. The propane heater ran out as the barrel furnace became operational. A crew of happy hardworking stove fixers extended the chimney another few feet to stop the smoke from billowing back into the room. One of them cut his hand getting tools from the truck and his blood froze in the open air. The cold is deeper towards the tent walls, where bottles of water sit frozen useless. By the stove, it can be unbearable. The Goldilocks zone is somewhere between 18″-36″ from the barrel, where liquid melts but doesn’t evaporate. This is congruent with our planet’s distance from the sun. Right now, my hands are on the keyboard over Neptune.
As I write, I’m using my hand warmers to soften pieces of chocolate and keep my cell phone battery from succumbing to the freezing temperatures. A Baefeng FM transceiver periodically crackles on the dedicated medical and media channels, telling me stories that are too numerous to capture. Indoors my nose is dripping – outside handsome icicles form. Stopping Dakota Access, staying unified, and surviving the elements have all become ongoing tasks at Standing Rock. Continue reading →