In recent weeks, there has been increased conversation about Standing Rock, the conditions, why people are going and what their experience was there.
People from all over the country have been traveling to the North Dakota camp, but for what reason? I spoke with one of Seattle’s most dedicated activists, who had just returned the day before, at a Columbia City coffee shop: Rashad Barber of Seattle Black Book Club, an anti-racist, Black liberation and justice group. There were several questions swirling in my head, and I think these mirror those of anyone wanting to learn more about Standing Rock. The first was what was it like to actually be there? With a sigh that communicated a deep and heavy appreciation for his time there, but also a heaviness for things he saw, Barber said, “It was a lot.”
He started by saying that he stayed on site with the Oceti Camp, which was nestled in-between a number of other camps and organizations. During the day, he explained the scene as thousands of people in different areas prepared meals, operated the medical-attention center, cut wood and prepared materials for housing and protection from the elements.
For the question of why would one go to Standing Rock, the work at hand proves the obvious answer: to bring supplies, food and anything else to help people sustain themselves, to hold their land, as these tribes are not moving out.
Also through the day, there were multiple decolonization workshops, led and taught by Indigenous people, educating people on the intricacies of culture to unlearn colonial practices and enter into a more human mindset.
At the start of each morning, there was a water ceremony, where everyone would gather at the central of the camp. Toward the most center point, there would be the women and elders to lead, but also as a position of respect. This was one of the most moving things he had ever seen. In these sessions, there is prayer and thanksgiving for water, as well as a reverence for it. It is a blessing and honoring ceremony for the elements. For anyone who is asking why would there be such a fervent regard for water, the simple answer overwhelmingly is that water is life, and that is the call being made by the people at the camps.
One of the problems there — and something that weighed in as a heavy reality — is that that there were unfortunately a lot of people who had come for the wrong reasons and were actually hurting the cause. Many people came into the camp and decided not to bring anything. They were there to “check things out,” and came with a certain White privilege of being in a financial position to fly to Standing Rock, but opted not to do anything. Also the same was true for those who had come and had actually had the audacity to ask for materials and for provisions, having not even brought food or materials enough to sustain their own needs, and treated the lands and the community as a bank that is there to extract resources, time and energy for their tourist enjoyment.
The entire reason that this pipeline is being opposed is for the sacredness of land, and that the Indigenous people have been entrusted to be stewards over it. Largely, people are to be responsible overseers of the land, for the purpose of honoring and respecting vital resources, natural to our existence.
A deeper conversation and educational understanding lies around the Native culture determining what lands are to be visited by what people and who has the training to be able to support and take care of resources specific to regions.
These people were actually taking up time and resources due to their own ignorance or just complete lack of awareness. This also translated into people needing extra coaching and training to not do things that were disrespectful to the culture or detrimental to people’s safety. The depth of this ignorance was culturally illiterate enough to think that the police were on the side of the Indigenous people and making attempts to collaborate with them.
If this were the case, then unarmed, peaceful Indigenous protesters would not have been sprayed down with fire hoses like Black people in the ’60s in North Dakota’s 20-degree weather.
If you want to help the cause of Standing Rock, know that the Oceti tribe and other Indigenous tribes there are calling for people to prioritize funding for Indigenous people to be able to travel to Standing Rock. If you go yourself, as a non-Indigenous person, bring supplies: food, clothing, wood, medical supplies, knowledge and, if possible, vehicles that are able to transport wood for building shelters. December brought a huge blizzard to Standing Rock, making the conditions even more dangerous.
The Indigenous people are not moving, and are wading in the river in the middle to meet with the opposition, to defend and protect the land and the water and the cause of their people.