Experiencing Cultural Shifts at Standing Rock

A brief trip out to the water protectors’ camp at Standing Rock, South Dakota to deliver supplies was supposed to be a straightforward task. I didn’t expect to feel so many emotions in just 48 hours.

Seeing the fires glowing orange through very real tipis as the supermoon shines overhead, makes it challenging to not romanticize the encampment at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

But it’s 2016, folks. It’s time to stop festishizing Native American culture. No more Pocahontas Halloween costumes (I saw one this year….seriously! I thought this was a simple thing to understand). No more debates about sports mascots (racial slurs and stereotypes doing gimmicks on a football field?!).

No more pretending that cultural genocide of Native peoples is a thing of the past.

If there is one lesson to learn from visiting the water protectors at Oceti Sakowin Camp and Sacred Stone, it’s that the battle for indigenous rights is alive and kicking.

I consider myself fairly level headed when it comes to a crisis. Pragmatism under threat is my jam. That, and sarcasm. So, when I volunteered to drive a caravan of supplies out to Standing Rock, I fully expected to have a long drive out, drop off supplies, rest for a day, and toodle on back to my life.

Wrong. Definitely wrong.

The emotions at Standing Rock are palpable to even the least observant. There is anger at the very-evident injustices. There is hope —an overwhelming amount of hope and belief in the power of individuals to stand up for what is right. There is the usual confusion of people from an individualistic culture doing their best to figure out community living. There is unity.

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More than anything, there is an absolute recognition of being present during a critical moment in history. Over 300 indigenous peoples are represented at Standing Rock—the largest indigenous gathering in history. This is the first time since the Battle of Little Big Horn (or Battle of Greasy Grass) that this sacred fire along the Cannon Ball River has been lit. If you have ever wanted to realize your place in life as part of a living history, go to Standing Rock.

From the moment we arrived at the camps alongside the Cannon Ball River, my heart left its usual location and lodged itself squarely in my throat. This was a kind of feeling that I have never experienced, in spite of living during this era of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Governor recall elections, and post-Trump protests. This was an instant emotional connection. If you have ever wanted to understand the passion of a cause, go to Standing Rock.

The fight for our earth is more pressing than ever before.  Now, more than any other time in known history, people are beginning to see the need for unity. Unity against manipulative powers. Unity to facilitate lasting change. If you’ve ever felt lost in the overwhelming face of adversity, go to Standing Rock.

Our brief trip to witness events and deliver supplies came right before the winter set in. Right before a man went into cardiac arrest due to police water cannons in freezing temperatures. Before a concussion grenade ripped open the arm of a woman (ironically) delivering water to the frontline. At most, we witnessed the psychological warfare strategies of bright lights glaring into the camp and drones constantly monitoring our moves. It’s still just beginning. If you’ve ever questioned media reports (find alternatives!) of police tactics vs. nonviolent tactics, go to Standing Rock.

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