Nov. 7th, 2016
It’s the day before the election. I’m at Standing Rock – where life is real – people are real, and work is pure – and at the end of the day you feel that you did something good. Even when we look at the humvees planted in the hills, or hear the airplane that circles regularly during the day, or listen to the constant chopping of air as the helicopter circles us at night – at the end of the day, I feel grateful for every human contact I made, and I sleep well after using my time to give back, whether it be writing, physical labor, or simply meeting others at Standing Rock who have come here with similar goals in mind.
Today we cooked breakfast, cleaned up, and watched one of our newest members of the camp, a city dog, find her way around Ocete Sakowin. Sam and I then made our way to the school, which was still in the process of being relocated, so we decided to head back to the Front Line to see how we could help. I think everyone has to find their place once they come to Standing Rock, and Sam and I have discovered that we can move between two locations – the school, and the Front Line. We are of the most use in those two locations.
We now know the way to the Front Line well. We cross over the bridge, past Rosebud camp, past Sacred Stone camp, and head left into the field passing by horses, dogs, people all the while watching the humvees in the hills across the river. When we get to the Front Line a lot has changed. Of course the law enforcement is always watching so sharing the “changes” is in no way divulging a secret. There are more tents, more food, more supplies, and today, two brand new tents that are massive and need to be erected. One will be the kitchen and the other a meeting space. Sam already helped relocate the school so he knows how to put up these tents for the most part. There are members of many tribes here, some from here in North Dakota, others from far away. We spend the entire day putting up these tents. Our third visit to the Front Line and they once again, welcome us right away, and are thankful for our help. As the only female helping put up the tent, I feel a bit self conscious, as a city girl, who honestly has about 20 minutes experience with tents. But I’m learning, and they have no problem including me. I watch what happens, and I simply duplicate the action.
We put up the first tent and then realize we haven’t put up the center frame pole yet. So, down come all the poles and up goes the center. We work together reading directions, learning from our mistakes, laughing, joking, and simply talking about the task at hand. Life is good. These are good people. The longer I am here, the harder it is to try to separate the reality with the humanity that greets me daily here with handshakes, hugs, and kindness. And of course the question always goes back to, What is next? I ask. There is a plan.
Of course there is. And I thank them for that and I don’t ask anymore.
The wind is absolutely fierce today. Those who have bandanas or scarves or whatever it may be have covered their faces. It’s cold and it’s so loud with the rippling of the tent canvas that at times it’s hard to hear. I look around at the Front Line and I can’t imagine how amazing they will feel tonight as they eat and meet inside the warm and tightly constructed tents.
We ask what else they need. They need wood, meat, chairs, tables, and thermal underwear. They are preparing for the winter. I purposely don’t take pictures of anyone, nor will I mention any names, even though at the end of this afternoon I considered these men to be friends, even if for a brief moment. They knew Sam by name and thanked him for his help.
We will head back in the morning with whatever supplies we are able to gather. I’m going to see what we can donate from our own camp supplies before we leave.
I spent some time talking to one of the men about the camp, about how long he’d been there and then I finally asked, How long will you stay?
Till the end, he said.
I think about the election. I think about Standing Rock. And I think about how far removed the two are from one another, and then how incredibly close they really are, hiding in the hills, watching with the floodlights, the helicopters, the airplanes and the armed men with binoculars. They are so close that I want to scream at them. I want to scream words of hate. But I won’t. I won’t. I’m in a place of peace and forgiveness. And let me tell you, as a white woman, walking onto the Front Line, and being treated with kindness, and respect, where men from many tribes allow me to help – without any knowledge of who I might truly be, well that’s forgiveness. There is something much deeper going on here than simply a tent being raised.
The protectors of water are the protectors of humanity.
That much I know.
And this election – this election be damned.
I’m thankful to be spending the night at Standing Rock on Tuesday night, election night. Thankful to have one more night falling asleep to the drums and the cry of Mni Wiconi. Mni Wiconi.