A Word From Standing Rock


For almost a year, I haven’t been able to drive or walk past an active construction site without feeling PTSD. I remember my drive across Texas last December, after my time in North Dakota and seeing a simple road crew repairing the highway, and how I had to pull over at the next rest stop because I was shaking so bad. The whole time I was looking for the yellow helicopter and snipers with orange paint on their rifles on the hills. I continued to turn off my cell phone for all low-flying planes.

Currently, they’re rebuilding a pipeline in the Rio Grande Gorge on the way to Santa Fe. I do my best not to feel the pain of the Earth every time I pass it. Just last week, in Philly I saw the construction there as what it really is, another war zone.

In the cities, they commit war crimes against the most vulnerable. Everywhere else, they do the same, but also dig up Earth, attacking her directly, poisoning everyone downstream.

I’ve learned my exits in protests, learned how to stay out of harm’s way, but then there was that one time they blocked a caravan of over 500 warriors from returning back to camp after an action where we arrived and left peacefully and in prayer, to check each car for specific people they designated as leaders and wanted to imprison. I thought they were going to arrest all 500 of us that day. Leave our cars stranded and impound what they could. The walked amongst the cars with rifles drawn, face masks on. For them this was some kind of war game to put on.

Before leaving that action, I retraced my steps to make sure my sister that I traveled with made it out okay. The highway was clouds of mace and the approaching army of hundreds of heavily armed police in military fatigues. My phone was blaring the alarm that the highway was shut down due to protester activity and to seek other routes.

My brother who I met in Rosebud camp and was just beginning to develop a solar powered recording studio to record and train native youth in DIY recording when I met him is now stuck in a jail cell because a rogue judge wanted to prove a point and send fear into other protectors. He was on a prayer walk. That’s it. That’s why they put him away.

Red Fawn who was arrested over a year ago, is still sitting in a jail cell for things she didn’t commit. She has yet to even be sentenced and her lawyers and family have a hard time reaching her. We have living prisoners of war in our country. It’s not just Leonard Peltier who’s been stuck in a jail cell and survived several assassination attempts since the 70s for a crime he didn’t commit. This is a women, not much older than myself, who they’ve imprisoned because they recognized her strength.

I was there for election day, but all of this happened in Obama’s America. The acting president of the United States couldn’t even mention the war that was going on in our own country, until most of it had already happened. He was questioned by the UN, by international citizens, and he would dodge the questions. His faux call for a halt to destruction last December was to save face because they didn’t want the bad press of the thousands of veterans who arrived in support and to stand guard over the prayers sustaining the same wounds and trauma that our indigenous relatives had already been going through for months. The pipeline didn’t even stop building for a single day, even though his call for a halt made construction illegal. Even though it was illegal all along because of broken treaties and the lack of an environmental impact statement.

Don’t share this post. Look to our indigenous relatives who faced much worse. Have been fighting against genocide for over 500 years. I share my experience, because the trauma is not forgotten by those who were there. By those who were connected to the movement, even though they couldn’t be there in person. It is still faced by those who are fighting for their lives, for their culture in the dozen or so pipeline and other resource extraction projects currently being built across the continent on indigenous land, right now. Over burial mounds and other sacred sites. Through sacred waterways and traditional hunting grounds.

Today, is an anniversary for a lot of us. For me, it was the eviction of the Treaty Camp that finally pushed me to let go of everything else and get up there. I should’ve been there earlier. I could’ve been there earlier, but felt I needed a grounded group with a plan to arrive with.

I spent most of my time there chopping wood and delivering it to different folks in need. Spent time offering support to the IIYC. I lived the most relaxed life I could’ve dreamed. I actually, for the first time in my life, felt like a human being.

I’ve seen myself in those photos. I still can’t believe how utterly honest the Corporate States of America could be. Armored tanks and military fatigues. Sound cannons and humvees equipped with microwaves. Snipers on the hills and no sign of the police to lock up these hired goons. The fact that I was there and it was in my own country still baffles me.

At night I would sit by the sacred fire in Rosebud and listen to the elders. Mostly they would crack jokes back and forth or talk about where they were from. They seemed to never sleep because I always left them there still talking no matter how late it was.

I remember they talked about the youth a few times. The young warriors who had been maced, tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and physically brutalized during the eviction of the treaty camp and the attempt to reclaim Turtle Island a few days later. The elders commented on how for some of the youth it was as if their spirit had sunk back in them. The light in their eyes was shrinking. They worried about their well-being.

The IIYC talked about it too at meetings. While I was there they organized a candlelit vigil to pray for those still experiencing trauma. To pray for those who attacked them. It seemed like a thousand of us walked with them with lit candles to the Cannonball River where only a week before, warriors had held a line singing prayers in the freezing river while the police tear-gassed and maced them.

During the candlelit vigil there was not a single word of condemnation for the other side. Even with all that trauma and suffering. The youth leaders only asked for the strength to keep going. For the ancestors to help them heal their spirits. I saw so much power glowing in them from that day forward. Their prayers were answered in so many forms.

We live in a capitalist, corporate-owned, police state. We have lived in one since the Constitution was written. Since the Declaration of Independence.

Who’s independence? Not mine. Not yours. Not the hundreds of tribes who have faced cultural genocide since Columbus first set foot in the outer reaches of this place. Not the millions of descendants of slaves who despite Amendment 13 haven’t received their freedom because of the color of their skin.

Folks want to say because of last year’s election, there is a renewed sense of urgency. No. There has always been an urgency. Now, we just get to see it more clearly. The whole damn thing is broken. It never worked in the first place.

We are overdue for something new, or a return to the values of this continent’s First Nations’ peoples.

John Trudell speaks wisdom when he says “We Are Power”. It’s not just power to the people, like what everyone was saying in the 60s.
We are energy.

The corporations and mercenaries in North Dakota understood that. The Corporate States of America understand that. That is why they attacked us with so much force. Their only understanding of power is brute force.

But
We are power
We are energy

Their fear of this power can and will not break our spirit. Their methods of oppression are weak and inferior. Their time of ruling over us is running out.
Together we have the power to overcome all of it and start something post-imperialist.
Post-war.
We have the power to free us all and together create a more peaceful world in tune with this planet we live on and all the nations of people who call it their home.

A Word From Standing Rock

Heart Warriors

Perhaps what I miss the most is being referred to as “Warrior”: 

“Warriors protect your sisters. Protect your aunts and grandmothers. Form a line to surround them in prayer. Hold the line, warriors!”

“Warriors form up. We’ll build a fire for the women’s sweat. A big fire. Be in prayer as you build this fire. Think of the women in your life. Think of the women you love. Hold them in your heart as you gather wood. Hold them there as you chop it. This whole ceremony is a prayer. After the fire is built, you’ll stand guard over your sisters. Make sure no one comes in to disrupt the ceremony. Make sure no one is gawking or taking photos. Make sure the women feel safe, so they can be in prayer. Make sure the fire is healing.”

“Warriors! Don’t leave anyone behind. You need to watch out for your elders. Make sure you offer them a hand to get back to safety. Your duty is to protect your elders. To protect your sisters. To protect the future generations. Warriors! Be strong! Protect life!”

My inner Aries, God of War, already feeling greatly encouraged with an ax in my hand, swinging at the logs, building camp fires, and living a rugged simple life, smiling to be referred to in this way, empowered by a culture of strength.

Though, one day, an elder revealed “The Warrior” in Lakota culture is not so much a person who goes out onto the battlefield, ensnared by a cycle of bloodshed, but instead is a person who is heavy with heart, feeling all things, and following the flow of life through their veins, protecting those around them, recognizing the sacredness of life and how the heart’s ability to love is the only way to restore balance, when darkness has overtaken the light.

It is this second definition of Warrior that I felt the strongest while camped out with fellow Water Protectors in North Dakota, defending the Sacred Waters of over 32 million people downstream, living off the land in a community strengthened by Love. There are plenty of days where the weight of my heart caused tears in my eyes. I would weep by the river I stood near to defend. Other days, I was overwhelmed by so much hope and love, my whole body glowed from the embrace of this inner warmth. Inside myself, I felt a peace of action. Doing right by my being.

Daily, I felt my Celtic origins coming to the surface. My Irish ancestry mystified by the land on which I lived to protect. Earth which lived to give a foundation to my community. A balance of Mother and Steward. My Pagan heart warming me through Grandmother Winter’s onset of cold, a lesson of humility, while Grandfather River flowed by increasingly charged by our prayers, to which an elder said: 

“We drink this water, DAPL drinks this water, the police drink this water. We are all drinking this water that we’ve put so much prayer into. Eventually, these waters will be so full of prayer, they will be unable to resist. The conflict will resolve itself. The people of this land will be healed. The scars on the Mother will be replaced by a harvest shared by all. A coming together of all people will be celebrated. Water is Life will be the refrain.” 

I met some of the bravest, most creative, inspiring, strong people during my time at Standing Rock. They came from all generations and backgrounds. Something pulled at their hearts and brought them there. Some traveling thousands of miles and across vast landscapes  and even oceans. Over 500 flags from over 500 indigenous nations displayed in the wind, proudly. These Water Protectors each from a long line of warriors, using their hearts to defend the sacredness of life.

This battle is ongoing. 

It will spread to each of our communities. 

Everywhere it spreads, be sure there will be Warriors there to carry Love in their Hearts. 

Enough Love to Protect Life.

No Spiritual Surrender.

Heart Warriors

Gratitude Is The Highest Order Of Thought

Honestly, I find it hard being back in this plane of existence after experiencing the pure way of life that I found up at Standing Rock. I expected culture shock, but seeing as Taos is one of the wokest places I have ever lived, a community made up of all kinds of healers and mystics, I didn’t expect my heart to be all that divided. I mean, what other small mountain town would fill a huge renovated aircraft hangar in the middle of the desert last night to watch Seun Kuti perform his politically-active afrobeat with his father’s arkestra, Egypt 80? I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else for such a rêvelution of sound.

But it feels as if I have left a piece of myself on that southern shore next to the Cannonball River. This piece of self is burning eternally in Rosebud Camp’s Sacred Fire along with the spirits of my ancestors, my native relatives, and the spirits of the Dakota lands. It burns in prayer. A prayer that vibrated throughout me for the eight days that I stood there, chopping wood, sharing tobacco, building winter structures, going out on actions, talking and learning from my relatives, listening to stories told by my elders, feeling hope.

For a lot of you, the actions are the only thing you see of Standing Rock. The arrests. The mace and tear gas. The violent police brutality towards Water Protectors. If I thought it culturally sensitive, I would’ve shared more photos of the sense of peace and love present in all of the camps. But even then it’s really something that is better experienced first hand.

This sense of peace and love vibrates throughout all exchanges. Not a single word of hate against the police, the pipeline workers, or any other oppressor, but instead prayer for them and their children because this is all of our water for which we defend. The oppression of indigenous cultures is relieved as these people open up to the vulnerability of sharing their spirits completely, trusting that those they share with will be moved deeply towards greater respect and active solidarity. Allowing the descendants of white invaders into ancestral ceremony in order to change all of our futures. The coming together of so many colors in order to fulfill prophecy and overcome the industrial upheaval of our humanity. Forming a medicine wheel, symbol of the Rainbow People, tool of healing, holding hands to strengthen our sense of what it means to be human and what it means to be an organism of this Earth.

The Water Protectors are not merely building winter structures for the coming snow. They are building a sustainable eco-village where Protectors will not only survive, but they will thrive. The daily hope I felt around camp, was largely a reflection of the nonstop prayer being sung and drummed at all hours of the day. In addition, every action I took there was given this extra context of walking the walk that I’ve often talked.

Every camper soon found a purpose. This whole society functioned fully on the hard work of thousands of individuals. For me it was gathering and chopping wood to distribute throughout the camp to different groups like the International Indigenous Youth Council who were too busy leading actions and ceremonies and attending meetings to have time for this on their own. For others, it was providing three meals a day with increasing spirit to a whole camp of hungry hearts. There were folks who organized the donation tent daily. Teams that organized and built structures like a meal hall, an outdoor shower, multiple teepees and yurts and tarpees. 

I met a group of sustainable contractors from the Appalachia of South Carolina who drove up to offer their services and were tasked with building a winter tool shed for camp. I saw two busloads of separatists from the Cascadian Movement delivering supplies and putting together workshops about how to live with the land cut off from the outside. I heard Food Not Bombs talking about farming in the spring and eco-conscious everything. 

Even on prayer walks, we all were found picking up garbage in the streets of Bismarck or around camp, so that the land felt renewed beneath our footfall. Health care may not have been provided through private insurers, but the wellness tent, the sweat lodge, the fire worked to heal anyone under the weather.

To be in a society where currency is removed and shelter/food/clothing/community are provided allows the individual to grow. The heart no longer feels a repressed sickness from outside forces. It opens wide to its environment. Love comes easy. Gratitude is the highest order of thought. Dreams are manifested in a time of magic.

I saw a Bald Eagle fly over our action on DAPL Headquarters. Two Bald Eagles flew overhead during our Veteran’s Day March. Another Bald Eagle followed the car I rode home in as we exited North Dakota. These spirits of the land constantly came forward as if in a waking dream. These shared visions encouraged our ways. The Earth actively voicing its support. Its guidance. Its resilience against extreme adversity.

I saw police officers moved to tears. I saw DAPL workers silent in reverence. I saw dialogues that spread across cultural hurdles and expanded already progressive thought patterns.

When I say, I was living in the future, I’m not exaggerating. 

There is just no other way to describe the scenes that I witnessed.

In my mind, I constantly revisit my memory of the elder who came to the Sacred Fire in the middle of the night, while I was sitting there in prayer. He said the people who have come to Standing Rock, have come there to learn the ways of their relatives. To learn the ways of the land. To protect their ability to be human beings born of the Earth on which they live.

While the majority of the country is stuck in an endless sado-masochistic news cycle of “What Trump said”, the people up at Standing Rock are actively pursuing the future. Not only that, they are creating the future through which we will all continue to not only survive, but soon be able to thrive. 

As these people, return to their homes, expect this future to spread. Expect that it won’t matter who is president, or Attorney General, or White Supremacist head of cabinet. There is enough movement forward to wrangle in the Black Snake and set us free from its corporate stranglehold of our lives. There is enough movement forward for us all to find a way out. 

It starts today. Grab your readymade sign or banner. Defend the Sacred Waters. Defend your Community. Hear your voice heard in the streets. Begin with Love and feel the rest of it come forward easily. This new day is rising. We can no longer sit back and watch the present unfold. 

We must come together and fight for our future.

Gratitude Is The Highest Order Of Thought