Liam, Thank you for sharing your perspective on what you experienced. Although some of the advice you give is spot on, there are a few things I would like to address.
I have also spent time at Oceti Sakowin Camp: 2 weeks in October and I am making arrangements to make that 3800 mile journey again in about 2 weeks for the long haul. I appear white: I have Micmac lineage on my mother’s side and unknown native lineage on my father’s side; I have participated in indigenous culture since I was old enough (and wise enough) to choose my own spiritual path. I also participate in ceremonial dance back at home.
I agree that people should not be raising money for their own personal gain backed by the premise of supporting Standing Rock. However, many including myself have chosen to end employment and liquidate assets in order to participate in protecting the water and indigenous rights. That being said I do have a fund raiser helping to support my expenses to return to camp and will be accepting donations from friends and family to help lessen the overall burden of another body in need of food, clothing, potential medical costs, laundering of clothes, appropriate accommodations for cold winter months etc. etc. etc. So, although I think you made a valid point, I would like to also make the point that if raising funds is the only way you can manage to get to camp then by all means please raise away but vow to donate any access funding to specific needs of the camp.
(Side note: I have severe arthritis in my knees and experience swelling and pain after short bursts of physical activity and was seriously honored to receive acupuncture sessions and massage from volunteers, which made possible more, less painful participation on my part)
I would like to discuss a little further the part about avoiding ceremony. Again you made several valid points about preparedness to experience things that many non natives have little to no understanding when it comes to ceremony. But, the moment you step onto the grounds at Oceti Sakowin you are in ceremony. There are a multitude of other ceremonies that take place within the larger picture but as long as that sacred fire is burning we are in ceremony. Cooking food for the nourishment of our community is ceremony, picking up trash that blew out of a nearby dumpster is ceremony, washing graffiti out of a port a potty is ceremony, sitting by the fire listening to the stories of elders, sharing in the energy of the prayers that have been offered to that fire, laughter and kinship around that fire are all ceremony. When you refer to someone smoking a personal pipe at the fire (much different than a sacred pipe), or smoking a cigarette at the fire… there is an understanding about tobacco and its sacredness that many folks do not understand… although some places I have been these things are not allowed near the sacred fire it was accepted here.
In my opinion the sacred fire is the best place for non-natives to receive information and learn the teachings in talking circles and the stories of the old ones.
Your perception was that the fire was tended by “white” folks… I do not know in which camp you spent your time… but chances are those light skin folks you assumed were white had significant indigenous lineage in their veins. I will share with you a teaching I received early in my efforts to connect with my indigenous roots: I was at a Pow Wow and respected Elder Arnie Neptune, former Assistant Chief of the Penobscot Nation started a conversation with me. He was a kind, gentle, soft spoken man. At some point in the conversation he asked what my lineage was; I burst into tears as I told him the stories that were passed through my family and the inability to trace that information due to the destruction and lack of public records. I told him that being new to learning about the ways of my ancestors that I was fearful that I might do something that is viewed as disrespectful or ignorant and that my intent is never to disrespect the first nations. I asked him how I would learn the “correct” ways… That is when this very gentle man reached over and pinched me hard on the arm… and simply said “Did you feel that?”
Shocked I laughed a little, rubbing my arm and said yes. Then Arnie said it all to me: “you will ask one question to 5 people and get 6 different answers, when I pinched your arm would it have felt any different if your skin was white, black, brown, yellow or red?” I responded No, he continued “ As long as your intentions are pure, and as long as you feel it, you always accept the answer that speaks to your heart… Always do the best you can with good intentions and be open to growth and further teachings and you will not offend.” I have remembered this teaching and passed it along to many as it gave me much comfort in learning to follow my heart.
I expect when you warned about not getting involved in ceremony you were referring to ceremony such as inipi (sweat lodge ceremony) in that you are correct that it must be run by people who understand the responsibility that comes with such a position. Also people entering sweat should have a good understanding of what it represents and the intensity that can come with the heat and the prayer that take place within that setting. That being said No ceremony should be entered lightly, which means if you plan to attend camp you must have an understanding of what ceremony means to indigenous people. As every step we take is in prayer, every act we perform, every breath we are given is a prayer.
I urge you to please be cautious at how you perceive what is happening around you or what may appear as a “white” person. That “white” person may have lineage that you are unaware of. I often find “white” is a state of mind moreso than a color of skin.
Please forgive me if it sounds like I am tearing into your article: that is not my intention. Many of the words you shared are true and give accurate advice. This was your experience. I respect that, I just wanted to share some other perspectives.