Dakota Access Pipeline, The Power of Symbol, and the Transformational Shift to Regenerative and Open Source Economies

Taken from field notes taken while at Standing Rock reservation.

There are few trees. The unbridled Dakota winds cut a particular degree of sharp, like a knife fresh off the whetstone.

Softened by 5 years of life in Northern California, but galvanized somewhat by its past month’s work at an Ecological research farm in Northern Missouri, my body has forgotten what 5 degrees feels like.

I observe, witness, feel. I see acts of kindness. I see faces removed of their facemasks and ski goggles to reveal bloodshot and ringed eyes, faces that have not seen a good night’s sleep in weeks. Red and runny noses, occasional bruises. Nods of acknowledgement, we’re all in this together. Voices, ears, hands, mind, and heart. A small group of people on “Facebook Hill”, presumably merging their physical activism with their digital. I decide to keep my phone in my tent. Those of us with the tools and skills, we build. We lash together manila rope and fir poles to erect teepees. We serve once-hot soup. We help the elders and those less able.

The Cannonball River, a snake-like tributary of the Missouri River, carves a serpentine path through soft, golden hills. Nearby, buried underground, a much different snake lies dormant, waiting for its completion. The dull hum of Machine, hidden by a belt of hills, reaming and boring its way closer and closer to the River.

The old Lakota myth of the black snake, a creature that would rise from the deep, carrying with it destruction and sorrow, strikes a little fear into the heart of even those unafraid of snakes. But this myth also carries with it tremendous meaning and a powerful story.

Myth, as Joseph Campbell describes it, serves four functions — the mystical function, the cosmological function, the sociological function, and — the one he thinks everyone today must try to relate to — the pedagogical function, that is, how to live a human life under any circumstances.

And so here we are, living this myth, as defenders and resistors of the black snake and its trail of destruction.

David Archambault, Sr., father of the Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, shared with me in tribal council his words — that we are all one — that reflects the words of the Lakota Instructions for Living, a beautiful proverb that echoes this same theme:

Friend do it this way — that is,
whatever you do in life,
do the very best you can
with both your heart and mind.

And if you do it that way,
the Power Of The Universe
will come to your assistance,
if your heart and mind are in Unity.

When one sits in the Hoop Of The People,
one must be responsible because
All of Creation is related.
And the hurt of one is the hurt of all.
And the honor of one is the honor of all.
And whatever we do effects everything in the universe.

If you do it that way — that is,
if you truly join your heart and mind
as One — whatever you ask for,
that’s the Way It’s Going To Be.

Passed down from White Buffalo Calf Woman

Transitional Shift to Regenerative and Open Source Economies

With the latest news of the Army’s decision to block drilling of the pipeline under a dammed section of the Missouri River, we’re left making meaning out of this decision and trying to figure out what is next. We can sigh a breath of relief, and that relief also lets us step back and look at the breadth of the situation. This black snake has certainly not breathed its last breath.

There are many pipeline projects underway in the US. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently signed off on major pipeline projects to bring oil from Alberta’s oilsands to global markets. While many of us believe that we need to get off fossil fuels right away, this admirable sentiment collapses when faced with its technical, social, and domestic realities. But what regenerative agriculture teaches us is that solutions don’t manifest overnight.

How do we move forward? Start small, with yourself and with your community. Invest in learning and building new skills. Use your new and existing skills to participate in large-scale collaborations such as Open Source Ecology, whose goal is to eliminate artificial resource scarcity. Explore the depths of indigenous wisdom. Develop plans for working towards food and energy interdependence and regional autonomy. Join the Transition Movement. Act with intention, and don’t forget the little acts we do every day that ripple outward and affect unknown quantities and qualities of life. As Charles Eisenstein says, live a more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. Fall in love with the universe, for as Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, the universe is in us.

This victory is at the very least symbolic, and there is a lot of power in that. We see what is possible when we work together, when we act, live, and do the very best that we can, with our minds and our hearts. We CAN create regenerative and open source economies where black snakes eat their own tails.