What Tribe Do You Belong To?

Belonging And What It Means To Survival

Human beings have an innate pattern of behavior in response to certain stimuli. That response typically provokes a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose or tied to a specific cause — tribes. There might be no better example of the solidarity resulting from a tribal connection than what’s transpiring now in North Dakota.

For months now, thousands of activists have been protesting the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline that is planned to run beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The activists believe the pipeline poses a threat to the water supply that the reservation greatly depends on as well as damaging culturally sensitive sites on the ancestral land. The Governor and President-elect are in support of the pipeline and, according to Reuters, the North Dakota Emergency Commission just approved another $7 million to support law enforcement who will be deployed to deal with protesters.

“I bought a one-way ticket. Hopefully we can shut this down before Christmas.” — Matthew Crane, a 32-year-old Navy veteran told Reuters as he worked to build a wooden shelter at the main camp

This certainly isn’t the Standing Rock Sioux’s first time taking part in a struggle as they’ve occupied the land dating back centuries. The support they’ve garnered within the last few days, including a notable alliance with veterans, may surprise most people. Veterans Stand For Standing Rock, a group of 2,000 U.S. veterans, arrived in North Dakota vowing to protect the protestors and act as human shields against clashes with the law enforcement.

The Veterans Stand For Standing Rock Facebook page states they, “will not tolerate hate, violence or divisive behavior of any kind. We’re doing this to support our country so lets do it with honor, working together.”

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.” — Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

In Tribe by Sebastian Junger, this sense of belonging and purpose can be exemplified in veterans returning home from combat missing the bonds formed in their units. The loss of closeness is what Junger believes to be one indicator of the rising rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, Junger goes much deeper addressing how tribal society has had a gravitational-like pull on Westerners for centuries:

“Colonists — white people along the frontier — very often ran off to join the Indian tribes. Or they were captured and adopted into Indian tribes, and when given the chance to be repatriated, they wouldn’t go. They wanted to stay with the tribes,” Sebastian explains. “And Benjamin Franklin was sort of tearing his hair out about this, he was like, ‘Why is it we have thousands of examples of colonists running off to join the Indians, and not one example of an Indian who wanted to become one of us?’ And of course that was a great affront to civilized society, I mean, these people were called ‘savages.’ What could possibly be the appeal?”

Critics say veteran participation in the protest will marr the image of veterans, but Hawaii Congresswoman, Tulsi Gabard, is said to be joining her fellow vets this weekend. A few have spoken out in defending the protestors because they are fighting for their land rights — rights that veterans proudly fought overseas to protect. The veterans may be more keen to the atrocities of politcal harm and warfare than anyone else. Yet, it doesn’t seem to be the trauma on the battlefield so much as reentry into society that makes veterans feel alienated. For many veterans as well as civilians war feels better than peace. We’re witnessing people who are actively engaged in a cause that gives their lives more purpose. Most of us live and work in silos with our heads down looking at a screen all day. Belonging to a society requires sacrifice and giving back when you can.

Being a part of a tribe and knowing your sense of purpose is gratifying. Maybe that’s why the 2,000 veterans are compelled to fight with the protestors at Standing Rock. We, as a society, can do much more to act on the behalf of others while enriching our own lives along the way. This tribal connection has been largely lost in society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.


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