Standing Rock: At the Front-lines With the First All Women Led Action
I have been here in Standing Rock for a week, and it feels like a month. Everyone here is on their own journey. I feel that each one of us is deeply in a Rite of Passage. We are learning and unlearning, protecting and praying, taking in and giving out. I traveled here with a tour bus full of young,passionate alternative media people eager to help get out the message. What might that message be?
I am witnessing a village of all races grow organically. In following the lead of the native people, it functions in harmony: no drugs, no alcohol and follow the word of the elders. There is an announcement in camp at dawn ‘wake up all my relations’. Some rise to greet the sun at the sacred fire to make offerings at the fire and walk to the river to pray. Men on horseback occasionally trot through camp. At meal times, when we eat, it is elders first, women and children second and men third, and natives first unless they invite you to go in front. Every native man I was in line behind invited me in front of him. There is a natural flow here and little conflict, considering the pressure everyone feels. The direct actions are imbued with peace and prayer yet are still frightening to be in as no-one knows how the police will respond. The scariest stories are from Sunday November 20th — the ones where two women were permanently injured by security forces that were heard laughing as they shot water cannons at freezing praying people. And STILL the people here pray for the protection of the water, and for the hearts and souls of these men.
During the week, I was in “Orientation”, “Women’s”, “De-Colonization” and “Direct Action” meetings mostly run by Native People. I was educated, humbled and impassioned. On my last day in camp, I changed my mind and decided to do something risky and go on a civil disobedience direct action. It was the first women’s only silent march and prayer and I simply had to do it. I had come simply to offer my prayer Standing Rock and now I could — with our Native and Non-native elder women. I ‘randomly’ met Cheryl Angel — a Lakota Woman Elder in line for dinner the night before and knew Star Hawk was also involved. The sweetness of the young women in support was so moving — there was no aggression, just gentle resolve. We met the next morning and Star Hawk, Cheryl Angel and the brilliant Lyla-June talked to us about being grounded like trees, staying peaceful under any circumstance and making sure everyone looked after everyone else. We were prepared to pray for twenty minutes without moving even if we were soaked with water. Starhawk talked of shifting consciousness through not feeling fear, and Cheryl talked of how the ancestors could come through us in the empty space that no-fear would create.
After filling our bellies with food and finding wool blankets (that stay warm when wet), we were ready. I was in the low risk group 5 in the back, and linked arms with my sisters and others who joined. Women led, prepared to face and work through whatever obstacle arose. Men followed, holding space from the back of the line. These next words are from my new sister Rebecca Eller as she was in the front row and could see all:
‘We walked together in silent prayer from Sacred Stone camp through Rosebud, and then to Oceti Sakowin. When we reached the Seven Council Sacred Fire an Elder from Oceti Sakowin approached; a woman with several indigenous men standing behind her. She shared her concerns regarding our going anywhere near the bridge; her daughter and the men behind her validating her worry. Everyone remained in silent prayer. Our core group partner and friend, Sarah Baker, walked to the Elder and placed herself at her feet. She got on her knees and begged for forgiveness for potentially perpetuating colonization; for not advocating for indigenous peoples the entirety of her life. tears flowed down my cheeks as they fell down Sarah’s. The Elder told Sarah that she did not want to shame her or anyone else, and offered her hands to Sarah to take. She asked that if we could promise to have the men hold their word to not react; to hold space for women to do what we came to do then she would back our mission.
Remaining together we walked through the trees and golden grasses, and onto the road. My heart jumped when I heard ‘our’ men yelling for us to return to camp. they joined together in front of us; forming a human barricade. A few of us broke our silent prayer and explained that our procession was approved by Elders, and we were led by an Elder. We continued on.’ Rebecca couldn’t finish as she was on a public computer at the casino so I’ll continue with my experience.
I had been walking in the group doing my own prayers including my mantra from Amma and everything I could think of to quell my fear. Beside me were a Canadian citizen and and American born Indian woman from Hawaii. Once we got to the bridge, we filled it, hearts pounding, feeling strong with our linked arms. I looked back and saw all the men in a line looking intently at us. They knew to be quiet and focused. I felt protected and supported. We could hear drums and singing as Cheryl led a ceremony at the front right before the trucks, razor wire, barricades and Police.
The wind picked up and it was getting colder as sunset was approaching. After what seemed like a long time, as planned we sat down and prayed. I immediately fell into a deep trance and it was as if there was no one there. I felt love for the Police and knew they had open hearts somewhere in their experience. I had offered my body as a vehicle for ancestors to come through if they wished so perhaps that happened. I don’t know. Either way I knew when to come back and opened my eyes. Then we stood up as there was activity. It turned out that Cheryl’s best possible outcome had happened. It was a small miracle. The police helped her by opening the fence so she could take her group of Elder women down to the river on the north (barricaded) side. Six people assembled at the water’s edge, drummed, sang and made offerings. My heart swelled and tears streamed down my cheeks as I realized our native sister had her wish: For the first time in five hundred years she was supported by non -natives to do what she was doing. She had over five hunderd of us holding space for her ceremony in prayerful silence on the bridge.
When she was done, we all magically knew what to do. We turned around and waited. Cheryl came with the elders and the group stood. The men parted the center of the people and waited for the women to pass through and walked still in silence back to camp as the sun set. All five hundred of us circled the sacred fire ‘the Lakota way’ — in slow movement — and Cheryl spoke her words of profound gratitude. Lyla-June spoke and sang. She is a remarkable young native woman, reminding me of Martin Luther King in her ability to move and empower us. We breathed it in. Then it began to rain. We said goodbye to our new sisters and went back to our camps with glad hearts full of peace.
Two days later, I am at the local casino, snowed in. My departure back to LA has been delayed due to that rain that turned into snow. The whole camp and reservation surrounding it is blanketed by a winter snow storm. I have heard that DAPL can’t drill into frozen ground — so perhaps mama earth has spoken…
(This report was written on November 29th, 2016, Standing Rock in North Dakota)
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Women led a silent march to backwater bridge, where they held a short ceremony and prayer.
Originally published at josiekeys.com on December 6, 2016.