Standing with Standing Rock: It’s more than just a pipeline - Part 3: Return

Returning to the bridge long enough to enjoy a sandwich, we dispersed as silently and peacefully as we came, to return to our homes and tell our stories…as I have tried to do here.

To be sure, I and my sister deacons returned to the camp after lunch and again the next morning to continue the conversations we had started the day before. And, on Friday morning, we discovered that the law enforcers had strung rings of barbed water across the bridge and into the water on either side. And I found myself asking “Are we still in America?”

The ugliness of it all

Repelled by the ugliness of it all, we climbed into our rental car and drove down to Fort Yates, a pretty town that is home to the tribal headquarters and Sitting Bull College where we enjoyed a particularly rewarding conversation with the school’s Library Director Mark Holman. 

Recalling the history I had learned at Wounded Knee and how the events leading up to the massacre there had included the killing of Sitting Bull at Fort Yates, I left a tiny stone on his grave. 

I had, I thought, completed my witness  But, returning to Prairie Knights Casino and taking the elevator up to my room, I found myself sharing the elevator with a Native American mother and her adult daughters. “Were you part of the action by the faith leaders?” she asked. When I answered “Yes,” she threw her arms around me and hugged me ever so tightly…no words, just a firm hug. And, when I got off, a smile and simple “Thank you.” I slept well.

***

Now I’m home, still learning, working my way through Mark’s recommendation, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, the history we non-Native Americans have yet to learn…the history so well summed up by the words of Tatanka-Iyotanka (Sitting Bull) engraved on his memorial:  

What treaty that the whites have kept has the red man broken? Not one. What treaty that the whites ever made with us red men have they kept? Not one. When I was a boy the Sioux owned the world. The sun rose and set in their lands. They sent 10,000 horsemen to battle. Where are the warriors to-day? Who slew them? Where are our lands? Who owns them? What law have I broken? Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked in me because my skin is red; because I am a Sioux; because I was born where my fathers lived; because I would die for my people and my country?

Yes, it’s more than just a pipeline.

The struggle to block the pipeline goes on at Oceti Sakowin. Winter has arrived. A foot of snow has fallen and, as I write this, the high was 38 with wind whipped white out conditions across the plains. Worse yet, a defiant Kelcy Warren, the CEO Energy Transfer Partners, insists that “There’s not another way. We’re building at that location,” adding that the Army Corps of Engineers should cease its “political interference” and get out of the way. Perhaps bolstered by the President-elect’s investment in the pipeline and disbelief in climate change, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has labeled the Corps-ordered delay “unnecessary and problematic.”

It is clear that further actions to stand with the people of Standing Rock, both at Oceti Sakowin and in local non-violent demonstrations such as those in San Francisco and Albany will be necessary to demonstrate solidarity with our beleaguered Native American sisters and brothers and to raise public awareness about an issue that has gone unreported in the corporate media.

The East Bay chapter of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship is planning to host an early January forum to share the experiences of those who have been to Standing Rock and to provide information to others who may wish to go or otherwise support the people of Standing Rock. Those interested in sharing their experiences and those interested in learning more at such a forum should contact Vicki Gray at vgray54951@aol.com or 707.554.0672.