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Lessons from Standing Rock

By Tracy L. Barnett

STEELE, N.D., Dec 8 – We only made it 70 miles from Oceti Sakowin Camp in Standing Rock when a whiteout and fierce winds forced us to seek refuge in this tiny town, where the Kidder County Ambulance District and a wonderful EMT nurse named Mona Thompson took us in like a mother. Mona, we soon learned, has led her volunteer emergency services in manning the front lines on the reservation side after the attacks on the Water Protectors from the paid law enforcement personnel of neighboring Morton County. This improvised emergency shelter is filled with people, many of them coming from or going to Standing Rock, and were up until all hours talking about this historic phenomenon and how it has impacted them and the nation. I will share more about Mona and her story soon.

As for myself I am moved more deeply than words can express. To see the quiet resolve on the part of our Native brothers and sisters, to see their compassion for us in the face of our distress – both physical, for the bitter cold, and emotional, for the bitter truths we are facing. Not for the first time but for the strongest time, face to face with those that our government has deceived and betrayed time after time over the past 250 years, and it keeps going on.

Now instead of armed cavalry they face fracking fields that contaminate their water, man-camps that brutalize their girls and women, law enforcement armed to the teeth and willing to kill to protect the corporate interests here. I saw them celebrate the announcement that the easement to finish the pipeline has been denied. The celebration lasted about 20 minutes before the real truth sank in. The Black Snake is not dead. DAPL vowed to forge ahead in violation of federal law, paying the $50,000 a day fines, which are small change compared to the billions that stand to be made from this toxic project.

I weep for all that we have lost in these 250 years, for the decimation of a people I saw in all their gentle and loving power in these days. I weep for the children who continue to grow up in a colonial system that robs them of their culture and their dignity. And I weep for joy to see them reclaiming that power, reclaiming that culture and that profound dignity, and embracing those of us who come to stand with them – unprepared in many cases, bringing only our hearts. I pray that their struggle will not be in vain. I pray that their people will be lifted up and that our people will listen and learn from them. I pray this will be the opening volley in a war of love for the Mother, love for our relatives, human and non-human, which guides us in our decisions and our policies moving forward. There are battles to be fought on every front – pipelines bulldozing their way through communities indigenous and nonindigenous throughout the country, fracking fields that are destroying our water and destabilizing the very ground on which we walk, oilfields destroying our water…. Our water, which is life.

Mni wiconi. Water is life. This is the urgent message of the Standing Rock Sioux – and of all the indigenous nations that stand with them. May we each find our own way to take a stand, and make it count – before it is too late.

For more information and how to help, check the websites of Oceti Sakowin and Sacred Stone Camps. Read carefully. Attention equals respect.

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