From Solidariteam, a collective of trainers, @ Standing Rock Solidarity Network, from Sacred Stone Camp.
If You’re Thinking About Going to Standing Rock
First of all, thank you! The whole world has been moved and inspired by the water protectors at Standing Rock and many
people feel called to go there. It’s important to think through whether you will be able to contribute best by going in person or
by doing support work from home.
Good reasons to go:
• To commit civil disobedience blocking construction of the pipeline.
• To do needed physical labor
• To deliver supplies
• To bring a necessary skill
• To bring messages of support from your national or tribal group and share your traditional ceremony and culture
• To support the presence of young people or elders
• To provide media coverage and documentation
Not good enough reasons:
• To experience indigenous culture and wisdom
• Because it seems cool
Do not go to Standing Rock “just to see.” Every person in camp needs to pull their weight and contribute in substantial
• Elders and families with children are welcome. Families must see to the safety and wellbeing of their children.
• Currently (late October 2016), the main camp has moved north, closer to a major highway. Law enforcement has
made it clear that anyone at the new camp is risking arrest. If you are coming and arrest-able, camp at the new
camp. The leadership has implored supporters to be here and be ready to be a physical barrier to block the arrival
of the black snake making its way quick toward us with militaristic police presence at its head. If you cannot be
arrested, consider camping at the “old” camp, or south camp.
What is the best way for me to support Standing Rock?
There are many ways to support the water protectors at Standing Rock. If you are considering going there in person,
please read the document “Joining Camp Culture” to understand what’s expected of allies at the camps.
The situation at Standing Rock is constantly changing. Check with the websites and Facebook pages of the different camps
to determine whether you’re able to provide the specific kinds of support most needed:
Right now, in October-November, 2016, the most pressing needs are:
• People to commit civil disobedience to stop the pipeline, and be arrested. There are urgent calls for as many people
as possible to come and take part in direct non-violent actions.
• People who can help with the physical labor of preparing for the winter. This includes moving equipment and
supplies to the winter camp sites, building structures, sorting donations, and much more.
• Lawyers who can join the legal support team and be observers of police conduct.
• Media people who can document the water protectors’ peaceful prayers and resistance, and police conduct, and
can risk arrest.
This document was created by Solidariteam, a collective of trainers. Creative commons (cc) http://www.standingrocksolidaritynetwork.org/
• Skilled medical workers, especially with more advanced training, including EMTs, nurses and doctors.
If you can’t participate in any of these ways, assess what resources you have to offer and whether they will add more
resource to the camp than your presence will use up. Some other useful roles include artists who create banners and signs
for the actions, bodyworkers and other healers and people with construction skills.
Consider whether you would be more useful raising funds, organizing shipments of supplies, organizing support actions
such as die-ins, flashmobs, demonstrations, guerilla theater, and phone and email campaigns, doing media work, creating
and sharing art about Standing Rock, educating people around you, putting public pressure on investors, the Department of
Justice, Hillary Clinton, sheriff departments being mobilized to support the pipeline and North Dakota state officials. This
work is just as important as the work on site and may be a better fit for you.
Conditions at Standing Rock
• The weather is very, very cold and very windy. Be sure you are able to tolerate it, and make sure you are well
equipped with very warm clothing, a winter sleeping bag and shelter that can withstand the wind and the cold.
Sleeping bags must be rated for subzero temperatures. Tents must be heavy canvas or made for winter camping.
• You must bring all your own food plus food to share. You might be invited to meals, if you are it’s best to attend
but be prepared to eat what you are receiving. Think about food in the spirit of mutual nourishment. The camp
kitchens provide food for the indigenous community to stay. Help nourish others by bringing as much of your own
food as possible, and contributing cash to support the food supply. Bring cooking equipment (keeping in mind the
wind.) Bring food that doesn’t need to be cooked, or can be prepared by adding hot water. Protein bars, jerky,
canned sardines, ramen, instant soups, dried fruit and nuts, crackers and so on. In addition to the main volunteer
kitchen, there are smaller kitchens scattered throughout the camps. If you need food, don’t hesitate to ask. Mutual
aid is the spirit of the camp. But be prepared to contribute ingredients, money or labor—if not at that kitchen, then
• If you can travel to Standing Rock in a vans and campers, especially with heaters that can help to save camp
• There is a team of health care providers and many supplies have been donated so there is care available for minor
ailments, but the medic tent cannot handle serious medical conditions. Bring any medications you need with you
and be prepared to be medically self-sufficient.
If you are considering being arrested
• Conditions are constantly changing, so check websites (listed above) for the current situation for those arrested.
• Again, at this point, enforcement has made it clear that anyone camping at the North camp (new camp) is risking
• Remember that Standing Rock direct actions are a form of ceremony and prayer for the water and should be
approached with calm determination and without any form of violence.
• Training in non-violent direct action will be provided to every person going on an action.
• You will be given a form to fill out with all your relevant personal information.
• You’ll be told as best the leaders are able, what to expect.
• As of October, 2016, some water protectors are being sprayed with pepper spray, and arrestees are being strip
• The legal fund will NOT pay your bail. Bail is being set at $1600. Be prepared to spend at least the night in jail.
• Be prepared to request a public defender. Strategies constantly shift, but anything that strains local and statewide
legal system resources helps build pressure to end the pipeline.
• Try to take care of your business with the court right away, as there are no funds to pay for people to return for
court dates. You will have access to people to help you do this.
I’m glad I went and am thinking about going back. Yes, I blogged that it can be hard to be a white person at Standing Rock. But I loved every minute of it. Why?
Because it’s a rare and important opportunity to stand with people having the courage to speak truth to power, at great risk to their lives and well being. It’s a skill we all need to exercise, maybe particularly now. I am grateful to have seen it, and honor it in my own prayers.
It’s very scary. To see authority out of control, ruled by some adolescent notion of domination, able to randomly mace senior citizens in the face, is so completely opposite of their standing as law enforcement and peace officers. It’s such a betrayal of the public trust that it could only be described as a monumental selling out to the highest bidder.
And, in the face of it, I’m grateful to see how a people can still live prayer, day in and day out, in all that they do. It’s not something they put on and take off. It’s something they are, because they’re steeped in it.
And there’s a power that comes with living outside most of every day that we forget. That river is an ancient and knowing force in their lives, not an unseen convenience like running water is for most of us. When I would wake up at night, with Mother Earth beneath me and Father Sky above me, and the moon reflecting on the river running just beyond our camp, I felt such a part of all that is most important about our world.
They’re overloaded, they said, with donated clothes and have already overloaded all the donation boxes in their area. Random stuff is piled everywhere, and someone has to sort it, and for what? Most of it isn’t worth keeping, what with winter coming on. They no longer need school supplies, thanks to your generosity, and they no longer need summer anything.
They have a suspicion you’re cleaning out your closets or attic or garage for things you’d normally throw out. Is that true? I do know I don’t give my best stuff. We took sleeping bags donated by a local college, and one of them had a broken zipper. What can I say? None of them were good for sub-zero temperatures anyway, and that’s the name of the game.
My sister is thinking of starting a One-Hat Campaign on FaceBook, because good winter gear can be expensive, asking people, kids, organizations, churches, whoever, to donate one hat, one pair of gloves or socks or long johns, one scarf, one jacket, one sleeping bag–BUT ALL OF GOOD WINTER QUALITY! Or don’t bother. If you want to do so, you can mail your items directly to: Oceti Sakowin Camp, PO Box 298, Cannon Ball, ND 58528. For their complete list of needs, visit: http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org/donate.
Sound elitist? Or arrogant–like, why can’t they be thankful for whatever we send them? I’d say the only reason for it is the frightful winter temperatures the Dakotas get. Most people have an awareness of that, but let me tell you what they can expect for Christmas. The December low is -25 degrees, the high is 54 degrees, the average is 16 degrees. Temperatures for January are a low of -44 degrees, high of 48 degrees, average of 15 degrees. And so on. (Weather from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce.)
I’d also say this is one of the poorest, most isolated places you’ll ever be. You can look online at their
2013-2017 Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the stats. This plan is required for any tribe that receives government funding. More than 46% of the reservation’s 8000 or so members are below 24 years of age. That’s doable, right? For donations? They exist in “persistent poverty,” meaning more than 20% (much more) have been in poverty for at least thirty years. Many don’t have full plumbing in their homes, have never been in a bank, or seen so many white people in their lives. More than 71% are unemployed, and for those employed, 61.7% still live below the poverty line. I could see where they might be in need of some warm winter gear.
And I haven’t even mentioned the battle they’re waging, like David against Goliath, and they’re waging it for all of us, to protect water and land from the enactment of this kind of irreversible exploitation that stunts our souls. Shouldn’t they be as warm as we are when we stand with them?
Next: Standing Rock: Why am I glad I went?
We were told by the young man at the gate to camp at the back of Oceti Sakowin Camp, where an offshoot of the Missouri River runs. You can see the tents of Sacred Stone Camp, the smaller first camp, started in April by tribal member LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, just on the other side. At night, you see their campfires.
At Oceti Sakowin, the young man at the gate just pointed toward the back of the camp and looked at us as if the joke was on us. And it was. Camp etiquette says you should come in to join a group of friends already there. If that’s not the case, you have to find a camp that will invite you in. Generally, there are five or six tents around each campfire, which is a better use of scarce resources than one tent/one fire. It is built on the tribe’s inherent sense of interdependence–we’d help each other.
We, my sister and I, had responded to their call for support on our own, so, operating blind, we drove around looking for a clear spot to set up our tent. We saw a guy near a pick-up working to fill in an un-used fire pit. We struck up a conversation, and he said he thought he could invite us to join the camp where we were standing. It was all Native American people who, but he asked them (he wasn’t camping there), and they grudgingly said we could. Later, this same guy was evicted from the camp as a possible infiltrator (you couldn’t make this stuff up).
I’m not a Native person, so any of this could be wrong, but these are my white first impressions.
Food: There are at least seven operating kitchens or mess tents, including the main one near the sacred fire (some say there are several sacred fires, but this seemed the main one) and several smaller kitchens that sprang up to suit people’s dietary needs and interests (vegan, Mexican, etc.). You can eat at them, but again, the etiquette is that they are meant for long-termers and tribal members. We relied mainly on the food we brought.
Skirts: Early on, we were told that the tribe’s grandmothers ask that all women wear skirts, over their jeans, as a sign of respect. We were directed to the skirt-maker’s tent and warmly greeted there by the small older Native woman sitting at one of three sewing machines, making elastic-waist gathered skirts. There was a rack of colorful, already completed skirts to choose from. We gladly tipped her, which she was happy to accept. Some women came prepared, some wrapped shawls and blankets in skirt fashion, some refused, calling the practice “sexist.”
Prayer site: The heart of the camp, near the entrance. Sacred fire in the center, burning wood that has been designated for it, 24 hours, tended by the Fire Men. A tent with microphone faces the fire, to be used only by Native people for specific purposes, we were told. They might read out your announcement. You can’t. The circle around the fire runs clockwise only and holds sacred intent–tobacco donations are made here, prayers for ill or in-need family and friends, personal requests–so one would have to be careful not to cross between the person praying and the fire, and never between the fire and the person on the microphone. Native people and long-termers would form a line to greet the chiefs when they gathered at the microphone, but you shouldn’t be in that line without an invitation. Other tents were gathered around the fire, so it could be confusing. The volunteer tent, the big message board, the donation tent, the skirt-making tent, the place to get hot coffee and hot water for tea, and covered areas with chairs (the chairs of tribal people, saving their places at the sacred fire), all adding to the general commotion.
There were signs about quiet time between 10 pm and 6 am, and the camp was quiet at night, except for the constant activity of low-flying drones and the occasional low-flying plane. People said this was intentionally done by the pipeline people, along with directing their bright work lights into the camp, to make everyone as uncomfortable as possible. Prayers began at 8:00 am. The daily update and orientation training began at 9:00 am.
Orientation training: Some said “mandatory” and “required,” some said “suggested” or “strongly suggested.” I think it’s essential. I think it’s also well done, and I’m a trainer from way back. We had two trainers–a young woman whose family had emigrated from the Philippines to New York and a young white woman whose family has roots in San Francisco. Clearly, they are experienced trainers on colonization, oppression, enslavement, patriarchy, genocide and marginalized and disenfranchised people, because that’s the focus of the almost-three hour training. It may be the only opportunity for many people to ever hear this, and it’s necessary to hear as a foundation for even trying to understand the people on whose property we’re staying that we think we’ve come to “help.” If we’re white, we’re the historical enemy, and we were given examples of how we continue to manifest that (i.e., dominating by talking loudly anytime we enter a group, talking more than we listen, controlling by asking many questions, expecting to be first, etc.). We need to stop while we’re here. Or we need to leave. They are about interdependence, and there’s nothing interdependent about dominating.
Photos: They don’t want any taken. In the beginning, they let people take their own pictures as long as they’d been to the training on FaceBook Hill and gotten their press pass. Now they say it’s gotten out of hand, so they told us they don’t want any photos taken except by professional journalists who’ve been through the training. No recordings of ceremonial singing or drumming, either. However, as the supermoon came up on the night of Nov 14, people everywhere in the camp, standing on the roofs of their cars and trucks, were taking pictures of that moon.
“Getting arrested” training: I can’t say much about this one because we arrived at it on mountain time and it had started on central time. Our i-phones were still showing mountain time, and where the time line is in South Dakota is not where you’d expect, so it was almost over when we got there. Trainees were engaged in a resistance strategy, lines of four with their arms tightly linked, the person on each end holding onto the shoulder of the person in front, the lines running through the training camp site like a maddened caterpillar. As they ran in front of us, someone came running out of a tent off to the right shouting, “Fire! Fire! I MEAN it!” Everyone stopped running and took their water bottles over to put out the small fire that had started. I used to teach protest strategies and have engaged in a bit of protest myself, so I think I have an idea of what they might have covered.
Getting arrested: Everyone is encouraged to go to the Legal Tent to sign up that they are willing to be arrested. The lawyers and legal aides there explain the process. Typically, white people aren’t held longer than six hours because they’re able to be released on bond. The hassle, they say, is having to come back in a few months for the arraignment. The idea is that the police don’t want to arrest white people because that will end up being more trouble than it’s worth. They want to arrest Native Americans, who have no real civil rights protection with them. There are many horror stories about how harshly Native Americans have been treated in jail, including being kept naked, rape, physical abuse, and just constant and unnecessary harassment. I talked to white people who have been at the camp for months who have never been near the frontline who don’t want to be arrested, and no one has to be. I think the tribe wants everyone trained in how to handle arrest because people have been arrested for doing nothing (e.g., standing, unarmed).
White Ring: Here’s where we white people act like shields. If there’s a gathering at the line of protest, at the river, where the barricades are and the police are, the idea is that the Native American protesters are surrounded by a ring of white people, to make it harder for the police to get to them. If you were to participate to this degree, I believe you’d be given more training.
Someone said, “an unsettling but thrilling energy is in the air.” As my sister said, “We saw no anger here.”
Some Native people call this the last great Indian War because there hasn’t been a gathering like this before. All seven bands of what we call the Sioux, who are members of the Nakota/Dakota and Lakota nations who were divided up in 1898, have come together, along with representatives of at least 200 other indigenous tribes worldwide.
Those of us who believe our whole white-only, manifest-destiny history has been wrong have a chance to fight on the side of the good guys this time.
Next: Standing Rock: Sending our best.
“Where do I go to get arrested?” said the Baby Boomer, grinning, come to relive his glory days. He could tell them a few things about being arrested. He’s been beaten by cops, maced, teargassed, threatened, thrown in jail, at an array of protests ranging from the Civil Rights Movement, Republican and Democratic National Conventions in’68, Vietnam War protests in ’67, Redwood Summer in ’90, Iraq War protests in ’02, and more.
The action of stepping up, ready to give his all, has defined his life and his sense of himself. He’s an elder now, prepared to share what he’s learned, maybe receiving a little recognition, maybe leaving a legacy. It’s great to feel useful again, in this most meaningful way.
Well, not at Standing Rock.
His experience, his brains, his charm, his degrees, his titles, his money, his expectations–none of it matters here. This is not a repeat of those protests, even though the police respond against unarmed people in the same old unnatural, unbelievably harsh ways.
Integration of Central High School by the Little Rock Nine.
Oceti Sakowin is the Camp of the Seven Council Fires and is directed by ceremonial prayer, expressed in sacred ritual by the elders, embedded in the tribe’s ancient connection to primary source through dreams, knowing and conversation.
They may be informed by Native Vietnam vets, outsiders trained and experienced in protest strategies, those educated in the practice and consequences of colonialism, oppression, patriarchy and genocide, as evidenced in the trainings for camp residents, but ultimately actions are determined by the highest most sacred guidance.
This is a peaceful protest. Arrests weren’t part of the plan. There are outlying camps and some individuals who sometimes act independently, but only the Council speaks for the tribe. And now that the tribe knows arrests can occur within the most peaceful of practices, they plan for them, in order to protect people.
They’re allowing us, white and generally untutored in their ways, into this on-going, powerful ceremony, if we’ve come to serve.
Next: Standing Rock: Camp Etiquette
Nov 13: Go to Cannon Ball via Highway 1806, going north. At the intersection of 1806 and 24 there is a Bureau of Indian Affairs checkpoint. Tell them you are coming to the camp.
Keep going north on 1806, past the Cannon Ball River bridge. The entrance is 500 feet north of the bridge, on your right. It is marked by a line of tall flag poles.
The entrance looks almost festive in the sun. This is Oceti Sakowin Camp, the largest camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on the North Dakota/South Dakota border, set near the confluence of the Missouri River and its tributary, the Cannon Ball River. Where the river widens into Lake Oahe is the point of peaceful protest. The lake is 231 miles long, with 2,250 miles of shoreline. Over 1.5 million people visit its 51 recreation areas every year. This is what the pipeline, carrying toxic crude oil, would travel under.
We stop at the gated entrance, in a small line of cars. We’re asked by a young Native American man if we know anyone at the camp, where we’re from, how long we’re staying. We’re told to camp towards the back. We drive in, overwhelmed by the number of flags whipped by the wind, the number of colorful tents–there are said to be around 5000 people here, and that’s easy to believe–the number of dirt roads branching off this one. People, horses, children on bicycles, cars and trucks move in front of us. We can hear the loud speaker of the main ceremony site to our right, announcing that someone needs a ride to Seattle, someone else is donating cords of wood, the “getting arrested” training is at 2:00 in the IP3 tent, in the northwest corner. There will be an “action assembly” at 4:00 in the Dome.
We’re here, and it’s not going to be anything like what we expected. We are the same color as the people behind what they’re facing down at the river. That makes a difference. The term we hear for people who come for a few days or a week, who haven’t committed to the long term, is “tourists.” If you need a warm welcome, this isn’t the place. If you think you’re here to “help,” think again. If you’re ready and willing to be considered last, to have your white privilege pointed out to you, to do more listening than talking, to consider being a human shield, to get conflicting reports on most everything, to accept you can’t play your music or curse or drink or use dope because you’re in a place of continual prayer–in other words, to have an opportunity for change–you’ll be glad you came.
Next: Standing Rock: “Where do I go to get arrested?”
Photo courtesy Billings Gazette.