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.