Standing Rock: “Where do I go to get arrested?”

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Vietnam War protest (history.com)

“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.

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Democratic National Convention 1968.

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.

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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

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Standing Rock: Praying for Keeps

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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: ┬áStanding Rock: “Where do I go to get arrested?”

Photo courtesy Billings Gazette.