Standing Rock: Why I’m glad I went

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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.

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The Native concern for the next seven generations of life always makes me think of my grandson, fearlessly ready to jump into the world.

Standing Rock: Camp Etiquette

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The latest–water cannons fired at water protectors (Dallas Goldtooth @ nbcnews.com).

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.

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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2015 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 400 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Tarantula Migration–Can they get in the car?

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I lived in Roswell, NM, for about five years. I managed an HIV agency that served the southeastern quadrant of the state, 33,000 square miles, which was pretty impossible, with about 126 clients, so I did a lot of driving on little-traveled roads.
One night, driving home late, I was brought out of my usual driving stupor by catching sight of lots of small crawling things on the road. Tarantulas! I slowed but couldn’t help running over some of them and began to wonder if they could get into the car. What are they running from? Was it the end of the world? Would I be swarmed by them?
I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the annual tarantula migration. The males go in search, in mass, for female companionship. I couldn’t have imagined such a thing–except in a nightmare. I was horrified.
I later learned that a tarantula bite probably won’t kill you. I learned, too, that they’re gentle arachnids, nocturnal and shy, despite how scary they look.
I saw lots of other living things on the back roads I traveled–ring-tailed cats (just like out of Dr. Seuss), badger families, crowds of migrating jack rabbits lining the road, petite silver wolves, hawks, eagles–but I always remembered the tarantulas. Alone as I was, in the dark, being surrounded by lots of spiders (one of my worst fears), knowing I just had to get through it, wondering if it was a dream.
Lots of people think that part of NM is a wasteland, devoid of life, a desert. But it’s full of life, going about its business, searching for other like-minded partners, like we do.
What else don’t we know?

Photo from: rebeccamezoff.blogspot.com

Tasmania–running into the other you

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Excerpt from Jumping: a Novel.
Babe has jumped into the Void and is meeting an aspect of herself whom she almost met in life:

One of them is a woman I saw once, in Tasmania. I’m surprised to see a woman with whom I have had only one encounter, and we never even spoke. . . .

I take in the woman, who looks strikingly like me, and remember seeing her in the crowd of evening strollers along the pier one night, on the Tamar River. . . I felt so strangely drawn to follow this woman, knowing there was some sort of connection, and hoping she knew it, too.

I think she was afraid of me—she noticed me, but only peripherally, and wouldn’t look at me head-on. I was a little freaked out—knowing she was me somehow, some other version of me. I wanted to see her and have her see me, as validation of something, but at the same time I felt as if something irrevocable would change, and I didn’t know if I was ready for that. I think she felt the same way.

The woman approaches. The silence lingers.

“Babe, this is Hardin,” Philip says, just as I’m thinking the name in my head.

“I know.”

Hardin and I hug. And Hardin, laughing, says, with a distinct Australian accent, “Of course, I did see you. I’m an aspect of you and you of me. It was my first time to ever see such a thing. I wasn’t well at the time, and I thought seeing you meant immanent death!” She laughs again, “I know now that’s not the case. And I’m sorry to have missed the opportunity, but I was a frightful little thing in that life. Not like you!”

“Oh, I was scared, too!” I reassure her.

The Snake

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From Jumping: a Novel.
Babe, on the arrival of her sisters. [I have three sisters.]

“I remember seeing a snake come down from the porch roof of a cabin I was staying in with friends. As we watched, it extended half of its length down through space as if the space had substance to support it, leaving its other half anchored on the porch roof. It lowered that front half right into a fir tree leaning against the porch, into the nest of a small mourning dove, a nest clearly visible to our group on the porch, a nest with two small eggs in it.
The dove had left the nest, probably because we had scared her off by coming out on the porch, and the snake had seen its chance. It moved into the nest with half of its body still on the porch roof, and swallowed both eggs, so quickly, so effortlessly, I could almost believe it hadn’t happened. I didn’t want to believe it had. Then it withdrew itself back up onto the roof, again as if suspended by invisible wires, and disappeared from sight. We stood there, silenced by the finality of its act. . . .
“Later I found a snakeskin tucked in the fold of the bottom step of the back porch. It was beautiful, elegant, like a woman’s elbow-length opera glove, dropped unheedingly, while she was on her way to somewhere else. . . .”