Standing Rock: Sending your best

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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?

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.