I don’t talk much about the short time I spent in Standing Rock. Sometimes even the most justice-minded of us engage in performative solidarity, so I limit conversations to what feels useful—preparing organizers who want to shore up the front lines, sharing what I learned about how best to show up and what supplies to bring, that kind of thing.
We non-Natives also tend to talk about Native American folks as noble creatures and not people fighting for the same rights to life as the rest of us. So I hesitate to talk much about how it felt to immediately recognize the camp grounds as holy grounds, or about the main circle at camp where ceremony of some kind is ongoing, and where the beat of drums is constant. I do talk about the only time the drums went silent.
I was settling in for the night. The sky was clear and starry, and the river was relatively calm. The camp was starting to get quiet, with the small fires on the grounds going out one by one, so it was hard to find my way back to my tent. I walked tentatively toward the camp’s entrance, where my large group had set up. I ran into a friend, the kind who’s always extra prepared with stuff like extra flashlights and we walked together.
After dinner and fellowship around our own fire, everyone started retiring to their tents. As I snuggled into my sleeping bag, I could hear voices around me calling a name.* “Angelaaaaa. Angela!” The calls grew closer and louder, more people having joined in. A little girl had gone missing and people were out with flashlights trying to find her.
I didn’t panic. I heard so many voices and saw so many lights, I felt confident that Angela would be found quickly. Sometimes kids wander off. And to be more honest than I’m comfortable with, I was very tired and needed to be up in a few hours, so I assumed that the thousands of people at the camp had it under control, and that I—one more person—wouldn’t make a huge difference. I would sleep and make sure I was well rested in the morning.
After a while of listening to people call for Angela I started to worry. If she had just wandered a little further away from her family than usual they would have found her by now. But then the drums from the main circle got loud and triumphant and I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. It appeared Angela had safely rejoined her family. I closed my eyes and drifted away into sleep.
Somewhere in that space between alertness and slumber, I heard Angela’s name being called again. I thought for several moments I might be dreaming. I thought they’d found her already. I don’t know where the breakdown in communication happened, but the report that she’d been found was wrong. The camp was still looking for a lost six-year-old girl.
Camp leaders fanned out and were waking up everyone on site. If you are physically able, everybody needs to head to the main road now! There’s a missing little girl. Get up and head to the main road now.
There was talk of a creating a human chain with the thousands of bodies there, to make it easier to find the little girl. There was talk of just getting everyone in a central location to make it easier to search for the girl. There was a huge game of telephone going up and down the chain of bodies as people tried to understand what was happening and why we’d all be awakened in the middle of the night. People passed the bits of information they had and traded with others for what they had. My dear friend told me she hadn’t heard about the missing child and thought we were being evicted from the grounds. And then, I am praying for this child.
The night air was thick with tension and fear and quiet. The 24/7 drum beat had ceased for the first time since I arrived at camp. Everyone from the main circle had answered the call to gather on the main road, and rather than leave fires unattended, they had been extinguished.
The absolute silence drove it home for me. The folks at Oceti Sakowin camp shut down all activities and would not resume until they knew little Angela was safe.
Any cars that tried to leave camp were stopped on their way out. They needed to make sure no one was leaving with a child who was not their own. Eventually we were all told we were being held on that road until there was confirmation of the child’s safety. Someone suggested that she’d left the camp with a family member, but saying so did not make it true enough for the camp leaders. It wasn’t until they talked to someone and confirmed Angela was with them that they told us we could return to our tents.
I tried to settle back into my tent, but my body was still unsettled from the worry I’d just shared with a thousand other people. By the time I was able to relax enough to sleep again, the drumming had returned.
Sometimes when we are in the midst of struggle, our world gets small and tight around that struggle. Nothing else can move our attention. When I am reeling from awful news or family situations, it doesn’t feel fair that the rest of the world keeps turning like this terrible thing isn’t happening at all. It isn’t fair that their lives go uninterrupted while my world turns upside down.
When I tell people about my time at Standing Rock, I tell them about the time I saw the whole world stop for one little girl.
Out at Standing Rock, nearly 300 tribal nations stand and pray and fight to protect the river whose water is the source of their lives. Not only do the Standing Rock Sioux rely on the Missouri River for its water, but so do 17 million other people.
We cannot live without clean water. We cannot drink oil. We cannot sit idly by while the oil industry recklessly ignores the life-threatening impacts of the Dakota Access pipeline—and all fracking pipelines—on entire communities, and disproportionately on indigenous and POC communities.
Someday the Black Snake is coming to devour your water supply if it hasn’t already. We cannot pretend this isn’t happening. If ever it was time for the whole world to stop because one of us is in danger, the time is now.
The pipeline is getting closer and closer to the Standing Rock camps every day. Police and private security use increasingly violent tactics to attack the water protectors. President Obama is not responding enough to the incredible pressure coming from across the nation, and even the international community.
If it is at all possible for you, in any capacity, to go to Standing Rock and stand with the water protectors there, then go. If you are a non-Native person who’s going, check out these resources that can help you show up well, in solidarity and honoring the indigenous leadership on the ground. If you are willing to stand on the front lines, you are needed to help hold the camp. You must be willing to face arrest.
- Standing Rock Allies Resource Packet
- #NoDAPL: Updates, resources, and reflections — worth the full read, but resources and calls to action are toward the end
If you cannot go, please send supplies and/or money.
- #NoDAPL: Updates, resources, and reflections also has great information about how to donate.
And share as much information as you can with your friends and family. Mainstream media has been woefully silent about this demonstration, except to paint Native Americans with broad stereotypical strokes. Help get the truth out there. Follow navajo‘s posts here on Daily Kos. Her news timeline is updated frequently and always a good place to start.
If my family lost a child, I’d want the whole world to stop until we knew they were safe. Well, right now, our most precious life source may be lost. What will you do to slow down the rest of the world until our water is safe?
*Name changed because it felt weird to share. That is all.
**This blog was originally posted at Daily Kos. You can see it here.