In response to someone who was questioning my decision to continue to not only support the movement at Standing Rock, but to personally put myself out there, I once said that the moment that Dave Archambault asked people to go home, that I would be the first person to leave. When he did finally ask that people go home I struggled with this idea. What it came down to, above all else, was sovereignty. I believe that colonizers rarely consider the importance and relevance of sovereignty in their lives. There are so many rants and rally cries that circle around freedom and independence that sovereignty is assumed, and even taken for granted. Further, I think that the colonizer understanding of freedom and independence is flawed; it is not the freedom and independence that is associated with sovereignty.
My expression of willingness to follow the words of Archambault was directly associated with my wish to respect and support the tribal sovereignty of the Standing Rock Sioux. When he did ask people to go home, I fell into rather deep contemplation and inner conflict. Truthfully, I am still sitting in a state of conflict. If I was able to just dismiss Archambault’s words, I know I would be the wrong person to come to the camp newly named Oceti Oyate. There are people who are part of the tribe whom I love and respect on both sides of the debate. In particular, I have been listening to the wisdom in Chase Iron Eye’s words for nearly a decade before the Dakota Access Pipeline became a conflict that the world slowly, but inevitably, turned to listen to. While Chase is not an elder of the tribe, he holds more wisdom in his heart than I do. So too with LaDonna Brave Bull, who in many ways (and most ways) has been at the beginning of the #NoDAPL movement, and remains at its heart.
There are many difficulties surrounding the concept of tribal sovereignty. It is not black and white. When considering tribal sovereignty in the face of a government that would prefer it destroyed, I will always sit on that side of the fence. But when considering tribal sovereignty in the face of women’s sovereignty, or even individual sovereignty, it becomes much more difficult. As a leader, Archambault has a responsibility to the people he represents, who are, at minimum, the members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but no one could argue that he is not one of the leaders of the #NoDAPL movement.
But in contrast to tribal sovereignty, the #NoDAPL movement has grown larger than, though not exclusive of, the tribe. I don’t submit this argument to deny Archambault’s stance. I say it emphasize the complications of merely following the words of one leader. LaDonna is another leader who this movement would not exist without, and LaDonna also requests that people stay and help.
I’m still not entirely convinced, when it comes to the decision I’ve made to come back to Oceti Oyate, that I am making the right choice in respect to sovereignty. But what I am convinced of is that whether I chose to stay or go, I would be denying the sovereignty of someone who I respected. There was no way for me to make a perfect decision, but the most wrong decision I could have made was to make no decision. I have made my choice, and I will sit in it for good and for bad. I am comfortable if there are those who want to accuse me of going back on my word. I am comfortable if I am to be accused of being an agent subversive of sovereignty. I will sit with that decision forever, but I will always walk forward and never sit still.
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Listening to the wisdom of Chase Iron Eyes through the winds of the internet has had a profound effect on my life. Listening to him while standing five feet away is something that I might not be able to describe. He has had a lot to say, and much of it has been wisdom and teaching, and much of it has been bolstering morale, but there is one thing I have been thinking of that he said in relation to my own life. The camp, he said, is the tip of the arrow that is being fired at the heart of the black snake, but the women and elders, he said, were the bow that was aiming it in the right direction. This is why I have tried to put the wisdom offered by elders and women first. Archambault has been a guide as an elder, LaDonna as an elder who is also a women.
But there is more to this metaphor that I have been exploring. When I first came to Oceti Sakowin via Sicangu Camp in September, my wife expressed to me that there was a part of her that felt a sickness for not being able to come as well. She confessed that she felt that I was in the world, doing great things (I would argue that I am not doing anything great) and that she was remaining behind, working her nine to five, and contributing to the abject capitalism that drives the direction our society moves. I have heard other loved ones of my camp express similar things, though I won’t call them out by name. But it is important that I say this: if the camp is the tip of the arrow, and the bow is women and elders, then the shaft is our loved ones who have remained at home, keeping our lives in order and giving us the emotional and even financial strength that is required for us to be here. The same is true of those who have donated, either directly to the camp, or to us to help in our trip. You are the shaft of the arrow that is aimed at the Black Snake. You are part of this the same that we are. Please do not discount the power you have had in this movement, it could not have been successful without you—it will not continue to be successful if you withdraw. You are needed, and you are strong.
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Oceti Oyate is not in fighting mode. Oceti Oyate is a survival camp. The primary focus of the camp is to stay alive, and stay strong, because come spring, the camp will fight again. Survival is not a state to be held lower or in contempt. It is the same with those who support us and other water protectors coming out to camp, it is a necessary thing that must be embarked on so that the fight can continue again in the future. We know that come January 20th, our fight will become much more difficult. We know that the powers and allies of the Black Snake are growing and planning anew. The camp is so much smaller than when I was here in September, but it is also more impressive. The tents and buildings are larger and more fortified. The people are carrying great power and will wherever they walk.
Make no mistake, survival is difficult. When we arrived it was -30f or so before wind chill. When we set up our tent it had warmed up to around 7f. The winds are disastrous. We roped blankets and tarps to the tent, and the winds want nothing more than to rip them free. Meghan, my brother, and myself all woke up this morning to the winds trying to rip our tarps apart, and worked in 30mph winds to try and salvage our shelter. It still needs work, and as I am in Bismarck so that I can write this post, it might be a disaster when we return. We will find out soon enough.
It also “rained” on us last night, and immediately froze. There were thousands of chunks of ice covering everything when we woke up as well. The ice-sheeted roads were the slipperiest they had been since we arrived. There have been many close-calls and accidents, not just in camp, but on the road here. But we are here to survive, and we are here to survive so that Oceti Oyate, and the battle against the Black Snake can survive.
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There are too many jobs to be done here at Oceti Oyate, and everyone is working constantly in one way or another. I have been meaning to write more, a lot more. I know that the power that I have comes through writing and I can do more work through it than I can in other, possibly more obvious ways. But contributing to the survival of camp has been better served through physical labor than through writing so far. This means I won’t be updating as much as I would like, but understand that I am still doing powerful work, even if you’re not reading about it every day.
Some examples of the work that my camp has done have been volunteering to run the composting bathrooms, working in the kitchens for around twelve hours, and scavenging through the camp. Let me extrapolate on the scavenging job: even before the first blizzard, but especially because of it, people were abandoning their camps and leaving a lot of supplies, but also a lot of garbage behind. So we have been systematically digging out entrenched camps (literally, as they are buried in up to two feet of snow sometimes), and garbaging the summer tents and fiberglass tent poles while simultaneously saving tarps and blankets in good condition, pots and pans, rugs, firewood, food, and other things that have been left. So we not only brought the donations that you gave to us to bring, but we have also literally been scavenging through the ice and snow for further donations for those that can use them. One of the concerns that Archambault has brought up multiple times has been the conditions that the water protectors are leaving the camp in. He has been concerned about garbage and latrines, but there are no more latrines, and we are actively cleaning the camp of the garbage that many people have left behind. There is a future here.
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The fight is quiet right now, but we remain. We are here at an important time, because it is a time when many people are not capable of being here. But we are. We are here. We are fighting; not just for us, not just for you, and not just for the Standing Rock Sioux. We are here for this earth, and we will never stop fighting for her.