What Standing Rock has taught us about protest, freedom and ourselves
Written by Sol Guy
Photos courtesy of Rafe Scobey-Thai
What happens when you know who you are, where you are from, and why you are here? I believe you become grounded in truth, flush with resilience, and fueled by an undying sense of spirit and purpose.
Over the last eight years I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. I’ve made friends who are now family, learned great lessons, been tested to my core, and now find myself in the middle of a fight for people and the planet over profit.
Since April of 2016, Standing Rock has become ground zero to thousands of water protectors using prayer and song as their weapons against militarized police working on behalf of corrupt politicians and the Dakota Access Pipeline, which, if built, will destroy Standing Rock’s main water source and sacred sites. Throughout this resistance there have been many highs and lows. Moments of victory—like the drilling permit denial of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—have been marked with hope and joy, while conversely moments of loss—like the Trump administration’s approval of the same permit only two months later—have been discouraging. What people must understand is that this is not just a fight for the sovereign rights of the Lakota and Dakota Nation; it is not an isolated issue. This is a battle that is representative of worldwide struggles, and we must all immerse ourselves in the conversation.
There are deeply spiritual and symbolic reasons why this is taking place at Standing Rock—Sitting Bull is buried here; The Battles of Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee took place only a few hundred miles away. The American Indian Movement (AIM), or Native American freedom fighters as many see them, protected these lands in the ’70s and, most importantly, the Lakota and Dakota Creation stories come from here; their drums and songs reverberate in the majestic Black Hills, often referred to as “God’s country.” The prophecies of these times we are living in also come from here. When the first peoples of America were originally put on the reservations, their medicine men and healers declared; in a time when a spider’s web had enveloped the world and a black snake slithered underground spilling the blood of the earth, a new time would emerge, a time where all the people of the world—white, black, brown and yellow—would come to the red man to learn of their ways, to reconnect us all to Mother Earth and heal the sacred hoop that had been broken so long ago. They said it would take seven generations; guess which generation we are living in right now?
This prophecy came with a warning to the first peoples of this land who had suffered an unspeakable genocide: their medicine men proclaimed that it would get worse. What was required of them was to preserve the culture, the language, the songs, the ceremony—the true connection to Mother Earth. When these practices became illegal, they went underground to safeguard them, and slowly they have reemerged. It is at Standing Rock that I‘ve learned about the power of ceremony, the cleansing heat of the sweat lodge, the purpose of the four directions, and the omnipotence of Tunkasila, the creator. I believe that Standing Rock is a crossroads for us all. Which way will we choose? Will we stand for this land that is so sacred? Will we stand with the youth that started this movement? Will we stand with over 360 tribes and more than 250 cities worldwide who have pledged their allegiance? Will we begin to divest from banks as individuals and communities, as Seattle did by pulling $3 billion from Wells Fargo due to their investment in the pipeline?
Beyond pipelines, Standing Rock can become the model for a future as a sovereign nation within a country, that can redefine environmental, social and spiritual values, and point to new possibilities—like powering communities through solar energy, implementing innovative farming, health, and education practices—acknowledging our sins of the past and collectively healing the sacred hoop.
From Standing Rock to Black Lives Matter, 2016 was a year of protest. In 2017, we are facing an administration that seeks to undue all the progress we have made thus far. We must resist and stand strong, yet do so in new ways. This year must become one of action, where we take what we know is possible and apply it personally in our communities. We must ask ourselves how we can amplify the feeling and momentum of the Women’s March, how we can continue to oppose and stop the Muslim Ban, and other orders designed to divide us and generate fear. We are living in extraordinary times where we must take the learnings from Standing Rock of being peaceful and prayerful, yet defiant and active, and apply them in all that we do.
We must decide if we will continue to stand with the original environmentalists and those who hold the keys to our collective survival. Choice is a privilege that most of us possess. I’ve made my choice. I firmly stand, and will always stand, with Standing Rock.