The last week has taken a great deal of thought and reflection concerning my own life, and the lives of the men, women, and children who have spent the last few months fighting something that could have an impact on the lives of millions of people.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to the Standing Rock Native American reservation and stand in solidarity with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. I along with nine others from my college camped with and learned from members of the Native community and people from every part of the country. Though it was only about a four-hour drive from Moorhead, Minnesota, I met people from Missouri, Maine, Arizona, and Hawaii, but I just skimmed the surface. There were over 300 nations that have visited the camp.
Though my experience was short and one of the many, I feel compelled to share it with as many people as possible. Despite what the media may or may not be depicting, I have never felt more safe and welcomed into a community. And I can’t wait to return.
The weeks leading up to the trip seemed to drag on. The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group and the Student Environmental Alliance organized a supply drive to take items such as winter gear, feminine hygiene products, and even a generator to donate to the camps.
Though I have been living in Moorhead, MN for over a year, and had travelled into Fargo countless times, this was the first time I had ever been so far west into the state of North Dakota. I was in awe at the beautiful scenery and openness of the land. Growing up in the Midwest, I am no stranger to the rolling hills, grazing animals, and endless farm land, but something about this was different. Maybe it was the excitement or anxiety, but I knew that this was the place I needed to be.
Before entering the reservation in our oversized 12 passenger vans, filled with white, young students we were stopped at a National Guard barricade. To my surprise, they were extremely friendly and simply informed us that there was a police presence up ahead and to be careful of people walking.
As we continued toward the reservation there were various signs along fences which read things such as “Water is Life” or No DAPL.” As we approached the camp I became more and more anxious. I wasn’t sure what was going to be over the top of the next hill.
Because I was sitting shotgun, I could easily see glimpses of what was to come, but the reality of the camp didn’t hit me until I saw it with my own eyes. For almost as far as I could see, there were tents, flags, tipis, and people scattered around.
From what I gathered, there were three camps. The first one we entered was set up by the Rosebud Reservation from South Dakota. This is the camp where we dropped off our donated supplies which would be distributed throughout all three areas. Because this camp was relatively full, we decided to try to camp elsewhere.
After getting lost for a little while, we made it on the right track to get to the Sacred Stone camp which is located on the reservation land. On the way, we drove through part of the reservation and my eyes were open to a completely different world.
All my life, I heard about the poverty on reservation land, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. The school was incredibly small and was surrounded by a fence lined with barbed wire. Most of the houses were run down and there was garbage lining the edge of the roads. Despite this, there were children happily playing in their yard and people enjoying the company of their friends and family. It was almost as if they had forgotten what was happening just a few miles away.
The Sacred Stone camp was still in the process of being built, yet there were so many people camped that it was impossible for us to find a spot, so we reverted to the other camps.
The Red Warrior camp was the largest and most wide spread of the three. Flags from all over the world lined the main road of the camp, reminding us of who had been there before us.
We found a spot to set up camp and began to set up our tents. In the time it took for us to get our tents off the ground at least three people approached us to give us information about the camp. They were from all parts of the country and had different reasons for being at the camp.
As we got settled we divided into different groups to help different people. Some students helped people prepare a meal that was going to be shared with anyone who needed it, while others helped sort through donated supplies. I chose to go to a meeting that was being held for the women of the camp. During the meeting, the elder women of the camp explained to us that we should wear skirts while in the camp as to not distract the men from the work that needs to be done. Though I did not agree with this, I respected their traditions and found a skirt for myself and the other women.
Soon after we met up again to go back to our camp to get warmer clothes. At the meeting for the women, I heard about a moon ceremony that would be taking place that evening. After much confusion as to where it would be taking place, we found a group of women that were taking part in it.
In their tradition, they took some tobacco and place it in a small piece of yellow cloth. After saying a prayer, you close the cloth and tie it with a piece of string. At the full moon ceremony, four women would offer four types of food to feed to the fire. After grandfather fire had been fed, each woman who was standing around the fire walked around the fire to offer their tobacco and pray to grandmother moon. Taking part in this sacred ritual is something that I will remember and hold in my heart forever.
The ceremony concluded and we headed up to the main fire to watch a moon dance. At this point it was nearly 10 o’clock and we had not eaten dinner so we headed back to our camp. After staying up way too late laughing and talking about our experiences, I finally crawled into my sleeping bag for a chilly night.
The next morning we made one last lap around the camp before heading back to our normal lives.
It is amazing to think that after a night of staying with these people I was able to return to my privileged, cushioned life and buy a cup of coffee from Starbucks.
Reading and watching media depictions of the Dakota Access Pipeline camps cannot replace the experience that I had becoming part of the community. The emcee of the camp said it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are or how long you stay at the camp, you are a part of the family and you will be treated with kindness and compassion.