24 November 2016


Fourth and Last Day at Standing Rock: Having heard there was a sunrise prayer ritual each morning we arrived at the main camp in the dark and were directed to the south exit gate. There were many gathering, but what unfolded instead was an Action involving a caravan of vehicles to an undisclosed location [with participants being encouraged to sign legal waivers]. We figured we could go along while avoiding arrest and advertised for one seat in our Prius, which was promptly taken by a well-spoken senior attending UC Santa Cruz. He explained that the Action this past Sunday, which resulted in the serious injury of Protectors, had not been sanctioned by the Elders. It had begun with a group of 30 attempting to clear the police blockade of route 1806, but then expanded when many others spontaneously rushed over to support them, prompting the police to escalate. My impression is that it was this very police blockade that required the woman who lost (or nearly lost, we don’t know the latest prognosis) her arm to be airlifted, rather than driven, to the hospital. The word here is that if the police should be arresting anyone it is the pipeline drillers, who are operating without a permit—their only consequence being levied a fine. Instead, it is those blocking corporate interests that are singled out for felonies. In this we find the patent disregard for Native treaties now manifest in corporate cronyism, with all its attendant entitlement, supremacy and eerie backing by a police who appear to have strayed far from their mandate to protect citizens and remain non-partisan. Oh that’s right, I forgot: a corporation is a citizen! We followed the line in front—and were duly followed by a line behind—of cars through snow flurries ending up in the town of Mandan, just west of Bismarck. From a Burger King parking lot, a Native woman on a bullhorn directed us to drop off passengers and seek legal parking. Our guest thanked us and set out with his 35mm telephoto camera. We assembled in the center of the main intersection, some 200 of us, blocking I-94, chanting slogans associated with this struggle and attending to the singing/drumming Natives among us. The high point was a large circle of us holding hands stepping in time to dried seed-pods [cabasa?] shook by a sole chanting Native man in the center. In the center of our circle a series of folding tables displayed squashes and beets—a Thanksgiving centerpiece to the uninitiated. Many police and state troopers materialized, re-routing traffic around the intersection. [An Amber Alert was sounded on Monica’s phone regarding the obstruction]. A few locals counter-protested. We retrieved our car and left before, as we later heard, police began having legally-parked cars towed; they were apparently waiting for enough of us to leave before moving in to break up the remaining demonstrators. We had driven more than halfway back when we panicked about running out of gas before reaching our evening accommodations [where we had spent Sunday night as well], not being able to recall seeing gas stations along the route. So we returned to Mandan. How mistaken we were to add that extra 50 miles did not become apparent till we drove back past the casino we had stayed the past three nights, where there was a prominent gas station that none of us had registered seeing. We acknowledged having grown far too dependent on having a cell-phone signal—the exception rather than the rule in ND— while traveling. The technological lifestyle had decreased our observation powers and gotten us out of the habit of acquired the pertinent maps. We arrived early enough to Standing Rock Community High School for the Water Protectors Appreciation Dinner (Thanksgiving not being spoken here) to join dozens of volunteers putting on this feast. Some 100 turkeys were being cooked on an outdoor rotisserie powered by bicycle pedals. These specialty caterers had journeyed all the way from Great Barrington, MA. The volunteers were assembled and addressed by the school administrators, Native women who had long opposed the pipeline. Jane Fonda spoke briefly and was thanked for having purchased much of the food. I got to have a brief exchange with her as I served her table, expressing thanks for her decades of activism. She pointed out that the Native nation associated with my T-shirt [purchased near Sedona] were facing issues similar to this pipeline. There were rumors at the meal that the police may raid the camps shortly, that only a holiday respite might be anticipated. And so we three left behind our courageous, spirited, and imperiled community to begin the return drive West.

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