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Standing with Standing Rock

I am a sixty-six-year-old white Ashkenazi Jewish woman with lots of Indigenous and Global Majority nieces and nephews. I just spent six days in North Dakota, standing with the Standing Rock Nation at Sacred Stone Camp. My goals were to witness the largest environmental action happening at this time in the world and to identify some solidarity work to do at home.

The camp was a wonderful place to be. I will share a few highlights.

The International Indigenous Youth Council is an impressive group of young people who run fabulous meetings each evening. They are loving, have a lot of positive energy, and are committed to ending the oil dependency. They spoke about wanting to have clean water for the next seven generations or more. They talked about celebrating life by celebrating water. My main feeling when being led by them was “I am so glad you have come to this moment in history. We have been waiting for you, and you are everything we could ever want.”

The Direct Action Training group, Indigenous adults in their thirties, led daily orientations and trainings with intelligence, openness, and honesty. It was wonderful to watch them pass the leadership around, keep each other company, and think together. They offered principles and practice, like role playing and then having people listen to each other to process the experience. My Lakota nephews were some of the leaders, and I was so proud of them. It made my heart sing to see them so visible.

While my husband washed dishes, I helped stock personal hygiene supplies in the supply shed. That gave me an opportunity to observe and talk with exhausted and energized Indigenous women who came in needing something and then worked there and told stories the entire time. I got to observe people generously giving and helping other people however they could.

I was also part of a small group that provided jail support to some protectors who were arrested one morning while we were there. [The people standing against the Dakota Access Pipeline are calling themselves “water protectors” rather than “protesters.”] This involved getting a van out of impound, witnessing the arraignment hearings, welcoming the arrested people out of the jail when they were bailed out, and listening to them tell the stories of being arrested and jailed. I was proud of their courage and commitment.

The camp is Indigenous space. I listened to many statements like “It’s so great to be here with so many Indians from so many nations” and “I have never felt so comfortable in my life.” Some people used the word “comfortable.” Some said they were “happy” or “proud.” And some cried and said they were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the experience.

I heard lots of references to taking care of Native land and keeping the oil in the soil so the water can be safe for generations into the future. I also talked with white people and witnessed some romanticizing and cultural appropriating. Many people said they had nowhere else to go—that they were essentially homeless and this was a good place to be when one is homeless. Thousands of people have gathered, and it is a great example of how patterns and confusions and zestful joy and intelligent minds and spirits can occupy the same space. I witnessed many challenges that did not in any way diminish the intelligence I witnessed.

My husband, who is a white raised-Catholic working-class man, had amazing experiences of realizing that his worldview is not everyone’s worldview. He listened for a long time to Indigenous men his age and came away understanding that his experiences were not the “normal” experiences that practically everyone had. This has had an immediate impact on our closeness.

I did accomplish my goals. Witnessing this moment in history was wonderful, and I feel clear about my solidarity work going forward.



Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of women

(Present Time 186, January 2017)

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00