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A Great Time to Be Alive

Today is a good day to be alive. It is good to live in a world with so many people deciding to take action to protect the water, the air, the land, and the future of all living beings.

I spent Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, at the Oceti Sakowin camp of water protectors near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Oceti Sakowin means “Seven Council Fires” and refers to Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples, although many other Indigenous nations and allies had gathered there too.

I stayed at Winyan Camp, a camp for Indigenous women, children, and two-spirit people and non-Indigenous allies of color. Winyan means “women” in Lakota. “Two-spirit” refers to Indigenous people who hold a special place in society that is not a traditional male or female role. 

I went to the camp to take action for Native liberation and the environment and to get a bigger understanding of reality. I wanted to return home with more integrity as a construction worker and a non-Native USer committed to environmental justice. I met these goals and more.

WHAT I SAW AND HEARD 

It was a huge contradiction to my oppressor distress to be in a majority Native community. Over three hundred flags from Indigenous nations greeted every person who entered the camp. I got to hear dozens of different Native languages and see many different types of traditional dance and prayer. I got to listen to elders teaching their children their heritage languages and teenagers asking their parents for cultural stories and knowledge.

I heard stories of government agencies and private companies lying, stealing, and polluting natural resources in lots of different Native communities. Many people I met had serious chronic illness from environmental racism. 

I also heard many Native people share how proud and hopeful they were to be participating in this community and movement. A number of them had planned to come for a short time but had decided to stay until the pipeline was totally stopped.

The company’s construction permits expire in March, so if the pipeline can be delayed a few more months, the company will have to reapply for permits. That could take a long time, and the permits could be denied after so much local and international pressure.

A highlight was being part of a direct action led by a Native Co-Counselor. [Identifying information has been omitted, so as not to endanger someone who has participated in direct action.]

I was awakened in the morning by his voice on a megaphone saying, “Good morning, relatives! Today is a beautiful day to wake up and stop the black snake.” (The “black snake” means the oil pipeline and refers to a Lakota prophecy about a black snake that could end the world.) He rode around camp, warmly waking people up and greeting individual campers by name.

We lined up in cars to take a “toxic tour” of several construction sites and pray at each site. He had told us in the direct-action training that when we show up with enough people, work usually stops at the sites without anyone getting arrested (the local jail holds only forty people). We ended up with a caravan of a 110 cars full of hundreds of people. We stopped construction for the day at five sites, without even getting out of our cars! A large police and sheriff “escort” (two helicopters, one airplane, and over forty police cars) followed us and had probably warned the construction company so that work did not even start for the day. When we returned to camp, we celebrated together. 

USING RC

This is how I used RC before my visit:

  • In the past few years I have gone to a couple of care-of-the-environment workshops and participated in a care-of-the-environment support group.
  • As a non-Native Ashkenazi Jewish and Han Chinese person, I discharged on the genocide and imperialism aimed at my people so that I could listen better to Native people.
  • I told some of my fellow construction workers what I was doing, and their immediate support led me to have wonderful sessions on classism, care of the environment, and building relationships with men.
  • I reread parts of Heritage No. 4 (Heritage is the RC journal about Native liberation). The Native Liberation Draft Policy was especially helpful in preparing me to be a better listener and supporter.

This is how I used RC during my visit:

  • I gave a session to the Co-Counselor mentioned above after he led the successful action.
  • I listened to people and offered informal, naturalized sessions.
  • I gave my Heritage No. 4 journal to a young man after a long conversation. We had been talking about cigarettes and numbness, and he’d told me about not having space to cry or have other big feelings on the reservation he was from. He’d also told me about his big visions for his people and the joy and connection he felt being with so many Native people committed to protecting the water and their cultures.

This is how I’ve used RC since I got home:

  • I am having a lot of sessions on my increased connection to nature, and as many sessions as possible outside. It is different and overwhelming to be back in a city.
  • I am having sessions about the environmental racism and destruction in my own community. There is a lot of oil drilling, fracking, and pollution from nearby ports.
  • I am working toward returning to Standing Rock and staying until the pipeline is completely stopped. Having a big goal means that my attention is more out than ever.

More and more I am noticing that this is a great time to be alive and present. It is a joy to be connected to so many intelligent people who are stretching their minds to invent new solutions every day.

In love and solidarity,

“Bobby Tamara”

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion list for RC Community members

(Present Time 186, January 2017)


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