Friday, October 7, 2016

Busy first day back at Standing Rock

I took this picture at 6:30 p.m. By 8 p.m. the tepee construction was complete

The ride down from Bismarck was easy. I decided to take the main road, Hwy. 1806, to Standing Rock rather than trying to evade the roadblock. It's now manned by National Guardsmen, mobilized by the state's right-wing governor, instead of by state cops, and I wanted to check it out.

The young trooper in well-pressed, camouflaged fatigues was very polite. I suppose he saw an old white guy, driving alone in a rented Ford SUV and figured I was headed over to the casino in Ft. Yates.

"There's a protest going on, about 20 miles down the road," he warns.

"No shit", I don't say.

"So, slow down when you get close. There may be people out on the road."

"I sure will."

He waves me through, smiles and says, "Good luck at the casino."

About 20 minutes later, I pass the now dormant front-line camp and then turn into the main camp. I have a friendly chat with the two guys manning security at the entrance, tell them who I am and why I'm back. They remind me -- no weapons, no drugs, no booze. I'm good with that, of course.

The encampment looks a little different than it did a few weeks ago when heavy rains had left us ankle-deep in mud, car wheels spinning and stuck vehicles needing a push up the hill.  Now everything is dry. But temperatures have dropped and cold winds whip through the camp. You can feel winter coming on and the hard-core people are digging in and building traditional cold-weather housing. I'm going to look at some new, traditional home construction-in-progress later today.

Chicago students ready to go.
Up on "Facebook Hill",  which I climb to get better cell reception, a new media tent has been erected after the last one was demolished by the wind. Mainstream media has pretty much vanished from the camp now that the violent confrontations have died down and the dogs have been called off. But maybe they will return this weekend for Indigenous Peoples Day.

When I say, the front-line is dormant, I mean that confrontations between camp militants, "protectors of the water" and police and company thugs have stopped for the time being. I think it's because of pressure from the Obama administration, the temporary shutdown of Army Corps of Engineers operations, and seemingly contradictory appeals court rulings coming out of Washington.

I spent the morning finding a good, sheltered camp space for the Chicago students who should be pulling in to camp by this afternoon. I connected with Lower Brule Tribe Camp leader Louis Grassrope who generously invited us to set up our students' tents there, in a circle around a fire pit. Invitation accepted.

In the afternoon, I wandered around the main camp meeting people who have travelled here from far and wide. I helped unload a trailer of supplies that had just arrived, and then went over to the  Mni Wichoni Na KIciziy Owayawa or Defenders of Water Elementary School, where I watched teacher Theresa, who I met a few weeks ago, reading stories to her kids. They were sitting next to her on a rug or sprawled out on sleeping bags. A beautiful sight.

I'm hoping some of our students can volunteer at the school, even though it may not be open on the weekend. Outside the school tepee I met two veteran teachers, Mary Hadley and Sadie Bell, from the Wind River Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming. We talked about the benefits of total immersion approach to language acquisition. I was so over my head. But we'll talk more today.

Teachers Mary Headley and Sadie Bell 
Our chat was interrupted by a call for volunteers to drive someone to the hospital emergency room in Ft. Yates, about 30 miles up the road. I offered and got to meet Emanuel, a 23-year-old Havasupai from the Grand Canyon.  He had come to Standing Rock with 19 members of his tribe but remained with his cousin after the rest of the group went home. He's diabetic and was visibly suffering, close to shock and without his meds. I got him to the emergency room in time where they treated him and hooked him up with medication. He tells me, he's catching the Greyhound back  home today.

After that adventure I took a badly-needed nap and then spent the evening standing around a fire with Nick, a drummer from Oregon; John and his friend from western Mass., environmentalists working on a book; and Tiokasin Ghosthorse, a Cheyenne River Sioux who did the First Voices radio show in N.Y. on WBAI. He's a mind bender.

My clothes and jacket all smell like firewood ash this morning. What a great smell.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.