The police came to Last Child Camp in broad daylight, with armored vehicles and guns drawn, to rip our people from our land. Many water protectors were on prayer walks and in ceremony. We watched from the top of the hill at Oceti Oyate Camp as the troops moved in against them. We sent our prayers to those innocent and brave warriors who came to stand with the people of Standing Rock, and to protect the sacred waters of Unci Maka (Mother Earth).
Then they came for our Sacred Stone Camp, the original spirit camp we built to lay our prayers to our water, to protect it from the Dakota Access pipeline. But this time, they were accompanied by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council. They had no warrant, but they forced their way onto my private land, my family’s land, where I grew up on the banks of the Cannonball River. It was our own council members together with the Standing Rock Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the U.S. Army Corps, all seeking to evict me from my homeland.
The world wants to stand with Standing Rock, but Standing Rock stands against us. Chairman Dave Archambault threw our people to the dogs when he said the camps’ actions “…do not represent the tribe nor the original intent of the water protectors.” He forgets that we at Sacred Stone Camp were the first to stand up for the water, and that we stand with all the camps who have joined our struggle.
This movement was started by the people and led by our youth. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s decision to negotiate with the state and disown the people who came to fight for our water is what could ultimately be our downfall. We have had many thousands of people ready to stand together in front of those machines. The Indigenous nations of Turtle Island had united as never before. But as division grows, it is very difficult to see a path forward.
I could not sleep last night, so I sat and made tobacco. There is something calming in working with red willow, sitting and thinking of those times with Grandma, who has been on my mind a lot. It is wintertime; this is supposed to be the time of stories and passing our history down to the young.
It was this time of year, a century and a half ago, when the Long Knives of the military forts and the Indian agents told the people they must either move to the reservations or die (known as the “Sell or Starve,” Act of February 28, 1877).
Historically, our people’s resistance has been repressed with bloody battles and massacres—but also by the hands of Indian collaborators. Our relatives did not see who the enemy was, because it was their own relatives who turned against them, enabled by the same kind of lies from the same kind of corporate media.
Our traditional leaders were forced aside by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, when federal authorities forced the establishment of tribal councils on the reservations. This is a colonial system of government with no basis in Lakota/Dakota/Nakota culture or teachings. It is the same tactic they used with the Indian agents and the Hangs Around the Fort betrayals. They fabricate a leader that will allow them to take what they want from us. The hunger for power can divide a people.
As everyone knows, there are many leaders to this movement, and yet there are none. This is a people’s movement; this is a movement for the water, not owned or controlled by anyone.
Like Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, and the other “agency” Lakota who so quickly surrendered our lands and way of life while thousands fought back alongside Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, today our tribal council has misunderstood what is really at stake.
This movement is not just about a pipeline. We are not fighting for a reroute, or a better process in the white man’s courts. We are fighting for our rights as the indigenous peoples of this land; we are fighting for our liberation, and the liberation of Unci Maka, Mother Earth. We want every last oil and gas pipe removed from her body. We want healing. We want clean water. We want to determine our own future.
Each one of us is fighting for our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, and for our relatives who cannot speak or fight back. Imagine if we had stood together on October 27, the day police pushed us out of the Treaty Camp we built in the very path of the Black Snake—our most powerful position in this entire struggle. What if our own people had not negotiated away our power? What if our people had not opened the roads and then turned to march against us with outstretched arms, in line with the riot police and armored vehicles? Why pass resolutions calling federal agents to attack our people and evict the camps as the drill digs beneath our sacred water? How powerful could we be if we agree to stand our ground on our treaty land where we have laid thousands of prayers?
Our ancestors did not abandon the Pȟežísla Wakpá (the Little Bighorn River), when we last unified the Oceti Sakowin and defended our land from the Seventh Calvary; we too must not abandon Mni Sose (the Missouri River). We must not sell our people’s blood, land, and water to uphold the dysfunction we live under now. We have no choice but to break the cycle of trauma so our future generations can have a better life. I believe it starts with the water and ends with the water. Water is life. Will you stand with us?