Unexpected Lessons from the Lakota Sioux

Source: flathatnews.com Oceti Sakowin Water Protector Camp.

Over Thanksgiving Break, I visited the Oceti Sakowin Water Protector Camp. The site runs along the Cannonball River  inside of the Lakota Sioux Reservation. I went to lend a hand in ending the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

I felt an immediate connection to this cause as someone who has seen the injustices committed against indigenous people, minorities and the environment in the past months. I thought that by going to Cannonball I would be able to contribute toward solving a problem that resonated with many.

Heading there, I did not realize that I was severely lacking information about the Lakota Sioux people and their customs and ideals. I didn’t see that this entire community of “Water Protectors,” people who protect their land against the pipeline, was much greater than I realized.

It takes almost an hour and a half to get to the entrance of the camp once you cross into the reservation. It was near freezing temperatures outside as my friend Carlie and I drove through the rolling hills passing small churches above ravines, dozens of “No Hunting” signs, and along many of the roads, piles of thin blue tubing besides man made ditches.

One day at the medical tent, I met a man who had been a vagabond for five years. He and his two dogs have traveled all over the country without a home. When he said that he supported this cause, that he couldn’t believe the injustice being brought down on this place, I nodded in fierce agreement. When he said that the government was wrong for not helping, and that there was a problem out there, I praised him.

Then he continued by saying that when all of this was said and done, and that hopefully this ended in the favor of the Water Protectors, that he would be entirely happy with living in the eco village that would be created by the people who would stay here.

This space of prayer is not a place to be groomed by outsiders and made into their own in the name of prayer and protection. It made me so confused to think of who was there to help the cause, and who was there just to say they were a part of it.

So many beautiful people are still fighting for the Lakota Sioux, their land and for the world. But how many of these people really understand the important fact that this land belongs to the Earth and it is not a place to be manicured like everything else?

I didn’t come prepared like I should have, I didn’t understand the culture until I was taught. This experience left me with an impression that won’t go away. But I also learned that I couldn’t take everything I learned there with me, because it is not mine to take. The land is not mine to take, it is there for me to help protect. The customs are not mine. The people and traditions are not mine.

I was troubled by this, but when I came to one of the natives with a question, he told me to first ask people what they need. Second, he told me to pray. Because this is the ways of the Lakota people, I did so.

While the President and the United States Army Corps of Engineers denied a bill that allowed further work to be done on the pipeline, there is still a possibility that the inauguration of a new president will lead to further pipelines being built, and maybe even further action on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In the meantime, please take the time to understand the culture, the people and the land at the Oceti Sakowin Camp and all of Standing Rock. It’s true that there are still people at the Oceti Sakowin camp, waiting out the harsh winter to see what happens to their land and their legacy. The camp is currently accepting firewood, propane and funds. Please visit  http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org/donate for further information.



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