Last Wednesday, at 3a.m., 16 Knox students loaded up into two vans and set off for North Dakota. We traveled through Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota to get there, the spread of urban and rural America racing by. We didn’t know each other, but were told by Knox’s Spiritual Life Director Lisa Seiwart, who planned the trip, that we would know each other extremely well by the end.
As we entered North Dakota and made our way to Sacred Stone Camp, we were stopped by a road block preventing us from continuing on the highway that would get us there. We slowed down the vans and were greeted by a woman in a military uniform (National Guard, we assumed) who told us that there was a hazard up ahead Ñ it wasn’t safe for us to continue. Looking at the stretch of highway ahead of us, we couldn’t see anything, but turned around and took a smaller road. We were met by another group of State Police. Roads were being blocked to prevent protesters from going to Sacred Stone. We hadn’t even entered the reservation yet, and I was already aware of how much the government (and corporate America) wants to put a stop to Standing Rock’s right to survive.
I’m not going to go into detail about the history of the Dakota Access Pipeline, because we shouldn’t be talking about the pipe. We should be talking about the Dakota people who are being told that their lives aren’t as important or valid as the predominately white community up the Missouri River. They are being told that their sacred ground, their holy areas, their children, their dignity are not important.
What amazes me is that the majority of the Dakota-Lakota people are not fighting solely for their validation as people, they are fighting for the preservation of the environment. They understand that not only will a pipeline disrupt their land and possibly soil their water source, but that the toll taken on the environment will be great. They are standing up for what they know is right in a peaceful manner, but are being treated as criminals.
Something the people of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stressed was that they are not asking for people to go out and get arrested, they are not asking for any martyrs to make their mark Ñ that just plays into the hands of the Energy Transfer company. It allows them to call the Dakota people rowdy and criminal. They only ask for people to stand up with them, peacefully and lawfully. They ask for solidarity, not sacrifice.
I witnessed heartbreak, hope, unity and forgiveness during my short time at Standing Rock. I heard a lot of stories that are not mine to tell, and I learned the importance of standing up and stepping back. It is important to offer solidarity, but to listen to what must be said by those that this situation is directly affecting. I was not threatened by mace, rubber bullets or law enforcement. My safety was never questioned, but I can’t say the same about other Water Protectors. There are people standing up for their right to a life source, their right to water, who are being physically threatened and incarcerated by doing so. Please keep that in mind as we watch the events of the Standing Rock protests unravel even more. We can’t understand.
Donations are always welcomed to Standing Rock. Money, food, gift cards, supplies for winter (they ask that no more clothes or shoes are sent to them), anything else you can think of. There is a community on the line of destruction. The Dakota Sioux Tribe has children, stories and a culture of kindness and forgiveness that began far before ours did, yet they are being told that they are not valid. As a community in and of ourselves, what can we do to stand in solidarity with them?