My Thanksgiving at Standing Rock (pt. 1)
(photo cred Mike Mattheson)
"The Hardy Heart" monthly blog - November 2017
My Thanksgiving at Standing Rock
This last Thanksgiving marks a year since I caravanned with my partner Sharon Tapias and our friends Lucy Dillon and Mike Mattheson to South Dakota to the Lakota Sioux resistance at Standing Rock to deliver supplies and money from a fundraiser concert and drive we held at 21st Yoga. I have never been able to fully put all of my thoughts together on this extraordinary experience that has etched such a deep and poignant mark in my life. I hope that in writing this blog piece I can express to you the emotions I felt and some of what I learned. As I began writing, so much started coming out that I realized to even begin to do it justice I needed to split it up into two parts. Here is part one of my story; I will release part two the end of December. As always, thanks for reading/listening. This is an important chapter of human history that is still being written.
In late August of 2016 my friend Monica Dixon tagged me in a Facebook post with an attached article from Counter Current News titled: Gov Orders Police To Cut Water Supply To Native Americans As Pipeline Protesters Skyrocket In Number. Monica wrote: “I only encourage my friends to donate $ when I believe deeply in the purpose. Please go to www.honorearth.org and make a $ contribution to this VERY IMPORTANT cause. Every dollar, every voice, and every second counts during this critical time. Medicine for the People is on site, and are asking for our support.” I clicked on the link to the article and began reading about a Standing Rock Sioux Native American protest in North Dakota over the Dakota Access Pipeline that the tribe was claiming would put the Missouri river at risk of an oil spill. There were “prayer camps” on the border of the Standing Rock reservation at the edge of the Cannonball River that were growing larger by the thousands and the state government of North Dakota was ordering the removal of water tanks from the camps that had been provided by the state’s Department of Health at the request of the tribe. The camps were blocking the proposed route of the pipeline and the situation was in a gridlock. President Obama had stepped in on the Keystone Pipeline and in the name of global warming stopped it’s construction and the possibility existed that the same thing would happen with this situation.
This was the first time I had heard anything about the Standing Rock protest. I clicked through some links to donate and ended up at a gofundme page for “Sacred Stone Camp.” I made a donation and went about my life. Over the next few weeks the hashtag #NODAPL began to blow up on posts on Facebook and Instagram (No Dakota Access Pipeline), but I did not hear anything about it from any of the major news outlets. It would not be until early September that Amy Goodman of Demoracy Now! would bring more of the situation of Standing Rock into the limelight as her news team got on the ground in South Dakota. While at Standing Rock, Democracy Now! filmed an engagement between the pipeline company’s security and non-violent protesters, in which protesters were maced and bitten by dogs held on leash by the security forces. In follow up interviews, one protester, a Native American man told the camera that he was protesting because “water is life” and without water we would all suffer.
The blog piece I wrote last month “Arts Kids & the Ute Tribe” chronicles the story of how my brother Judd and I became connected with the Northern Ute Tribe and how we set up a fundraising concert with our band The Hardy Brothers to benefit the tribe’s after school program Arts Kids in 2014. At the point in time when the #NODAPL movement was ground swelling I felt it was time for another fundraiser concert. I approached my three brothers (the four of us make up The Hardy Brothers) and received an enthusiastic thumbs up. I then turned to one of the yoga studios I teach at, 21st Yoga, and began discussing teaming up 21st Yoga and The Hardy Brothers to make the event happen. 21st Yoga not only teamed up, but my friend and the owner of the studio Lucy Dillon took on a huge leadership role with the project.
As we launched into planning, the situation at Standing Rock only intensified. I am a big follower of NPR and I spend time every morning on the NPR app drinking my coffee and reading through the Top Stories. On October 27, 2016 I woke up and saw the first article on Standing Rock in NPR’s Top Stories, interviewing Sioux tribal leader Dave Archambault II on the ongoing protest. It was the same day that the story of the Bundy Brothers reached a climax with their acquittal of charges of federal conspiracy and weapons charges resulting from their armed take over of an Oregon wildlife refuge. The Oregon protest had been covered very well by the mainstream media and NPR had articles on it almost daily. I was very excited to finally see more of the spotlight turn to Standing Rock and also couldn’t help but wonder if the non-armed Native American protestors would be treated as lightly as the armed, mainly caucasian, protestors in Oregon. History and my gut feeling told me no. As I had conducted my own research on the Standing Rock protest, one of the pieces of information I discovered that infuriated me most was that there was an original route for the pipeline just north of Bizmarck, North Dakota that the Army Corps of Engineers ultimately rejected for a number of reasons, one of which was the threat it posed to the municipal water supply. So where did they re-route it? Across the river from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. As I will highlight a little later in this blog the unfortunate and sad truth is that Native Americans have been and are treated very differently by the powers that be.
As the situation continued to escalate, we knew it was time to act. With only a few weeks in front of us we set a date for November 19, 2016 for the “Water is Life” silent auction and benefit concert fundraiser at 21st Yoga to raise money for the water protectors of Standing Rock. Our idea was to contribute the money that we raised to all of the legal fees that the protestors were incurring as they were arrested and processed through the jail and court system. On top of raising money, a drive was set up at the studio to collect a list of supplies that the water protectors had put out online: winter clothes, tarps, blankets, fire wood, headlamps etc. Our community responded en force.
When the doors to 21st Yoga opened for “Water is Life” we had received a room full of items for the drive and silent auction. We had a stage set up in the largest room of the studio and folks were packed in, seated on yoga bolsters and blocks. Just before the official start to the concert portion of the evening, a gentleman approached me and told me he lived close to Salt Lake City, was a Native American from the Oglala Lakota tribe (Crazy Horse’s people) and had seen our event advertised and said that if it was appropriate he would love to say a few words. I walked up to the stage, took the mic, thanked everyone for coming and donating their time, money and talents and with a little bit of hesitancy, handed the mic over to the gentleman I had just met. As soon as he started talking I relaxed. He gave a heartfelt speech on the importance of the Standing Rock movement for humanity and for our planet and led everyone in a beautiful prayer in his native tongue. When he handed the mic back to me, I gave him a big hug and then proceeded with the evening. Our friend and community leader Jerry Buie came up next with a large pail of water and led a traditional Native American water blessing ceremony, chanting and singing over the bucket and then offering everyone at some point in the evening the opportunity to ladle out a little drink of it. Next our friend and incredible singer (the person who first notified me of this movement) Monica Dixon blessed the night with her powerful voice. Isaac Whitesides our friend and talented musician brought a flute for the silent auction that he had carved himself that he played a beautiful number on. Our friends The Maka Mamas carried on the night with their amazing heart and music, and then The Hardy Brothers closed things out with a set of Bob Marley songs.
When the evening ended and I was giving Lucy a hug goodbye, thousands of dollars had been raised and even more donated items had landed at the studio. The plan was for Lucy and Mike to pack up their truck and drive to Standing Rock the following weekend to deliver the supplies and the money on Thanksgiving. I was on the fence about wether I could make the trip happen, but over the next two days one of the largest encounters between the water protectors and the authorities occurred. Live Facebook feeds showed water protestors being blasted by water cannons in the near freezing, night temperatures. Stories began breaking about the excessive use of tear gas and rubber bullets on the protestors. Sitting at home, watching the events unfold on my laptop, I decided this was going to be a unique Thanksgiving and texted Lucy that I was going to make the drive up in my truck and help drop everything off.
To be continued...