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Greg Grey Cloud: The Native Who Sang an Honor Song for the Senate (and Got Arrested for It)

"Goosebumps crawled up my arms and I thought to myself SING, you fool!" says the Native activist who sang as the Senate voted against Keystone XL.
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Being an elected official is rough—especially the United States Congress. Oh suuuurrreeee, there are perks—best health care in the world, cool instant messaging that allows you to communicate wholesomely with your pages, and access to lots and lots of opportunities for shady bribes.

But no one believes you. Or believes in you. “What’s the opposite of progress? Congress.” Right? Get it? Get it? (I’m here all week).

Congress rejected the current Keystone XL Pipeline bill this week. That’s a big deal.

I repeat: Congress rejected the current Keystone XL Pipeline bill—it NARROWLY did the right thing this week. I’m a cynic, a radical, who doesn’t like the ENTIRE system. I tend to think, for the most part, there are no meaningful differences between the parties and from one administration to the next (although Obama might seriously surprise me with this immigration reform: I’m hoping). Yet, even salty, nasty hacks like me have to concede… “They did the right thing. This time!!” (cue ominous music)

Look, Native people have more reason than ANYBODY to be cynical about the United States governmental branches—all of them have failed Native people on countless occasions.

But many Native people are also amazingly forgiving and loving (perhaps too much so?), giving credit where credit is due. That’s EXACTLY what Dakota and Lakota Greg Grey Cloud did the other night when the Senate voted down (temporarily) the Keystone XL Pipeline.

You’ve all seen the video. It’s pretty awesome:

Grey Cloud honored the legislators who voted against polluted water tables within Native and non-Native communities; he honored those who chose (temporarily) clean water for the many over the profits for the few. He honored them loudly. He honored them during the hearing. He honored them with a song. I mean, it might LOOK like a flash mob—but no, there was nothing scripted. Instead, it was an earnest and honest expression of Indigenous love and appreciation for these politicians who decided to be leaders instead of politicians for one day.

Yeah, well he got arrested for that. Elizabeth Warren had him thrown out with a QUICKNESS!! No good deed goes unpunished (but I thought she was Cherokee!!!). J

Now, out of the clink, the Thing About Skins had the privilege of sitting down with this young warrior for Native land, Native communities and Native women. EVERY single Native person—and non-Natives as well—should be thankful for the work that this young man, Greg Grey Cloud, is doing. 

Thing About Skins: So, um, seriously what the hell were you thinking?

Greg: Man bro, honestly?! I thought if these fools pass this bill, I'm going to belt out a wicked counting coup song calling the warriors song! Then it didn't pass! Bro, I was overwhelmed with joy and relief! Goosebumps crawled up my arms and I thought to myself, SING! Sing you fool! Honor these leaders who stood up for the people!

Greg Grey Cloud

Thing About Skins: Be honest, were you just having a Flashdance moment—you know, "What a feeling..."?

Greg: Haha, I just stoop up, put my proud warrior face on and blasted one out! It WAS quite the feeling moment haha!

Thing About Skins: You knew you were gonna be arrested, huh bro?

Greg: Haha I knew I would get into some kind of trouble. But check this, during a meeting the next day, a white lady came up to me and asked, "Did you have a hard time getting into the building and through the security?" I wanted to question her RUDE comment by asking "why is it because I'm Indian?!" But noooope! I just said "No not really, just your normal metal detector. But I DID have an easier time getting out." Haha!

Thing About Skins: Was it worth being arrested to honor these people and this moment?

Greg: Yes. For two reasons: One, because every leader that stands up for the people earns the right to be called a leader and have an honor song sung for them. Two, because now that I see that the people absolutely love and support what happened that evening, it fills my heart with love and pride knowing that I didn't dishonor the people. 

Greg Grey Cloud

Thing About Skins: How alone did you feel when you started singing?

Greg: Oh man bro, once I started singing I didn't hear one word. I knew the entire building had stopped, for that brief moment everyone heard music! Everyone heard my people's song! Whether they liked it or not, or if they respected it or not, they stood silently and listened. Then, I knew that I wasn't alone! 

Thing About Skins: Did you hope that somebody was going to pick you up and start singing with you?

Greg: I thought my big bro Aldo Seoane would come blasting in and join me, but no, he didn't! 

Thing About Skins: Did you want to punch anybody because they DIDN’T sing with you?

Greg: When I was sitting in that jail cell I was thinking, "messed up! My brother Aldo Seoane knows that song too and he didn't even help me out" yes, I thought about punching him. But then he bailed me out. AFTER I sat 5 hours in JAIL! Hahaha

Thing About Skins: Is this a new thing, working for environmental justice?

Greg: I don't think it's a new thing at all. I also don't think it's all just environmental justice. Why our org Wica Agli originally got involved in the opposition in the first place is because the KXL pipeline would bring the man camps. So, we know that statistically native women are perpetrated against far more than any other ethnicity in this country. One of every 3 native women are sexually assaulted. Eighty-six percent of the perpetrators are non-native. And because of jurisdictional issues, 100% of the time we can't do a damn thing about it! In the small town of Watford city, ND located in the Bakken Oil Fields, the estimated sexual assault is increased by 70%! Seventy percent! In our area TransCanada has proposed to station two man camps of 1,200 men per. That's a total of 2,400 non-native men accessing our reservation and potentially matching Watford City’s sexual assaults. I'll be dammed if I allow that to happen in our community!

Greg Grey Cloud escorted from the Senate gallery.

Thing About Skins: Why? Why do you do this so passionately and melodically? Why is it so important to you?

Greg: Because I try to be a good relative to everyone, not only to indigenous relatives but to the non-native friends and relatives of the Cowboy Indian Alliance! Also because its the right thing to do! It's not just a Indian issue, we will all be affected by repercussions of the KXL pipeline. 

Thing About Skins: Any last words?

Greg: Yes, SHAME ON THE 59 SENATORS WHO VOTED TO PASS THE KXL BILL! Also, please remember to honor those who stand up and protect the people! Remember that not all elected leaders are heartless. Every great leader deserves to be honored! 59/41 bro! 

Greg Grey Cloud escorted from the Senate gallery.

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi