It has been almost four weeks since I made it back to Akewesasne Mohawk territory from the Oceti Sakowin camps. I was there to help find images and video that would serve as solid evidence of corporate security and law enforcement misdeeds. There was more such evidence than can be counted.
I was there for about three months and spent the majority of time flopping in local hotels. I tried to stay at the main camp, but my arthritis was exacerbated by the cold and I had to forgo sleeping outside in a tent. All suitable yurts were full, so I spent my sleeping hours between a number of hotels. After freezing in my truck, engine running and heat on.
Covering and documenting a struggle such as the NoDAPL fight is difficult because of the many different Nations, camps, and non-Natives involved. Next time, one agenda must be manifest and agreed by all to be the guiding light. The mission. Above all, ceremony has to be from where strategy is formed.
A problem of competing goals and strategies developed at Standing Rock and it sapped the movement of unity.
A ceremony began the movement for NoDAPL, but though the logical ending of this movement was clearly apparent, there was no closing ceremony. Participants were left confused, angry and suspicious—which made them easy to manipulate. Power grabs took place and undermined the authority of camp and tribal leadership though most people adapted and overcame a knee jerk reaction to fill a power vacuum. A very few decided to take advantage of that void and convinced others that there was more to do on the ground and front lines. So 75 people got needlessly arrested at a bail cost of up to $500 per arrestee, a waste of money since nothing at all came of that action. Nothing, that is, aside from giving a reason to Federal, State and County goons to take over the land where the unsuccessful action took place. Everything went downhill after the law set up an armed outpost directly across and above the main camp.
I took no part in the many actions that occurred there. I simply observed and wished I could join the fray, particularly after an Avenger missile vehicle showed up on the horizon.
In my weeks walking and later driving around the Camps I witnessed fantastic coordination of duties meant to keep the camp clean and the people healthy. Those were priorities and it showed in the many medic tents and medic personnel, and the many alternative tech-ies who made electricity from wind and sun, implementing alternative engineering that would process waste to soil. Amazing accomplishments among so many people. The security system folks also worked hard at protecting the water protectors from projectiles fired at point blank range by the DAPL security, police and mercenaries. (Believe me, from my USMC experience I know a merc when I see one; they called this crew “private security firm personnel.”)
The one thing we could not prevent was the constant meddling by the authorities in Wi-Fi and Internet connections at the camp and at the Prairie Knight Casino.
There was a lot of love and respect in these camps. It truly felt good to be there. The last time I felt that kind of bonding was during the 1978 Longest Walk, where I witnessed Native nations coming together. Prophecies were exchanged; plans were made for the future of our political existence and more. Such was the feeling among the camps at times.
Leaving the camps, leaving the memories of a tight, focused and coordinated action such as NoDAPL is hard on people who gave their all. It was hard for activists leaving Wounded Knee II when negotiations became the sensible thing to do. Leaving the Longest Walk 1978 when it ended. Leaving Alcatraz when it was done. It all feels like a breaking up of family, of the platoon, the company, battalion, regiment. So it goes for peace warriors, the protectors of things that cannot protect themselves.
In the beginning there is prayer to express appreciation to creation and to tell creation your intent and what it will take to accomplish the intent. At the end, there is a prayer that releases everyone from the responsibility of pursuing the intent, no matter if it was won or lost. The end requires an ending. This may have been the biggest mistake of the whole NoDAPL effort. There was no real “official” or “spiritual” ending to the happening. People became confused about their role when all things ended. All the loose ends were not taken care of in this spiritual quest to protect the waters. This is a lesson that must be learned. Where there is a beginning, there must be an end, or people will feel unfulfilled.
I have been involved in six occupations and one Longest Walk. Three events were peaceful. The other four were guns drawn, defensive perimeters established, long waits of years’ duration, shots fired, people killed and negotiations.
Those past events pale in comparison to the situation today. The Patriot Act is in full effect. If you protest a site that may be detrimental to your environment or well being, if the project in question has anything to do with American infrastructure you will be labeled a terrorist. An enemy of the state.
State Legislatures in red states are moving to draft the most draconian, fascistic legislation—a knee jerk reaction against constitutional rights to peacefully assemble and petition the government with grievances. The Morton Country Sheriff Department able to assemble an army supplied with military-grade weaponry and armor paid for by the Patriot Act budget. Every Podunk County and town police department can have a militarized Humvee sitting in their parking lots. They may have all the gear but I am not too sure, however, they have been properly educated in the weapons usage and anger management. They do not behave like trained professionals.
We must be more strategic, and careful of choosing allies and visitors, we are not in Kansas anymore. What we do to protect ourselves under a fascist leaning regime is now very dangerous. The question is, how do we protect our people and resources? The first step is to acknowledge and embrace your original and independent existence.
Ray Cook is ICTMN’s Opinions Editor.