While families across the country prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving, we were on our way to Standing Rock. Climbing PoeTree was invited by the International Indigenous Youth Council to make the journey to Sioux territory and stand against 524 years of continued colonization and brutal attacks on First Nation peoples. When we got there we met with members of the Youth Council and quickly became immersed into the 24 hour prayers and actions that circle the camps.
We arrived the day following the brutal attacks on Water Protectors with water cannons laced with tear gas in below-freezing temperatures. Rubber bullets violated their bodies, but the spirit of those there seemed unconquerable, even when the very thing they were there to protect was used as a weapon against them. The collective was resolute, from elders to youth, to centralize love and forgiveness despite months of arrests, sound cannons, canine attacks, cavity searches, and days incarcerated in dog kennels for those arrested.
Love is the greatest shield, and no one was willing to put it down. It struck us, that after 524 years of consistent onslaught, the most marginalized of our society demand that all allies uphold prayer, presence, and non-violence as their only tools. In no circumstance was anyone to instigate the police. They spoke of the cops and the Dakota Access Pipeline workers with compassion and referred to them as relatives, prayed for them, called them brothers and sister who need to be reminded of their connection to everything. And here it was, that moment when two stories confront one another. Which story will we give power to? Which story will we pass on to our children?
A couple of days after arriving we prepared to share our music and poetry for the Seventh Generation Medicine Concert held at the Oceti Sakowin camp and hosted by the International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC). We performed alongside traditional singer Desirae Harp, a member of the Miwhsewal Wappo Nation and a descendant of the Navajo Nation, global folk singers Leah and Chloe Smith of Rising Appalachia, and Australian reggae singer, Saritah.
It was beyond powerful to share our hearts to all the people who gathered huddled around the Sacred Fire, spilling across the camp like flower petals from the center. It was palpable and potent, the necessity of art to reinvigorate us, to help us laugh and cry, to warm our collective bodies after the freezing water attacks, to echo our deepest longings for humanity. Each poem took on new meaning, as we delivered it in this place and time...
...hold a mirror to your heart
what does it reflect?
what will be the message
of the legacy we've left?
we were born right now for a reason
we can be whatever we give ourselves the power to be
and right now we need dream-weavers, bridge-builders,
truth-sayers, light-bearers, food-growers, wound-healers,
trail-blazers, life-lovers, peace-makers
give what you most deeply desire to give
every moment you are choosing to live
or you are waiting
why would a flower hesitate to open?
now is the only moment
rain drop let go
become the ocean
possibility is as wide
as the space we create to hold it...
Our victory is not wholly outlined in Obama's denied easement of construction under Lake Oahe. Our victory is the power of the people expressed. Our victory happened when prayer was centralized as a tool for liberation given the brutal history of First Nation spirituality and colonization across this entire hemisphere. Our victory is people from all walks of life standing together, when historically and culturally they have been separated and othered. Our victory is U.S. veterans prepared to be human shields, ready to stand with civilians to protect the water, facing their own, on the other side of the line. Our victory is hundreds of U.S. veterans knelt down before the Elder Council asking for forgiveness, detailing and taking accountability for generations of violence, and offering their service to the Council.
Our victory is indigenous peoples from all over the world coming together and creating networks that did not exist before now. Our victory is thousands of individuals withdrawing nearly $30 million from DAPL-financing banks. Our victory is entire police departments choosing the moral high road and abandoning the posts they were commanded to guard. Our victory is this moment, which will now open an entire volume in our history books to come. It is an imprint onto our collective knowing, and a healing into our collective trauma, and no trump administration, no backdoor deals, no back paddling can ever take that power away. Because we have seen what is possible, and once you see something, you can't un-see it. Standing Rock has taught us that we must love each other into the future.