Gratitude for Water

We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst, for providing strength and nurturing life for all beings.  We know its power in many forms – waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans, snow and ice.  We are grateful that the waters are still here and meeting their responsibility to the rest of Creation.  Can we agree that water is important to our lives and bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to the Water? Now our minds are one.

-Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, via Robin Wall Kimmerer.

At times like these – when we are feeling injured and raw, tempted by despair – at these times it is most important to return to the basics.  These are the days to acknowledge our blessings, enumerate our victories, and offer Gratitude to the source of our strength.

Water is our source of strength. I am grateful for Water in all its forms.

Pay no attention to the inflammatory memes and messages of hopelessness.  The prayer camps were never intended to be permanent settlements.  They have been disbursed, and not in a way we would have preferred, but the spirit of the camps lives on! The movement does not live at Oceti Sakowin or Sicangu Oyate, it lives in our hearts.

The water is not gone; the water lives on. And so, our work is not done.  Take a moment to dress your wounds and recharge your spirit, and stand back up!

Listen to these wise words from Lyla June (one of the leaders of the Women’s March on November 27).

Water is Music

I awoke this morning, as every morning, to the voice of the Emcee at the Oceti Sakowin sacred fire on the PA system: “Get up water protectors! It’s a beautiful day! There is work to be done! Get up!”

This morning, instead of enjoying a slow rise, listening to the neighbor horse clomping and snorting, the birds chirping and flushing, I crawled out of my sleeping bag, pulled on my boots, tied my long, wrap-around skirt, grabbed my bag and took off on my bike across the river to Oceti Sakowin.

When I arrived at the sacred fire, I pulled a quart-size canning jar out of my bag, and presented it to the Emcee.

“I spoke with you last night about this water.  I brought it from the Headwaters of the Missouri River. You told me the aunties would use it in their ceremony this morning.”

“Oh, yes!  Thank you.  Bring it here.” He introduced me to the aunties, and they held out their copper vessels for me to pour a little bit of my water into each one.  Other waters were also mixed in.  Speaking to the gathering around the fire, an auntie said a prayer over the water while the bearers performed a ritual with the vessels (which I followed with the water remaining in my jar): holding it up to the sky, gesturing in front of our hearts in the four directions, dropping it down to the earth, then back up to the sky.

The water bearers then walked around the circle, pouring a tiny drop into each person’s hand, which we were instructed to drink.  I touched the water to my lips, but did not swallow – as an avid outdoorswoman, I have a healthy respect for all the little germies that live in water, even high in the mountains.  As much as I love my Missouri Headwaters, I would not drink it unfiltered.

The procession began, with the Native aunties and water bearers in front, a few rows of women behind, followed by a mixed crowd of men and women.  We sang a song in Lakota to praise the water:

Mni T'Hey La (audio-click to listen)

Water, I love you.  Water, I respect you.  Water, I respect you.

We walked all through the early morning camp, gathering people as we proceeded.  We arrived at the edge of the Cannonball River, where a fire was burning.  We stopped in prayer at the fire, then walked down the icy slope to the river bank.  Some Native men came forward and lined the edges of a small wooden dock, offering assistance to the aunties and grannies as they carried their water to the end of the dock and offered it to the river.  I asked if it was appropriate for me to offer the rest of my water, and they said yes.

As I knelt at the end of the dock, I thought about this water I had collected at the Headwaters.  For me, it felt so significant – like the River was receiving a gift from her younger self.  Like a living, flowing memory of more carefree times – before she was channeled and dredged. Before she was dammed and churned. Before she was treated, drunk, flushed and treated again.  Before she was brought to a rapid boil, simmered, frozen, shaken, not stirred.  Before she was polluted with oil, sewage, salt, agricultural runoff.  She is older and wiser now – more experienced – but oh! what a special gift to feel the energy of her pure, wild, younger self.

I felt the tears burning my cheeks, and let them, too, fall into the river.  Wouldn’t I love to receive this gift?  Wouldn’t I love to feel the energy of my younger self, before the weight of this life had taken its toll? Perhaps that energy can help me find the strength and courage I need to fight the battles ahead.

Mni Wiconi!     Mni Wiconi!

Water is Life!    Water is Life!

Agua es Vida!    Agua es Vida!

We stood on the bank, chanted, and sang songs of praise for about a half hour.  Some white ladies started singing a Christian song, and I found myself bristling with discomfort.  Given the horrific history of the Church in Indian Country, I wasn’t sure this song was appropriate in this context.  I chose to take my leave.  I biked back to the Rosebud Camp and got to work.

cannonball-sunset-5412

Water is Wild

Snowy morning

Yesterday, as rain fell for the first time since I arrived here, I drove to Bismarck to do laundry and bathe.  I had planned to do this Friday, then Saturday, but honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to leave camp.  On Sunday, I took part in a powerful, peaceful, prayerful women’s silent walk to the front line.  More about that later.  As our successful walk closed with a stop at the sacred fire, it started to rain.  I had decided to come to Bismarck earlier in the day, not expecting the walk to go so late.  By the time I got my laundry and other needs packed into my car and hit the road, it was already dark and raining hard.  About thirty miles from Mandan (the town before Bismarck), the rain started freezing and my gas light came on.  And – worst of all – my car was not recognizing my phone to play music.

I’m trying to build suspense here, folks, but the truth is, the drive was without incident (except the lack of music).  I filled up my tank in Mandan and proceeded to Bismarck and checked in to the same hotel I stayed at the night before I first arrived at Standing Rock.

This morning, I slept in and woke up to see a snow storm all around me.   I decided to ride out the weather for one more night though I felt a bit guilty about not being at camp, building more tarpees or helping out in other ways.  I decided to walk to Starbucks (breaking my long-time boycott) for coffee, which is adjacent to the hotel.

I walked out into the snow-covered parking lot to find a Native man with a long braid looking at his car.  Conditioned in Standing Rock protocol, I said, “Hello!”  This very friendly man informed me he is from Washington, and not used to the snow. I smiled and said, “I’m from Washington, too!”  He then told me he was from Port Angeles, the Lower Elwha S’Klallam Tribe.  I asked if he knew my friend Roger and he said, “Very well – we’re cousins!”  He had broken the rim of one of his wheels sliding in the snow the previous night, and was trying to figure out how to fix it.

As I walked to Starbucks, I recalled something I have heard several times from elders at Standing Rock: There are no coincidences; and we end up where we are for a reason. I no longer feel guilty for staying in Bismarck an extra day, because I whole-heartedly believe I was meant to meet Jerry and his companions. We exchanged phone numbers and have a plan to drive together to Standing Rock tomorrow morning.

There is a Winter Storm Watch in effect here in Central North Dakota.  Snow is expected to continue falling through Wednesday afternoon.  Water does what it does. Like a wild horse, water will not be tamed.  We are committed to protecting the water, and she is showing us her power.  Water cracks rock, turns mountains to sand, scours broad valleys and steep canyons, quietly covers the land is a soft, light-reflecting blanket, and shuts down human commerce.  Some call it an “Act of God;” I call it an Act of Mother Nature.

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Water art by Mother Nature ❤️

I love snow. Some of my favorite childhood and adult memories involve snow.  I am not afraid of snow, but I do respect it.  Snow is a powerful force that commands respect and humility.  I must alter my plans and submit to its will.  The snow also has a moderating effect on the temperatures.  It only snows when the temps are close to the freezing level.  Toward the end of this week, the snow will stop, the sun will come out, burning off the insulating cloud layer, and the temperatures will plummet to the teens.  Now THAT scares me.  I will probably not be able to sleep in my tent my last couple of nights here (unless I have a snow blanket on top!).

#SnowIsLife

Water is Sacred

It occurred to me for the first time today, the irony that water protectors were sprayed with water. I wonder if they were making snide remarks as they hosed people down on a 27-degree night: “protect this, Tonto.” Or something equally degrading and ignorant.

A guy from the front line said one cop was crying, and finally turned his gun over to another cop and walked away. I wish for more of them to listen to their hearts.

I misspoke in my last post, when I said we are in the middle of nowhere like the Bundys in central Oregon. First, the central Oregon folks were occupying a federal building, armed to the teeth. Yet, no tear gas, no rubber bullets, no water cannons for them. And they were all acquitted.

Here, we are on sacred ground. The front line is technically outside the boundaries of the reservation by a half mile, but the sacredness of the land does not stop at some line drawn by white men to cage in the indigenous people. This land was sacred long before the white man arrived, and it remains sacred. The river is sacred.

These people – the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies – are praying for the protection of the water from the pipeline. This is a resistance ceremonial prayer movement. They have no weapons, they aren’t violent. They are prayerful. Somehow, whoever is In Charge on the other side of the barricade must know that prayer is more powerful than guns.

While at camp, every action we take is sacred, because we are gathered in sacred community.  At every gathering I have been at where a Native person has spoken, they express concern that the non-natives outnumber the natives at camp. And we are all drenched in a culture of colonization. Even our methods of “helping” are often colonialist, yet many are so convinced of their own do-goodery that they won’t hear otherwise.

The truth is, this is an historical gathering. Never in memory (and this is a culture of oral history) have the seven councils come together to light the sacred Oceti Sakowin – the seven councils fire. Just being here is a privilege and an honor. I am humbled to be able to serve in any way I can.

I’m humbled to be working directly with a Native person, whose faith in his vision is unwavering.  The tipis we are building (“tarpees,” as they’ve been dubbed by the Elders) are intended for native families with elders and children. Some non-natives perceive that communal living means you can take whatever you want. This is not the case. Some things are not for you.

I would guess that among the Elders’ prayers for the water are also prayers that the camp itself will remain true to the principles on which it was founded. I pray that all of their prayers are received and answered.

And I pray that more indigenous people arrive to help protect the water!

Live update

From last night:

As I’m hunkered down in my tent, helicopters are circling above. People say they are jamming our outgoing communications.

At the front line – the blockade across road 1806 – water protectors were engaging in nonviolent direct action, which they do every day. People say, the pipeline builders are drilling closer and closer to the Missouri, day and night, despite an order from the Army Corps of Engineers to halt construction. Because the profit to be gained far outweighs any fines they might have to pay.

Tonight, the militarized police forces are attacking with water cannons – it’s 27 degrees.  They are also spraying tear gas and shooting bean bags and rubber bullets. Several people were carried off in ambulances.

I’ve been at Sicangu Oyate (Rosebud) camp, preparing for the protectors’ return (gathering dry clothes, starting fires) and helping them get the aid they need when they arrive.

The LEO are acting like this is a war. Why would they spray water on anyone in this weather? That is lethal force. I’m having trouble seeing their perspective. We are in the middle of nowhere – like the Bundys were in central Oregon. There is no reason for the LEO to be here.  They are working for the company, not the people.

Day 4 – Oil and Water

Day 4 – Oil and Water

As I approached Williston, North Dakota from the West, I started to see the occasional oil pump jack. The roadside attractions shifted from waving grasses and fallow fields to pre-fab warehouse buildings.  Some were older, run down and lived-in, with farm equipment scattered around the lot.  Others were newer, with shiny signs displaying the words, “drilling strategies,” “pipeline solutions,” and other phrases from another world that seemed out of place here. In these lots, bulldozers and excavators were lined up neatly like soldiers. Even the John Deere shop had a lot full of earth-moving equipment – not farming equipment.  I began to realize that this farm community has been invaded.

In town, I googled “espresso” and four or five hits came up. I chose a spot where all the baristas were high-school age girls. Perhaps their parents are glad to have some economic opportunity for their kids. But all these buildings, these lots – they were all temporary.  They did not have the look of settling down and joining the community.  What will become of Williston when the oil dries up?

Here and there, I saw a cluster of buildings that were not commercial.  They were tiny houses – not the trendy upscale tiny house you read about in Sunset or Dwell, but glorified storage sheds from the parking lot of Home Depot. This must be one of the “man camps” I’ve heard about.  I know many of these oil workers come straight out of the military – I witnessed first-hand a recruiter at Joint Base Lewis-McChord present an opportunity to seemlessly transition from military service to North Dakota oil work. (This was at a “clean energy” panel sponsored by the Washington State Department of Commerce, but that’s another story.) To a young man coming out of military service, these tiny homes with no female energy must be somewhat familiar.  But it is inhumane.  It is a twisted form of humanity, not the way people are intended to live.  I feel great empathy for these guys.

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As I drove south on Highway 85, I performed lots of crazy driving maneuvers to capture pictures along the way – pulling off on side roads, doubling back for miles to the perfect spot, decelerating and accelerating rapidly on a 70 mph highway.  The wind was cold and strong, biting my bare hands as I clicked.

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I chose this route because a peek at Google Earth shows an Enbridge site here.  I found it.  But I never saw a pipeline.

As I drove along, I saw a lot of small drill pads like this – each with a flame of burning methane – CO2 directly into the atmosphere!  However, in this vast landscape, with sky to spare, it is easy to understand why it doesn’t seem like a big deal.  In terms of desecration of nature, Williston, North Dakota can’t compete with Seattle (Duwamish territory), or any other big city – where these oil tycoons live, where Big Energy is based.

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When you’re driving, you don’t get to choose how the lighting will be when you shoot pictures.  Occasionally, you luck out.  I lucked out that I happened to drive past a red barn in a yellow field right at the moment the evening sun shone at the steep angle known as the “golden hour.” Across the highway I found these back-lit hay bales.  But my favorite image is that of the cows, hanging out together in an impossibly green field – with oil jacks in the distance.

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If these were wind turbines, how would you feel?

There is very little in this landscape to suggest heinous environmental degradation to the naked eye.  The country here is still beautiful.  I have great empathy for the original residents of this area, as well as the recent invaders.

This is not the whole story.  Hydraulic fracturing is happening here, and it threatens our water and air in more ways than one.  I passed a “saltwater disposal” site – this is where the chemical remains of the fracking process are pumped back into the ground, into the water table.  This is what has caused the earthquakes in Oklahoma, and has caused people’s tap water to light on fire.  The seemingly minimal surface disruption belies the enormous environmental hazard occurring underground.  The single flames that dot the landscape belie the enormous quantities of methane being released into our atmosphere.

And all of this is happening in the Missouri River watershed.  All the surface disruption creates soil erosion and pollution that runs into the river.  The river that I love.

Day 3: Water is Love

Day 3: Water is Love

 

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Today, I fell in love with a river.

It started at the beginning: Missouri Headwaters State Park. Since I decided to drive 1,500 miles to protect a river, I felt it would be meaningful to see where it is born.

Please watch this video of the Missouri-Mississippi watershed.  The very first blue line is the headwaters of the Missouri, where I started today.

http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a004400/a004493/Mississippi_Missouri_1080p30.mp4?autoplay=0

I find it humbling to visualize the extent of the Missouri watershed. So many beings rely on this river for life.  The Earth herself needs this river for cleansing and renewal.  And the river provides.

My decision to visit the headwaters led me on a journey I never expected, which included talkative park rangers, prairie dogs and a lot of discovery.

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The Missouri River begins at the confluence of three other rivers, named by Lewis & Clark the Gallatin, the Jefferson, and the Madison. For thousands of years prior to that, the confluence was a traditional gathering place and hunting grounds for at least ten tribes of Native Americans. Sacred ground, indeed.

I was surprised by how personally affected I was by the river.  I can’t put it into words at this time, but something about the pure, clean, free-flowing water was very moving.  It helps that I was there in winter.  The crisp air, the cold sun, the frosty grass – not to mention the solitude – helped me feel a spiritual connection to this beautiful river.

I followed the course of the river north to Great Falls, winding through an amazing landscape of rolling prairie, distant buttes, even a deep, winding, red-walled canyon between Helena and Great Falls, holding Little Prickly Pear Creek!

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In Ulm, Montana, I took a detour to explore the First Peoples’ Buffalo Jump State Park.  The interpretive center was outstanding.  A buffalo jump is where a brave warrior would lead a herd of buffalo off a cliff, where they’d be easy pickings at the bottom. The view from the top of the jump was expansive.  And, there were prairie dogs.  Lots of prairie dogs.

After stopping in Great Falls for lunch, I cut up toward Fort Benton, to learn more about the Missouri Breaks National Monument.  This is an adventure for another time, with a canoe.  After this, my road left the banks of the river as it dropped into the Breaks for 100 miles or more.  We reunited the next morning, when I woke up on the shores of Fort Peck Lake, a reservoir for a hydroelectric plant and a National Wildlife Refuge.

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After the Missouri leaves the lake, it flows east (as did I, along U.S. 2) through the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to Williston, North Dakota – where it receives the waters from the Yellowstone River. Williston is also ground zero for Bakken Formation oil extraction in the U.S.  More on that to come.