Today is the winter solstice, 2016. On this day in 1996, I was in Norway at the Arctic Circle. I had gone to Lofoten Island for ten days of silence and dark, hoping, without success, to see the Northern lights. This was the penultimate day. I spent it in ceremony. Suddenly, the night sky turned red and I went out onto deep snow as a great black bird, larger than any I had ever seen, flew through the aurora borealis. I remember this so I will not doubt the Presence of Spirit even in such disturbing times. I have been fortunate as events which I can, logically, only attribute to Spirit, are with me often. But sometimes circumstances overwhelm my deepest knowing, sometimes overwhelm the faith I have based on experience not liturgy, faith that is the same, for me, as hope. Then I remember the on-going Presence of Spirit and I go on. I go on not knowing, but I go on.
I began writing these words, and the surprising rain which has been falling, unexpectedly, the last days, suddenly changed from a gentle female rain to a downpour such I have not heard in four years of drought. Music on the chimney and skylights pervades the house. The rain comes, after four years of drought, and my heart is eased. How can it be otherwise?
A few weeks ago, as some of you know, several of us went to Standing Rock. We went for different reasons but essentially to stand with the Water Protectors, to have, as best as we were able, their backs.
For those of you generously contributed to Standing Rock through us, we thank you. I was able to put a sealed unmarked envelope directly into the hands of LaDonna Brave Bull Allard who started Sacred Stone Camp and is still there fighting DAPL now, and then another similar envelope with checks made out to the Indigenous Environmental Network into the hands of one of the directors. Deliberately, I did not count the cash nor did I total the checks, nor did I identify the source. To give without attachment, to return what truly belongs to the Native Americans, was my goal.
“We truly appreciate your generous donation to the Oceti Sakowin Camp. We are determined to stop DAPL, protect Native Sacred Land, the water for everyone, and sovereign treaty rights. To accomplish these goals, many resources will be required. In addition to our efforts for winterizing the camp, keeping everyone safe, healthy and warm, your kind donation will allow us to continue the struggle. North Dakota winters are cold as well as challenging.”
We arrived with the first blizzard and it cut short our ever so brief time there. But we were there long enough to marvel at the courage, fortitude, skill and devotion of the Native people who were, at the time we arrived, providing for over 9,000 people. The Sioux elders said,
“Ceremony and prayer are the bedrock of Indigenous peoples’ connection to land and water and are central in protecting them. Actions are ceremony and along with meetings, usually begin with prayer.”
The first thing we learned were The Seven Lakota Values:
Prayer. Respect. Compassion. Honesty. Generosity. Humility. Wisdom
For a discussion of the values see: http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org/seven-lakota
Before we arrived, we received the following instructions about how to deport ourselves at the Camp. Whether one goes to Standing Rock or not they are essential documents, worth studying alone and in community so that we can learn how to walk in the world in good ways. http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org/
Whether you go to Standing Rock or wish to support the Water Protectors at Standing Rock or at all the other sites and actions that are beginning or continuing in order to stop the Black Snake, please read the following so you will learn how to live:
We awakened at 5 am each morning so we could make our way to Oceti Sakowin Camp in time for the morning prayers at 6:30. The temperature fell to the low 20s and the wind was blowing. We gathered in the dark, in an ever enlarging circle around the sacred fire that had been burning since the Camp was organized to stop DAPL. Snow had fallen on the tents, teepees, yurts, domes, straw bale improvised dwellings that were housing the thousands of protectors of the Water Protectors. Wisps of smoke from wood stoves blended into the icy air. To the north, on the ridge of the hill, which is a Sioux sacred burial site, DAPL search lights interrupted the slow beauty of the transition from dawn to day.
Still, there was a sacred fire. Still, we listened to the elder sing the morning prayers. Still we heard the women sing the sacred songs to bless the water and we walked with them to the river, where each woman was assisted hand by hand by men lining the slippery walkway, so that we might, individually, go to the water, offer tobacco, and pray.
Dawn came. Daylight came. The Camp came to life. Food was prepared, propane and fuel delivered. People started building more shelters for the coming visitors. A village the size of a small city was being constituted before our eyes through hard work, cooperation, devotion, ceremony and prayer.
We left Standing Rock as the first of 2000 veterans were arriving. Chris Turley, a member of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma who had served in the U.S. Army for nine years arrived after walking 240 miles before he received a ride. He said, “I’ve come here because of the vow I made when I entered the armed services, which was to protect our country from both foreign and domestic threat/terrorism.”
His words could have been spoken by any of those who made the arduous journey to stand with the Sioux Water Protectors in below freezing weather. On Tuesday December 6th, the Veterans gathered before elders including Leonard Crow Dog, Arvol Looking Horse, Phyllis Young, and Faith Speckled Owl, to offer the following words on bended knees:
“We came here to be the conscience of the nation. And within that conscience, we must first confess our sins to you, because many of us, me in particular, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land, and then we took your children, then we tried to take your language, and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you and that the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you. We polluted your earth. We’ve hurt you in so many ways, but we’ve come to say that we are sorry, we are at your service, and we beg for your forgiveness.”
This is the solstice, this is the turning toward the light in what many of us fear will be the darkest time we and our country has ever known. Many of us are still reeling over the results of the election. In our communities, we are asking how we are to proceed, what we are to do, how we are to stand, how do we resist?
I believe Standing Rock has answers for everyone. When I ask Native friends how we will survive Trump’s government as individuals and as a nation, they often say, “Trump? We’ve been living with the violence and greed of colonization for over five hundred years.”
In other words, Native Americans in both hemispheres, and Indigenous people everywhere have been living with violence, greed, lies, distortion and danger for five hundred years AND they have kept their values, ceremonies and beliefs, their love of and respect for the land. Now when the Earth and all beings are so viciously threatened, when all life is at stake, they are standing in prayer and ceremony on behalf of the future.
In order to meet these times, we can stand with them and behind them if we learn the ways.
At Standing Rock, as non-Native people, we have to face ourselves. “You are Settler-Colonists,” the Native people say. The label is a clear mirror into which we can look in order for all life to survive.
How shall we meet these dark times? How shall we stop DAPL and the Black Snake? How shall we meet the Trump presidency? How shall we save the Earth and all life?
If we study the instructions above from Standing Rock, we will know something of how to stand.
On this Solstice night there are four words in my heart:
Remember Spirit, the old, old ways, the wisdom ways, Indigenous knowledge, beauty, heart. Remember what sustained us as children and in right relationships, and what sustains life and all beings. Engage in the practice of remembering. Ceremony and prayer.
Restore the Earth, the wild, all generous and loving ways of life. Restore sanctuary. Restore spirit centered, earth based wise cultures. Restore ethics and generosity, and live according to all our relations, mitakuye oyasin. Ceremony and prayer.
Resist the death culture and imperial mind. Resist any and all attempts to coerce us into living and acting against our principles, values, neighbors, and deepest held beliefs. Fiercely protect everything and everyone one you love. Ceremony and prayer.
ReVision, not only medicine but all institutions, our culture, and our lives so that all beings flourish. Ceremony and prayer.
On Tuesday the 27th I will return to Africa for almost a month to be with the Elephant People. Until November 8th, I thought I knew why I was going. But since then, I am uncertain, except to be in alliance and heartbreak with the Elephant people who know the dire consequences and agony of Imperial and Colonial mind.
I hoped to be able to spend time within the elephant herd, to be among them, to be of them. But now I believe my purpose as an Ambassador from us to the Elephant people and the other animal people, is to say, “I am so sorry.”
You can read my essay
on the last journey I took and my reasons for going again at Becoming Elephant, Becoming Kin, as published in Dark Matter: Women Witnessing.
I will be traveling again with Cynthia Travis and you can read her essay
in Dark Matter. Listen With Your Feet.
We have elected as President, the father of a family of big game hunters. We may soon all literally know what it is to be hunted for profit and greed. Perhaps this knowledge will help us be more determined in our activity to protect the wild and all living beings.
I am going to Africa to stand with the Elephant People in ceremony and prayer. I want to apologize for us and then to find ways to say, sincerely, “I have, we have, your backs.”