Standing with Standing Rock: Day 6

Friday, December 2, 2016. Every morning, my wake-up call comes not from the alarm on my phone but from the voices of water protectors 200 yards away, across the Cannonball River chanting, “Mni Wiconi! Water is Life!”

View across the Cannonball River

View across the Cannonball River

The words drift across the frozen river, where over 100 people gather at sunrise each day for a water ceremony. Campers on our side of the river stand in silent reverence, watching the ceremony, participating in their own quiet way.

This prayerful start to the day is a reminder that, more than anything, Oceti Sakowin is a spiritual encampment. Especially at the morning water ceremony, but throughout the day, prayers continually circle back to the truth that without water, we are nothing.

Water is so much more important than oil, money or power. Yet face it. Most of us take water for granted, especially if we live in water-rich regions. We turn on the faucet or hose, and voila! We immediately have access to as much water as we want — for pennies.

day-6-water-is-life-12-2-16Yet people who draw their water directly from the source have a deeper appreciation of its value. Last year when I walked the pipeline route, one of the issues most frequently raised by Iowa farmers was concern over how an oil spill would poison their wells.

I think about this as I listen to “Mni Wiconi, Water is Life” inside the cold, clammy comfort of our tent. I reflect on my own experience with well water as a youth in Ireland. In the 1960s and 70s, every drop of water my Irish uncles and their neighbors used came from a nearby well. No one had running water. Drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning. All water came from this one well, carried home in buckets.

My Irish well

My Irish well

As a kid, I found our community well a beautiful, magical place. It sat on the side of a small “boreen” — a narrow, grass-covered road used only by cows, sheep and walkers. Centuries ago, someone had built a covered, three-sided stone enclosure to protect the well from the branches and leaves that fell from trees arching above the well.

Every year, someone would clean the well. The water would be drained out, one bucket at a time, until the bottom of the well was exposed. Whatever debris had settled would be removed. Aquatic plants that had taken root were evicted. Limestone would be thrown into the well and the stones white-washed.

Maybe it was my imagination, or maybe it was because harvesting this water required effort, but I always thought that water tasted better than any I’d ever sipped. One of my uncles’ neighbors, Maura Sampey, insisted that it made the best tea. Years later, when piped water was brought in to all the homes in our hamlet, Maura continued to haul buckets of water from the well to make tea.

Sunset at Oceti Sakowin

Sunset at Oceti Sakowin

Water is Life. Water is Sacred. The Oceti Sakowin water ceremony challenges me to reconnect with the spiritual power of water. For me, the life experience that brings that spiritual power home is the well that sustained my uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, and generations of poor farmers before them.

We all have a water story, a magical encounter with the most important substance on Earth. Those stories can help remind us why this fight against an oil pipeline is so profoundly important. What’s your water story? I’d like to hear it.

Mni Wiconi! Water is Life!

Please like & share:

Standing with Standing Rock: Day 5

Thursday, December 1, 2016. We spend an hour today visiting with Manape LaMere, one of the seven tribal leaders at Oceti Sakowin. We discuss what is likely to happen when the veterans arrive on Sunday, and I give him an update on the pipeline fight in Iowa. I share the sad news that Dakota Access today dragged pipe under the Des Moines River. There is also the positive news that pipeline fighters in Iowa continue to push back on every possible front.

Mekasi, Matthew and Lyssa insulate a solar barn.

Mekasi, Matthew and Lyssa insulate a solar barn.

Manape is a gracious host, despite suffering from a bronchial infection. Lyssa offers to help. Among other hats Lyssa wears (including one that looks like a blue wombat), she’s a knowledgable herbalist. She pulls together a cocktail of a blend of essential oils for an intense, hot, nasal steam bath. Manape spends five minutes breathing in the healing moisture, saying, “If it doesn’t hurt, it’s probably not doing you any good.”

This afternoon, Lyssa and I work with Mekasi Horinek, director of Bold Oklahoma, to insulate one of the solar barns. These are small structures, shaped like a barn. They are basically a medium-sized bedroom, designed to provide plenty of heat and just enough space to withstand the onslaught of a North Dakota winter. An indoor kitchen and indoor bathroom will be available nearby. Funds for the barns were raised by the Bold Alliance.

Ed, Mekasi and Lyssa.

Ed, Mekasi and Lyssa.

Mekasi has been at Standing Rock for the past four months and helped design the winter camp. In keeping with Native traditions, the camp is laid out in a half circle, with four large lodges in the center. Around them are tipis, and behind those are the solar barns.

Mekasi has a vision that this camp will be entirely sustainable, run without any fossil feels. In an age when we need to move quickly to combat the worst impacts of climate change, these solar barns demonstrate that Oceti Sakowin is not merely about stopping a pipeline. Yes, first and foremost, it is a spiritual and cultural revival. Yet it is also a movement demonstrating the eco-friendly technologies that allow us to move quickly toward an economy powered entirely by renewables.

Please like & share:

Standing with Standing Rock: Day 4

Wednesday, November 30, 2016.

With the unexpected availability of a hotel room last night, Lyssa and I catch a much-needed break — both from the blizzard and from each other.

day-4-slot-machine-11-30-16Lyssa and I are good friends, and fellow travelers when it comes to our shared passion for sustainable food, clean water and climate justice. But sure, after living and working together 24-7 for four days straight, some space is needed. I plug away on my computer, working late and catching up on a chunk of my backlog. Lyssa “paces” as she calls it, prowling the casino and enjoying the wild, weird, colorful images decorating the hundreds of slot machines.

We sleep in. The blizzard continues to blow hard, but the snow’s movement is all horizontal. This three-day display of Nature’s raw power is winding down.

We drive back to camp and run into Myron Dewey, who has gained quite an online following for his work documenting the pipeline battle from the air. We follow Myron’s truck through the “Road Closed” barrier, beyond the camp entrance. We soon come to a bridge where a handful of water protectors are gathering.

Myron tells us he’s seen Dakota Access transporting the huge rig designed to bore under the Missouri River. Folks from the Oceti Sakowin camp are preparing a response, but I can’t find anyone who knows the details.

day-4-action-by-bridge-11-30-16Our activity on the bridge is met by an influx of law enforcement vehicles. A DAPL representative talks with us over a loud speaker. He sounds pleasant, friendly even.

“We really don’t want to arrest anybody, but please move to the south side of the bridge folks, or we’ll have to have you arrested.”

To one of the water protectors who slipped and fell: “Are you ok? Do you need any help?”

To the uniformed veterans in the group: “I see we’ve got some veterans here today. I really want to thank you for your service to our country.”

The disembodied voice presents the kind, fatherly face masking oppression. DAPL has found an excellent front man. But no one is fooled. Behind the voice is corporate and police power prepared to defend Big Oil’s interests with water canons, long range acoustic devices (LRADs), pepper spray and tear gas.

Lyssa and I are marginally prepared for these possibilities, although I wonder if our ear plugs will provide enough protection against an LRAD. I joke that we could have responded in kind if I’d brought my accordion, an LRAD in its own right.

The action on the bridge today is mostly posturing. But it is important, reminding DAPL and the world that we are present, unafraid and not going away. For me, the most powerful moment came as one Native leader leaves the bridge to stand by the water. He lifts his hands in prayer and sings in a voice that, though not amplified, carries nearly as well as the DAPL rep on the loud speaker.

Indeed, one does not have to spend much time at Oceti Sakowin before it becomes clear that, more than anything, this is a spiritual place. Every morning before sunrise, prayers and singing can be heard clearly, broadcast from an open tent by the sacred fire. The height of morning prayer is a water ceremony at the bank of the Cannonball River.

It is hard to imagine anyone not being moved and inspired by these acts of humility and reverence.

Please like & share:

Standing with Standing Rock: Day 3

Tuesday, November 29, 2016.

View of the camp after the blizzard. Our tent is the green one at the 2:25 mark, in the lower left hand corner. Facebook Live Video by Myron Dewey / Indigenous Rising Media.

View of the camp after the blizzard. Our tent is the green one at the 2:25 mark, in the lower left hand corner. Facebook Live Video by Myron Dewey / Indigenous Rising Media.

On any given day, an estimated 10,000 people live at the Oceti Sakowin camps at Standing Rock. To put the enormity of this community into perspective, if this were a city in Iowa, Oceti Sakowin would rank 39th out of 950 — bigger than Fairfield, Grinnell or Mount Pleasant.

The fact that so many passionate people have come together so quickly under such adverse conditions is almost hard to imagine. Even more impressive is that the infrastructure essential to a functioning city— housing, transportation, security, food, water, sanitation, public health, power — have been built, borrowed or jerry-rigged in less than four months.

Whether or not we stop the Dakota Access pipeline — and I believe we can and will — this miracle on the northern Great Plains is unparalleled. And it happened without city planners or zoning laws, under the guidance of a council of Native elders, with the tremendous energy and talent of thousands of people.

I’ll walk you through a few of these features.

Tipi under construction during the storm.

Tipi under construction during the storm.

Housing. The diversity of housing is as diverse as the people. Many stay in three-season tents. A lot of folks who are here for the entire winter have hunkered down with warmer, more spacious structures. Appropriately, the most common home here is a tipi.

Flags line Oceti Sakowin’s “Main Street.” Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Flags line Oceti Sakowin’s “Main Street.” Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Transportation. Oceti Sakowin’s “Main Street” is not quite the width of a two-lane highway. It is lined with the flags of many Native nations. Other roads cut a random pattern criss-crossing the community. They are either dirt, mud or now hard-packed ice and snow. Like all the roads here, there are far more pedestrians than vehicles. Cars know their place, move slowly and often wait for foot traffic to pass.

As if to further emphasize the pedestrian focus of the roads, the recent blizzard just installed speed bumps in the form of snow drifts.

Security. So far the only security I’ve seen are the teams of 2-3 people who stop vehicles entering the camp. Think TSA. What exists here is the opposite. The routine is basically this: we roll down our window, the security guy asks where we’re going and if we’ve been here before, we smile and we’re on our way.

Ed assisting with dinner on a camp stove, peeling potatoes from his garden in Des Moines as Lyssa boils brussels sprouts and prepares vegetarian meatloaf. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Ed assisting with dinner on a camp stove, peeling potatoes from his garden in Des Moines as Lyssa boils brussels sprouts and prepares vegetarian meatloaf. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Food. There are now 8 or 9 kitchens at Oceti Sakowin. Lyssa and I volunteer at one today: Grandma’s Kitchen. We help prepare and serve supper for an estimated 400 people. The facility is divided into three areas, each in a separate tent. The smallest tent is the actual kitchen, equipped with four propane-fired stoves. Next to that is a larger space with a serving area, dish washing station and shelves for storing dry and canned goods. Finally, there’s the dining room, which has seating capacity for 50 — and yet somehow feeds 400.

Lyssa and I continue to cook most of our own food. This is tough in a blizzard. Enough said.

Water. Mini Wiconi. Water is Life. Oceti Sakowin takes the issue of water very seriously, so much so that I’m going to save that conversation for another blog.

Sanitation. Standard, chemically-based porta-potties are the backbone of Oceti Sakowin’s sanitation system. To say that they’re unpleasant places to visit is an understatement. As I stop in at one today, I think about the EcoCommodes we hauled along the length of the Climate March. The March’s mobile outhouses used sawdust instead of chemicals. When the “toilet” was full, instead of toxic waste, we had a byproduct that was compostable. As Oceti Sakowin continues to build systems that are more sustainable and eco-friendly, EcoCommodes would be worth looking into.

Public Health. We’ve paid two visits to the medic center, once to drop off supplies, once to volunteer. The center is made up of several separate tents that can handle 10-20 people at most. It includes one tent for western medicine, another for herbal treatments, another for massage, another for acupuncture. Lyssa volunteers to sort through a pile of snow-covered “stuff,” saving what she can and tossing the rest. Most stuff is salvageable, and Lyssa later delivers two bottles of hand sanitizer to the kitchen and a vial of eucalyptus oil to the herbal tent. My task is to light a fire in one of the tents, in a stove that had a stubborn streak and needed some coaxing.

Solar panels are everywhere at Oceti Sakowin. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Solar panels are everywhere at Oceti Sakowin. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Power. Wood is in high demand. Everywhere, there are piles of logs being converted into firewood. Even more impressive is the many solar panels that are popping up everywhere. Now that the three-day blizzard is passed, we’ll help construct solar barns donated by the Bold Alliance. As Manape LaMere told me yesterday, the buzz word for future of power at Oceti Sakowin is sustainability.

The incredible speed at which the water protectors have assembled such systems to meet the most basic human needs is a testimony to their passion for the cause. It’s also a testimony to the resilience and ingenuity of our species. More than anything, it’s a testimony to the wisdom and nature of the Native people who are rising again, at a time when we need what they have to teach us more than ever before.

Please like & share:

Standing with Standing Rock: Day 1

Sunday, November 27, 2016. Nothing about Standing Rock is normal or predictable. As Lyssa and I approach the Oceti Sakowin camps just north of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, our GPS navigator announces, “In six miles, park your car and walk to your destination.”

We ignore these instructions, as well as the sign telling us that the road ahead is closed. “Is this right,” asks Lyssa. “Shouldn’t we have taken that turn back there?”

I confidently mutter a few words that belie my uncertainty. But we continue, and a few miles later over the crest of a hill, we gasp and fall silent. “Holy shit,” says Lyssa, as the sprawling, chaotic brilliance of Oceti Sakowin unfolds before us. The camps fill the valley, fill the imagination, defying all that is normal, conventional, acceptable.

the-sprawlng-camp-img_0946-sized-for-icontactI try to imagine the tipis of the Great Sioux Nation that once occupied these lands many years ago. I’m reminded that this movement is not simply about stopping an oil pipeline. As a coalition of our Native allies wrote, “Our fight is not just about a pipeline project. It is about 500 years of colonization and oppression. This is our moment, a chance to demand a future for our people and all people.”

delivering-supplies-img_0941-sized-for-icontactThere’s a check point at the camp entrance, and a young Native man tells us where to drop off donations. We have food, clothing, blankets and medical supplies, and each needs to be delivered to a different location. We get lost multiple times, ask directions, and each time receive conflicting instructions. The chaos visible from afar is quickly verified up close.

With our deliveries accomplished, we head across the Cannon Ball River to look for Mekasi Horinek, my colleague from Bold Oklahoma. We’re hoping to pitch our tent in Mekasi’s “neighborhood.” But given the massive size of the camps and nonexistent cell phone service, we’re unable to find him.

img_0961-copyFood service at the camps is stretched to the max, so we want to be as self-sufficient as possible. We set up our tent in a spot out of the wind on the south side of the Cannon Ball River. Lyssa pulls out her stove, and in less than an hour we’re enjoying a delicious meal of mac and cheese with peppers from my garden in Des Moines.

At dusk, along with a couple thousand other water protectors, we head to the nearby casino for a benefit concert featuring Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. Lyssa strikes up a conversation with a man who tells her he was in favor of the pipeline until just last week. He’s very offended by the violent tactics used against peaceful protestors, and now dead set against the pipeline. He thanks Lyssa for being here, thanks her for speaking out, and gives her a casino voucher worth $21.95.

The last few weeks, I’ve heard from more and more people who haven’t been involved with the pipeline fight but are now fired up and taking action. Opposition to fossil-fuel extraction and infrastructure is only going to continue to grow.

As we leave the concert, it’s just starting to snow. We crawl along, following a long line of vehicles back to the camps. This is Lyssa’s first time ever sleeping in a tent, and I tease her about her good fortune. “Not only do you get cold temps but you get snow, too.”

I am confident we can stay warm and dry. Any discomfort we encounter while tenting will be minimal compared to the hardship and injuries inflicted on water protectors who have been attacked mercilessly by law enforcement on several occasions.

Whether or not we’ll encounter such violence remains to be seen. Tomorrow, we hope to meet with camp leaders, share with them an update on what’s happening on the pipeline in Iowa, and help build cold-weather structures for those planning to stay at Standing Rock through the winter.

Please like & share:

Native Youth Run to Stop Pipeline

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, I learned from sources in southeast Iowa that pipeline construction has started in Lee and Jefferson counties. This is a sad moment for Iowa. But after the Iowa Utilities Board ruling last month, we knew it was coming.

While sad, I’m hardly discouraged. We still have the court case brought by ten landowners over the illegal use of eminent domain. We still await the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision on issuing a permit.Run for Life 1

And remember: Construction was initiated on other pipelines elsewhere in the country (Keystone, Constitution, Palmetto) and they were defeated. Don’t give up! We can stop this!

Need more hope? On Friday, youth from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation will set-out on a 1,500-mile “Run for Our Water” to Washington, DC to protest the pipeline. They’ll cross Iowa from July 19 – 25, and they invite people to run with them, meet them, share a meal with them and hear their stories. They also need to borrow a couple of vans, if you have one to spare or would like to pay for one to be rented. For more information visit their Facebook Page or contact Bobbi Jean Three Legs at bobbi.jean@ocetisakowinyouth.com or Joseph White Eyes at joseph@ocetisakowinyouth.com.Lakota Youth Run

Need even more hope? Support for direct action to stop the pipeline continues to grow, with nearly 1,000 people signing the Pledge of Resistance! This is incredible and unprecedented. Thank you to those who have signed. If you haven’t, please read the Pledge and consider being part of what could be a truly historic moment.

It’s impossible to say exactly when or where direct action will occur, but it could be soon, and it could be anywhere in Iowa. I’ll keep you posted, and please visit the Bold Iowa Facebook Page for additional updates. Thanks again to Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and CREDO Action for partnering with Bold Iowa to help circulate the Pledge.

*******

Here are the segment topics from this week’s Fallon Forum, with Dr. Charles Goldman co-hosting. Please bear with us while we continue to work out the kinks in our new and vastly-improved podcasting format. Listen to podcasts here.

1. Shootings show America’s worsening racial and economic divide
2. Anna Kalinsky speaks out on Exxon
3. Our militarized police force an invitation to Fascism
4. Clinton foreign policy more hawk than dove
5. Abortion opponents lose…again

Listen to the Fallon Forum:
– Live Mondays, 11:00-12:00 noon CT on La Reina KDLF 1260 AM (Des Moines, IA)
– Outside of central Iowa, listen live here: FALLON FORUM LIVE-STREAM
– KHOI 89.1 FM (Ames, IA)
– KICI.LP 105.3 FM (Iowa City, IA)
– WHIV 102.3 FM (New Orleans, LA)
– KPIP-LP, 94.7 FM (Fayette, MO)

Thanks! – Ed Fallon

Please like & share: