I am not an activist. I avoid crowds and cold weather if I can. So why was I was drawn to this relentlessly frigid, straw-colored landscape filled with people this Thanksgiving? Truth is I’ve been traveling too much and would have relished some time off to stay put and catch my breath.
But today at dawn I understood more. As David and I huddled in a prayer circle of 400 (500?) people from all over the continent and beyond I felt shutters of awe dissolve my cynical affect, my wariness of New Age unreality. Looking around I was astonished to see thousands (yes, thousands) who have camped here and two camps nearby. At the center of the camp we were surrounded by a sea of tepees and yurts, tents and RVs. Wood smoke rose into the cold new day.
Life at Standing Rock is rough not glossy, old (ancient you might say) hardly New Age.
Language spoken is basic and imperfect as are the voices of men and women elders that penetrate the slate colored sky with their prayer. The sacred fire at the circle’s center, which I am told has been tended since August, is unadorned, nothing special. Yet I sensed a focused concentration in this sprawling circle that I have rarely felt before. Even at Yom Kippur. Even at funerals. I felt a single-pointedness among all these hundreds, a stillness of mind, a humble concentration, serious but not deadly, reverent but not powerless, that I have rarely experienced before.
Elders both men and women from tribes as far as Alaska and the Grand Canyon prayed and guided, admonished the group to keep the camp unified, to take care of one another, not to give way to negative speech or anger, especially after the violence and injuries incurred two days earlier. To remember who we are, two-legged silhouettes of God.
We white people are not leaders here. We have gathered as allies to America’s native peoples in some grand act of repair (what Jews might call a Tikkun.) It’s about time. And now some 240 tribes join in a historical act to resist the oil conglomerates who wish to lay the prophetic “black snake” pipeline along Sioux boundaries and beneath the Missouri River, their water source, their life source.
May this not be a grand reenactment of our indigenous tribes’ historical trauma! May it be the beginning of a new story! We are here to help write a new story. Now we are off to cook a Wapila Feast, turkeys, squash, pies. Truckloads of donations have poured in from around the country, testament to the good heart of this country.