Sacredness & Solidarity at Standing Rock

Wednesday night I was standing in the street outside of Wrigley Field with thousands of people watching the Cubs make history; winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years, in the 10th inning with 8 runs. Already, my mind was fixated on the sacred, celebration and solidarity. The numbers and signposts in the sky. 108. 1 representing the source, 0 representing selflessness, and 8 representing the infinite. The 12 constellations and 9 arc segments (9 x 12 = 108). In astrology, the 12 houses and 9 planets (again, 9 x 12 = 108). The diameter of the sun being 108x the diameter of the Earth... The number is everywhere... Of course this is the year.

I thought, it’s funny how baseball can bring a whole city together. It’s funny that it made me think of sacredness, numerology and astrology. But even the baseball itself has 108 stitches... It’s ironic in this now that a team represented by native totem animal, a bear, made history by beating the Cleveland “Indians,” a team with the most stereotypical caricature of native culture imaginable as their mascot. A team who profits from the commercialization and caricaturization of that culture. Being in Wrigley, I notice there’s something in my spirit that calls me to be in the belly of the beast. I want to be where the people are. And I want to be a warrior for those people. I want to sense togetherness. I want to celebrate life.

I left Wrigley and headed straight to Standing Rock at 4am. I could have thought of a thousand reasons not to go, but none of them were bigger than being there. A friend, Indigo, and I were on a mission to deliver water and food to the people who were their protecting their land and one of their most basic human rights: clean water.

If you’re not aware of what’s happening at Standing Rock, the short of it is there’s a $3.8 billion pipeline project going straight through a Native American Reservation. It’s sacred land. The protectors of that land, and the waterways that run through it, have been met with heavy militarized police resistance and private security hired by big oil that have used tear gas, attack dogs and rubber bullets to defend a piece of pipe for money.

We were driving down North Dakota Highway 1806 at sunset, just about 30 minutes from the reservation. There’s beauty in every direction. You can’t help but smile. Purple on one side of the sky, and a fiery orange on the other as the big ball of energy in the sky said goodnight for the day. I was already appreciating the environment for the scenery, and how it provides for all life. We don’t get to experience these types of connections with nature in Chicago on the daily. When you live in the city, the beauty of Mother Earth can sometimes seem other worldly. There’s nothing to do but look on in wonder and be grateful for her and all she gives.

A little further down that road it got darker. We saw flashing lights from federal police vehicles ahead, but didn’t slow down past several “Road Closed” signs. We were soon stopped at a road block surrounded by police in military clothing and a few ND locals. They asked us if we’d seen the road closed signs. We said no. We weren’t there to give them anything, but explaining what we were here to give they told us to reroute down a dirt road over to ND Highway 6. While this was somewhat helpful, if we hadn’t met/let a family who’d been on a previous supply run lead our way, I don’t know if we would’ve found it.* 

About 20 minutes later we arrive at camp. Turning in, you see tents and tipis, campfires in every direction. I was already inspired by the number of people I could sense were there to support the original environmentalists, the indigenous. We parked by the kitchen and unloaded, immediately meeting a new friend from Iowa named Cathy who showed us around the donation drop-off and kitchen area. The volunteers there are feeding everyone 3 times daily. We arrived at dinner and had a meal after unloading. Walking into the kitchen tent you see people sitting together at tables, eating in community with smiles, having confident conversations of winning the battle against the "black snake." We stood outside and heard the sound of drum and sacred chanting in the background. Hugs and handshakes all around.

After eating we went to a geo-dome where people were gathered dancing around the drum. On camp there was a celebration of culture. A celebration of Mother Earth. There was a real knowing and understanding of what’s sacred. It was ritualistic and prayerful. We spent hours that night dancing, standing around a campfire holding hands with people from all over the country, including tribes from all 7 regions. This is the first time these tribes have come together in agreement. This is special. These were beautiful moments I’ll never forget. Faces whose expressions tell stories of strength of spirit and perseverance. They were not sad. They were charming. This was a celebration of that spirit and all that is sacred. The energy around the fire was encapsulated by one native leader on the microphone, “Sometimes you have to charm your enemy. Like a snake charmer. We must charm the snake. So I’m here standing behind the pipe and throwing my voice.”

That night I went to sleep in the front seat of a car. The sound and vibration of low flying planes was reverberating in my body. They fly low over camp all night to disrupt the sleep of the protectors. It’s like sonar torture. When you don’t sleep well at night, you’re not as strong on the front lines during the day. This behavior was calculated and designed to drive people out. This was our first experience on camp of the monied interest putting dollars behind actively trying to make life miserable for the people there peacefully protesting for their right to clean water, asking for respect for their sacred and promised land. I’m baffled. This is legal? The people pushing this pipe are breaking treaties. I get the sense they don’t really care that they’re coming off as criminal. Protectors play with the planes through the night, shining bright beams of light into the night sky. Looking out over camp it’s like watching a light show. There’s no killing the spirit. People laugh out and encourage others to join in shining the light, all the while the drum and Native chanting can still be heard in the background.

I looked out the windshield and saw a certain set of constellations. You can see every star in the sky out there. It’s mesmerizing. I awoke a few times in the night and noticed that same set of constellations appear to move across the sky due to the Earth’s rotation. It had me meditating on our place in the universe. We’re floating in space on a sacred blue rock, making circles around the sun. I felt an intense and immediate, deep, sense of responsibility to keep this world spinning. To care for its life as much as I do my own. To care for all life on it in that same way. I thought about how harmonious our planet is. How everything has a purpose. I thought, we as a species are the only thing in the visible universe that’s creating disharmony. 

Being there is yoga. It's seva. It’s unity. Coming together, building bridges and serving the souls who haven’t forgotten what truly matters. I needed to see this. I’m humbled. I’ve been re-attuned to the reality beyond the illusions society serves us to keep us from seeing and knowing our place, and stepping into our our roles as stewards of a living planet. 

This is about accepting our responsibility as protectors of life. This is about respecting indigenous culture and sacred sites. This is about water. This is about so much more than what you see on the surface. The Dakota Access pipeline is proposed to transport crude oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota and Iowa into Illinois. It travels through 50 counties in 4 states. One of the world’s largest aquifers, the Ogallala Aquifer, lies beneath it’s path through South Dakota. The aquifer system supplies drinking water to 82% of the 3 million people who live within the boundaries of the High Plains. This is water that’s pumped out to irrigate local farms and industrial farms across the entire region. If that water gets contaminated with seepage, everything from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains dies. All that farmland that sustains life and provides for families all over the country becomes a desert. This is about all of us.

Waking up in the morning, we stood in a circle around the fire listening to the sound of sacred chant and prayer in native tongue to greet the sun. We were included in native ritual and smoking of the Chanunpa - a sacred ceremony at the heart of native people's culture. This is the living breath of the Great Spirit Mystery and the way of the Helpers, the way of love and freedom, here on the back of our Earth Mother. The smoke coming from the mouth symbolizes the truth being spoken. The plumes of smoke provide a path for prayers to reach the Great Spirit and for the Great Spirit to travel down to Mother Earth. Inclusion and welcoming of non-natives in these sacred ceremonies was proof of the peace being sought there. Solidarity is strong. It was proof that our inherent nature as humans is to share, include and yoke. We are one species. One life. One love. This truth is felt and expressed at Standing Rock in it’s fullness. “I don’t come from no monkey, I come from Mother Earth and Father God, it’s in the wind, it’s in the stars,” was shouted with pride as the pipe pointed to the elements as they were called out. And it was affirmed, today is going to be a good day.

Despite law enforcement’s attempt to disempower the people, the camp is organized. There are town hall’s every morning at 9am. There are whiteboards that list arrests and volunteer information. There’s a legal tent. Donors are bailing people out, getting cars out of the impound and bringing solar panels that power camp. Announcements are made constantly about events, available rides to town, supplies and help needed. Everyone there is determined to win and they’re doing it together.

I didn’t leave camp to go to the front lines of the protest, but the seriousness of that aspect of the Standing Rock resistance cannot be downplayed. Police are using sonar-sound alarms that are designed to damage your ability to think rationally; they’re designed to create a state of confusion. Protectors need earplugs and duct tape to fully cover the opening of their ears. If you wear contacts and get tear gassed, removing your contact lens will also remove the cornea of your eye, forever damaging your eyesight. Warriors need goggles that have a silicone ring base. The plastic goggles will trap tear gas and cause even more damage to the eyes. There are severe human rights violations occurring. You can sense the pain, but it doesn’t stop the celebration of all that’s sacred and all that’s worth fighting for. 

Camp also needs water. They need food. They need firewood. They need coats, clothes and sleeping bags that are suited for sub-zero temperatures. It’s already cold there. It’s not comfortable. They need tipis, tipi poles, and tipi liners for winter. They need gift cards for Lowes or Menards. They need volunteers, people to cook food, to serve food, to make coffee, to organize. They need whatever support you can give.

Don’t think you can’t do anything if you can’t go or if you aren’t able to contribute these specific items. You can do a lot from right where you are. Call North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200. Call the Army Corps of Engineers and demand that they reverse the permit at (202) 761-5903. Call the executives of the companies that are building the pipeline:

Lee Hanse | Executive Vice President | Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. 800 E Sonterra Blvd #400 San Antonio, Texas 78258 Telephone: (210) 403-6455.

Glenn Emery | Vice President | Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. 800 E Sonterra Blvd #400 San Antonio, Texas 78258 Telephone: (210) 403-6762.

Michael (Cliff) Waters | Lead Analyst | Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. 1300 Main St. Houston, Texas 77002 Telephone: (713) 989-2404.

Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund. Organize in your city. Join rallies and protest walks. If there aren’t rallies and protest walks happening where you live, be the one that makes them happen there. This movement needs people from every corner of the country using their voices. We need to cultivate more compassion for each other, for our relatives and all living things. We need to demand attention and then action. January 20th, if this is still on-going, the movement to stop the DAPL will be in Washington D.C. with the intention that this violation of human rights be the first thing our new President sees at their inauguration. This is truly about all of us, I can’t express that enough.

On my last morning at Standing Rock I talked with a Sioux woman over breakfast. She said “We’re going to win here, and that will ripple across the land and victories for the people and our Mother will continue. This is just the beginning of us taking back what’s ours, all over the world. People everywhere see what’s happening here.” This is the manifestation of Native prophecy, the black snake of destruction, the rainbow people, the tribes coming together, and the people who lost sight of what’s sacred coming to learn from the learned and re-attune to native nature.

Our place in this universe and our role on this planet and in this country is so important. As it was said, the whole world is watching us. It’s crucial for the wellbeing of the world we do what’s right for humanity, and with that, what’s right for the environment. We set the tone, and we have an opportunity to dig into our souls, not the ground, for the real richness that we all already posses; to offer the world a vision of what we should all truly value. We don’t need to drain our Mother of all she has for the benefit of our bank accounts. This planet was not meant to be mined for money; the universe has already provided us with all we need. When we complicate life, life becomes complicated. This is a chance for us to get back to the basics - back to our roots. To use, not abuse, the gift of our God-given resources. This is our chance to be an example that purity always prospers. This is our chance to make a conscious global shift from consumers to caretakers. Be apart of that shift. Be apart of history and the preservation of our planet.

In gratitude. 


*if you're going to Standing Rock, Hwy 1806 in closed. Blockaded by police in military clothing and ND locals. At this entrance, they're only letting gov/emergency services in. Alternate route is ND6 through Solen.  Federal police vehicles everywhere. Please drive and arrive with caution and respect.

Gian Arjan SIngh