How I see the world after Standing Rock

Mar 08, 2017

This winter I spent 6 weeks volunteering at the Water Protector camps in North Dakota.  I was there for one week in November, which was just enough time for me to realize I had to really get my act together if I was to be an effective white ally.  That visit was very difficult in many ways, but I felt myself just on the verge of discovering a new way to see the world, and as I drove out of Oceti Sakowin camp on November 13th, I knew I would be back.

I had observed that what camp needed most was funding for more Native folks to join the camps, and long-term volunteers who could take on real responsibilities.  I started a fundraising campaign towards those ends.  I was quickly able to crowdfund over $4000, and committed to give half of it to support indigenous people in coming to camp or remaining there.  The rest I would use to pay my own expenses for driving back to North Dakota, volunteering for 5 weeks, and covering a few bills back home.  My friend Molly was my buddy for the trip.  We volunteered at Oceti Sakowin Camp from December 22 to January 26: chopping wood, installing woodstoves, cooking meals, washing dishes, teaching orientation workshops, staffing the composting toliets, and whatever else needed doing.

When I first returned home, the process of reverse culture shock hit me pretty hard.  Now that I've had time to adjust and had many conversations with friends about it, I'm beginning to be able to articulate the ways that my time at Standing Rock changed how I see the world.  These new perspectives have become my most prized possessions.  Every day I feed and tend them, attempting to keep them strong and vivid.

  1. I see colonization everywhere.  I'm keenly aware that the ground I walk on, drive on, teach on, and site my home on is stolen land.  I spend a good amount of time each day pondering how we can make reparations for this Grand Theft Terra and for the genocide our ancestors committed.  While I'd long ago given up much hope of being able to afford land of my own, now I dream of being able to afford land to give back to the Abenaki Nation.  How can I support them in reclaiming pieces of their land here in so-called Vermont?
  2. I think a lot about where electricity and fuel come from.  What pipeline carried the fuel I put in my car?  What river was dammed to create the electricity that lights the buildings I pass through?  What pollution was caused by mining the materials for the solar panels that bring me electricity at my home?
  3. I'm much more sensitive to cultural appropriation.  I'm actively studying and discussing the rampant appropriation that runs through New Age and Neopagan spirituality, and the damage that commercialized Pan-Indian spirituality does to actual indigenous people.  I'm examining my language and I've decided to take the word "shamanic" out of all my marketing materials.  I am grateful that my own spiritual path is grounded in the historical traditions of my Swedish ancestors, while also trying to figure out how to respectfully practice an anti-racist Norse spirituality in a world where the Neo-Nazis and racialist Heathens have turned many of its elements into symbols of hate.
  4. Dividing land into private property doesn't make sense to me any more.  I see the land first as a resource that we must all steward together, the underpinning of all our collective prayers.  It belongs to everyone.  The grid of private boundary lines that we have laid on top of the sacred land is ugly and selfish.  I now feel like I have x-ray glasses that can see through this colonial level of perception, but it's painful to see the unity of the land while knowing our laws and our private ownership mindset mean I can't actually conduct my life on the land in the way that I see is possible.
  5. I see daily tasks as a form of prayer, and I take time to pray every day.  I brought my three sunrise prayers with me to Standing Rock, and spoke them each morning.  I've been saying a norse-style prayer for years that contains the line "During this Day, may my Deeds be Daring / Fighting for Fairness, honoring all Folk."  Now I really know what fighting for fairness and honoring all folk can mean, and how deeply I can dedicate my days and deeds to that path.  Those words have so much power for me than they used to.
  6. I understand the police and military as instruments of genocide and capitalist exploitation.  I know first-hand that even my white body is not safe from the violence that perpetuates our system of resource extraction.  I realize how much more at risk black and brown bodies are to this form of oppression in our country, and I'm newly committed to placing my body into that struggle too.  I've learned that I don't have as much courage as I would wish to have when things get violent on the front lines, but I'm committed to showing up anyway and pushing my comfort zone.  Before going to Standing Rock, I aspired to get a #BlackLivesMatter lawn sign.  Now, I aspire to actually putting my body between folks of color and the cops.
  7. I can feel in my bones the power we have when we tell a compelling story and decide to work together.  As I head down to Washington D.C. for the Native Nations March, we'll be telling that story again in a new theatre.  I hope the world will be listening.

Recommended Resources:
How to Talk about #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective by Kelly Hayes

The Burning Times Never Ended, a conciousness-raising course on decolonization and capitalism by Rain Crowe

Bringing Race to the Table: Exploring Racism in the Pagan Community.  Anthology edited by Crystal Blanton, Taylor Elwood, and Brandy Williams.


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