Stand With Standing Rock – Not On It

Originally published on the SustainUs Blog here:

The sun was hot, and the pavement on Highway 1806 was even hotter. The guests at Sacred Stone Camp had just finished a communal lunch. They began falling into line behind the same banners that had led this march every day, a march up the highway to pray for the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction to halt. Just behind the banners, a cluster of Havasupai men and women gathered in rhythmic songs in their native tongue. The men sweated in colorful ribbon shirts, beating handheld drums. The women swayed to the beat in their tiered skirts and beaded shawls. For a half an hour, they sang like this, only briefly stopping when one of the women collapsed to the pavement in the heat. Today was their time to spiritually lead the protectors at Standing Rock. These Havasupai had come clear from the southwestern deserts for this purpose. No heat spell would deter them, and certainly no oil company was going to threaten a group of faraway strangers who had been subjected to the same governmental policies and historical trauma.
When I protested alongside Standing Rock and other allies on September 3rd, the vision was clear: peacefully protect. The camp never exacerbated hate. Even as Lakota churches (prayer rings, burials, and cairns) were being destroyed by the pipeline company, the front lines offered up their forgiveness for the workers’ ignorance. Each day centered around prayer and song, of renewing our connection. Daily ceremony is something I have become accustomed to on the Navajo Nation, where medicine men can be seen leaving their hogans to greet the sunrise with corn pollen. This kind of ceremony is a practice used to maintain balance that I find separates the indigenous from the spiritually landless who have lost their indigenous roots.
The #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock is a powerful one because of the prayer that maintains its focus and the cultural diversity that is revered. These are important qualities that are quickly lost in predominantly non-indigenous circles. Since the beginning of contact, certain language has been used to degrade and dehumanize indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. Outdated stereotypes constitute the majority of indigenous representation in mainstream media. Expensive football tickets are sold in the country’s capital for a team named after a racial slur. Attitudes that justify calling an indigenous woman “squaw” contribute to the highest rates of rape in a single race. Indigenous people also have the highest rates of youth suicide and police violence per capita, and all of these statistics can be attributed to stereotypes and misrepresentation. Why is this important to #NoDAPL? This misrepresentation leads to media censorship and the appropriation of the movement.

Media Censorship
If we think about censorship and #NoDAPL, we might picture corporate censorship that protects the energy company from a negative light. This type of censorship has undoubtedly occurred in mainstream media, highlighting one paradox that plagues tribal nations: that an energy company can have a more sovereign representation in the media than an actual sovereign entity. While Energy Transfer receives journalistic immunity, Standing Rock is subject to slanderous quotes by the authoritative voice of a Sheriff who was not present and of white community members who view the protest as an inconvenience to their privileged lives. The LA Times published elements of Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier’s formal statement regarding the event in which he states, “Any suggestion that today’s event was a peaceful protest, is false…Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles”. (Kirchmeier was not present at the site, therefore he reported information given by Energy Transfer personnel.) The New York Times quoted one resident asking, “You get 2,000, 3,000 Natives together – is it safe?”. It’s unbelievable that such a quotation was published. (You also get several thousand non-Native people gathered at sports games. Is that safe?) It reflects the mentality of the community around Standing Rock.
However, I would argue that the censorship of indigenous peoples runs much deeper than this kind of surface censorship. There is also censorship through the representation of both the movement and Standing Rock as a nation. How many articles have been published that take quotes strictly from Sherif Kirchmeier or Energy Transfer employees? The media’s decision to rarely interview the hundreds of tribal national presidents and leaders who have voyaged to Cannon Ball demonstrates either the media doesn’t believe – or doesn’t believe their readers believe – that these indigenous peoples are as important as non-indigenous representatives of a corporation or local law enforcement. Instead, it takes celebrities like Shailene Woodley and Leonardo DiCaprio to capture America’s respect for #NoDAPL. Woodley represented the cause early, joining the Standing Rock youth on their run to Washington, D.C. In July, she posted an Instagram picture from the Capitol with the text, “The youth of the Standing Rock Reservation ran 1,800 miles from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to protect their water from the Dakota Access Pipeline that will be built on their reservations.” She then included a link to the #NoDAPL petition in her bio.
An additional concern is how mainstream representation of the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute fails to capture the spirit of the movement. This is not some battle cry for Mother Earth or even some radical environmental statement. This movement is centered around sovereignty. Just like our natural resources, if our sovereignty is compromised then so is everything else in our lives. What is on the line? Our freedom of expression, of religion, of access to culture. The media censors the #NoDAPL movement by failing to elaborate on this core issue. This absence of representation instead perpetuates the ignorance many non-indigenous communities have around the political status and alleged freedom of tribal nations, and how many hundreds of them exist in America alone.
Finally, just as language can be used to dehumanize a group of people through racially-charged vocabulary, it can also be used to make one race of people’s culture seem inferior, pushing it to the fringe of society. As Simon Moya-Smith points out, BuzzFeed’s use of quotations around the destruction of Lakota “sacred sites” insinuates a religious inferiority. Would we publish that terrorists bombed a Catholic “church”? It’s the same story, just a different race.

Appropriating #NoDAPL
While mainstream media seems vetted against properly representing Standing Rock and its efforts, thousands of non-indigenous people have gathered in Cannon Ball and at marches in cities to stand in solidarity with the tribe. Less than a week after Energy Transfer’s hired security guards attacked unarmed people and intentionally destroyed sites protected by NAGPRA to advance their motives, our SustainUS delegation held its retreat at Canticle Farms in Oakland, California. The day I arrived to Oakland, San Francisco held its solidarity march for Standing Rock. I joined the march and learned something I hadn’t realized before: Movements – and not just culture – can be appropriated, and the consequences are uncannily destructive.
It was uplifting to see so many people gathered in support of a cause hundreds of miles away; however, it was discouraging to see stereotypes, generalizations, cultural appropriation, and misrepresentation within the movement itself. Non-natives were smudging, beating drums, and seemingly trying to imitate the prayer at Standing Rock. Just like the generalizing comments I read on article links, folks would say things that imply all Natives are peace-loving and earth-worshipping. This generalization is not accurate, and it buries the environmental issues we have in our tribal communities such as dumping and limited access to recycling services under a race-based stereotype.
Furthermore, as the protesters gathered on September 8th in downtown San Francisco to draw attention to the movement, they took what the movement stood for and appropriated it. Instead of calling for the defense of Lakota sovereignty, protesters were suddenly blocking entire intersections, screaming up at the CitiBank building, and accusing the San Francisco Police Department of defending the bank’s entrance. This caused a huge divide in protesters as Native citizens cried: “This is a peaceful demonstration of solidarity. This does not embody the sentiments at Sacred Stone Camp. Stop making this about you!”

It is so crucial to remember the #NoDAPL fight is to protect tribal sovereignty, not to protest anything else. It’s this sovereignty that is undermined by Native mascots, media censorship, and non-tribal entities’ use of eminent domain on treaty lands. For a country that has supposedly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the last year, the United State’s complacency towards Energy Transfer’s blatant disrespect for tribal sovereignty should be more alarming than ever. Chariman David Arcahmbault II has recently taken this issue to the United Nations to receive international support. Now it’s our delegation’s turn to make sure #NoDAPL is properly represented in person, spirit, and media as we bring this issue of tribal sovereignty and corporate power to COP22.

BREAKING NEWS: Riot Police Arrest Shailene Woodley, Protectors at Standing Rock on Indigenous Peoples Day


While America and its media outlets were focused on the Debate last night, the US Court of Appeals denied Standing Rock its injunction on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

On September 2, 2016, the tribe had filed numerous sacred sites, graves, and other important cultural areas that are protected by federal law and which were along the proposed pipeline route in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.  Receiving cultural compliance after archaeological and ethnographical surveys is standard procedure for any and all construction projects in the United States. However, Energy Transfer claimed to have completed these surveys of Lakota land without actually consulting Lakota experts on what their sacred sites look like or where they are located. When the tribe was finally able to survey the area, experts immediately identified dozens of locations and filed for an injunction.

On September 3, 2016, a Saturday morning on Labor Day weekend, Energy Transfer skipped over 13 miles of planned construction in order to destroy the identified sites before the courts could review the case.  This led to the first confrontation between unarmed Protectors and hired personnel. The energy company claimed Standing Rock tribal members and their allies were trespassing on treaty land; Protectors argued their inherent rights to protecting such sites, especially when the company was not allowed to proceed with a pending injunction. The injunction was temporarily granted.

Protectors kept filing into the Sacred Stone Campground, ready each day for the destruction to continue. A number of non-violence trainings were held to help Protectors keep the spirit of the movement intact. Then, last night on October 9, 2016, the US Court of Appeals denied Standing Rock the injunction — on a Sunday night while the world was watching the Presidential Debate.

Shailene Woodley, who has been active since the Standing Rock youth ran over 2,000 miles to hand-deliver a petition to DC, arrived yet again to the front lines in Cannon Ball.

Protectors were ready at the front lines as militarized riot police arrived on the scene. Woodley kept her phone recording for about two hours this morning to make a video documenting the encounter. In the video, you can hear discussions about an accident on Highway 1806 that the police were blaming the #NoDAPL people for causing. The Protectors peacefully prayed, danced, and chanted until they were asked to disperse.

When Woodley returned to her RV on Highway 1806, she found it completely surrounded by police officers. You can hear her try to reason with them, stating that she left as asked. They accuse her of trespassing and she asks why she is being targeted? Is it because she had, at that moment, over 40K live views on her video? She handed the camera to her mother as the police proceeded to arrest her.

Woodley is not the only person who has been arrested in this lengthy defense of treaty land and tribal rights. She will also be far from the last. Please share this atrocity on social media using the hashtag #NoDAPL. This battle is far from over, and we need the world’s support.

Other ways to support include calling entities like the Army Corps of Engineers and announcing your position on the #NoDAPL case. As winter approaches in North Dakota, the Sacred Stone Camp is in need of supplies – so also consider donating.

We need to get this trending immediately, especially on #IndigenousPeoplesDay. Especially when neither Trump nor Clinton has made one mention of indigenous peoples in their debates. Share the news. Use the hashtag. Help us end this silence now.


Shailene Woodley arrested at #NoDAPL


With nearly 40k people watching live this morning from her Facebook streaming video, actress Shailene Woodley was arrested.

She retreated from the peaceful gathering as asked, yet returned to her RV on Highway 1806 to find it surrounded by police.  As she hands her recording phone to her mother, she is informed she has trespassed and will be arrested.  She asks why she has been singled out – is it because she is famous?  Has a trending live video?

The officers cannot be heard or seen reading her her rights.

Woodley is being held at Morton County along with other Protectors following the US Court of Appeal’s denial of Standing Rock’s injunction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Shots from the live video:


Actress Shailene Woodley is LIVE at #NoDAPL right now.  See her video of the front lines with riot police facing the Protectors:
While everyone was watching the #Debate last night, the US Court of Appeals denied #StandingRock its injunction against the #DakotaAccessPipeline. This morning, on #IndigenousPeoplesDay, armed riot police have arrived in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. It is so crucial for people to help spread the news and get this trending. Use #NoDAPL and other hashtags like#StandWithStandingRock and #ReZpectOurWater.
We need to get these hashtags trending.  Use your email, social media, and phone.  Start contacting everyone you know.  Call the Army Corps.  Express your opposition to the project as it stands and your solidarity with Standing Rock.  And PLEASE SHARE.
Letting this pipeline proceed will set precedent to the dismantling of tribal sovereignty for all of our 567 sovereign nations in the United States alone. It, of course, will also jeopardize natural resources and the safety of the Standing Rock community.
Learn more about the camp here:
Supplies, cash, or check donations can be sent to:
Sacred Stone Camp
P.O. Box 1011
Fort Yates, ND 58538
Find some of my pieces online about this work:

SustainUs COP22 Delegation


Our delegation has begun booking flights.  At our retreat in California this last week, we filmed a video for our fundraiser:


<a class=”embedly-card” href=”–2″>SustainUS COP22 Fundraiser</a>


Donate, share, and communicate!  We are looking to bring issues to COP22, including #NoDAPL work.

#NoDAPL – Part 4

A Reflection on Standing with Standing Rock

In the words of the Standing Rock Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Jon Eagle, Sr., “The last time the seven bands of the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota nation stood together was at the Battle of the Greasy Grass (Battle of the Little Big Horn), June 25, 1876. So this is historic that they answered that call.”

While standing at the Sacred Stone Campground, I have so many emotions. Today, when we gather inter-tribally, it’s for a prize purse at a powwow, for Pan-Indian things like Walking Tacos and Talking Circles. But this is something completely different. This goes beyond the realm of comprehension to those familiar only with the Pan-Indian or stereotypical representations of Native culture(s). My standing here at Standing Rock…This is being an outsider to Lakota country and culture, yet also being asked to bring your own prayers, your own ceremonies, your own moccasins. It is the look on people’s faces, particularly the Standing Rock tribal members who see yet another person who has arrived to the camp. Whether you have driven from Seattle or Bismarck, your presence touches these people in a way too deep to imagine. You’ve made that decision to show up on their behalf, in part because you have the foresight to know you have also shown up to defend the global lifeblood.

The community is so warm. If you’re part of the human five-fingered clan, you are at home. You will be fed, you will be looked after and protected. There are medics, lawyers, people volunteering to defend the entrances. The calmness around the panic is almost uncanny, but the warmth is something you can never forget. Example: Paul and I had just left the site of the protest on Saturday. There were the police, parked on the side of the highway, watching us walk back towards the Reservation. Rather than rant about vicious dogs and helicopters, Paul and I were unusually calm. Something felt right about the chaos. We began picking up trash along the highway, expressing frustration at those who litter. We were joined by Brian and his boyfriend Brenden, Northern Ute, who had risked taking their clunker from Salt Lake City to join the protest. Without hesitation, they offered us a ride back to camp. Later that evening, when Paul and I checked in on the scout camp where we had torn down the fences, we picked up a stranger who was walking back to camp in the dark. Nothing but jokes and comments about our gratitude for the event. We didn’t even exchange names.

The diversity of the people at this event is just mind-boggling. Imagine if the United Nations could produce this much success in organizing nations around a common goal. Imagine if COP22 could look like this degree of ceremony, of cooperation. There are the activists who view this as a thrilling Alcatraz Occupation Part 2; there are the community members, young to old; there are reporters from Democracy Now and individual writers who sacrificed themselves on the frontline to tell our stories; there are the horse trainers, nature enthusiasts, teachers, singers, and the people without titles. From everywhere, they are coming and going, an endless ebb and flow of diversity. Even in a parking lot in Bismarck, they mill in and out. The hashtags Paul and I painted on our windows led us to meet mothers and Haudenosaunee activists Paula Hemlock and Rhea Cook, freshly arrived from Onondaga Nation, disenchanted by the shortcomings of their own tribal government and completely outraged by the negligence of the feds.

Here in southern North Dakota, the landscape is crinkled and empty, but full of stories and whispers. Our camp fills the silence with drumbeats and smoke. This camp is a living memory of how community used to be in these hills. There are the ghosts of the many before us, the direct bloodlines to those we stand beside today. There are the ghosts of the buffalo that haven’t flooded the grassy knolls since American soldiers massacred them. Even without the buffalo, a cubic foot of prairie has more biodiversity than a mono-cropped field of GMO corn could ever dare to replicate. To the untrained eyes and ears, this is empty space. Perhaps that ignorance explains how the energy company failed to report so many archaeological sites that knowledgeable tribal historians could identify from afar. It is that same deafness and same blindness that prevents one from seeing what is, ensuring they will never be able to look back and see what was after it has been destroyed.

Paul and I climbed the hills to view the camp. We watched busloads of people arrive, people cheering happily all around. Coach buses with tribal seals branded on the side. School buses packed with eager families. Like clockwork, volunteers take up posts. They chop wood, keep fires stoked, accept enormous deliveries of donations, prepare food, stand guard at security points, feed and water horses, stand on guard as scouts along Highway 1806. No one is getting paid to be here. No one is expecting glory or a raise. On the contrary, the sacrifices are heavy for many. But the perspective keeps us in check: No sacrifice could be greater than allowing your sovereignty to be compromised, or by allowing your lifeblood to be destroyed by someone who’s getting rich quick in Texas.

I remember reading about the Lakotas harvesting hognuts. They would take nuts from mouse holes in the prairie during the colder months, but they would not rob the mice. Instead, when they took nuts from a mouse’s hiding place, they would replace what they took with bits of corn or berries. It is a sign of respect, of appreciation for biodiversity. Symbiosis. And as I float on my back in the Cannonball River, cooling off from a hot day on the frontlines, I think about the mice and the hognuts. I see the dozens of children and adults playing in the water, wading in canoes, enjoying these waters peacefully. I see more frogs and toads than I can count dodging into the deep footprints left in the muddy banks. A heron wades under the bridge. Butterflies cross the banks and fields of sage. I have seen what a place like this looks like after a spill. I have been a first responder. Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m trying to save because, by then, everything has already died. Should a spill happen here, the damage to this biodiversity would be devastated. Should the construction of the pipeline continue, the sovereignty of hundreds of nations would be mocked.

The government keeps taking hognuts from our storehouses, but there is no symbiosis here. There never was any. Yet, like the shorebird covered in oil after a spill, we won’t leave and we certainly won’t die. You can try to take the Lakota’s land, desecrate their sites, and kill their buffalo, but they will not be defeated. And every time you rob their communities, you can rely on today’s tribal nations banding together to fill that empty space with corn, berries, and prayers.

#NoDAPL – Part 3

My Experience at the Front Lines in Standing Rock

I left Phoenix on the evening of September 1st, driving through a double rainbow that I believed to be Navajo blessings for good travel. I passed through my home in Window Rock and picked up my friend Paul from Denver on the 2nd. We headed through Nebraska and South Dakota, crossing countless traditional territories and Reservation boundaries, weaving across the prairie. We kept driving on through the night until we arrived in Cannon Ball the morning of Saturday, September 3rd. Paul and I come from very separate social communities, yet we had both been exposed to the #NoDAPL fight through some degree of the Native Grapevine. However, we knew the coverage was incredibly limited; so limited, in fact, that mainstream media had failed to truly cover the story at that point in our journey. I was dying to know how many people were actually at the camp.

When we rounded the bend in the road and crossed the Cannonball River on the edge of Reservation land, we were greeted with a great field of tipis, tents, horse trailers, cars, and flags. Flags in medicine wheel colors, flags from the American Indian Movement, and flags from countless sovereign tribal nations, Mexico, and Canada. Upside-down American flags, even an overturned Hawai’ian flag, representing many islands of indigenous peoples struggling for sovereignty against tourism and exploitation. There was the Navajo Nation flag, standing as an equal alongside communities so unrelated and yet so similarly affected by historical trauma and continued oppression. To a non-Native who only knows the stereotypes of Indian peoples, Sacred Stone Campground looks like an Indian encampment. For Natives, it is breathtaking.

As we walked around the camp, I ogled at the diversity present. I observed every moccasin, identifying people’s tribes by their beadwork or shoe style. I stumbled upon Lakota tipis and makeshift sweat lodges, small prayer gatherings held by individual nations, a communal circle surrounding the outdoor kitchen that showcases the diversity of dances, prayers, and song. To think of how this diversity is silenced by the umbrella label “Indian” is heartbreaking, but to see how a shared love for Turtle Island and fellow man brings these Nations together is uplifting. Never in the history of time has a gathering like this happened. Ever.

And Saturday started like any other day. After the camp was fed by the amazing volunteers, using food from incredible stockpiles of donations, people of all ages and backgrounds gathered on Highway 1806 and began marching northward. Some wore traditional clothes, others in everyday jeans. Many had signs. Some sang and maintained a drumbeat. We gathered on the side of the highway, next to concrete Jersey barriers and more flags. We prayed. We smudged. A helicopter kept circling us and vanishing over the hill. Some grew faint in the heat, and our appreciation for water only grew stronger. Then, as we were ready to head back, people from a guard stand just over the knoll from us came shouting, “Over the hill! Over the hill! They’re doing construction, this is your time!”

Just like that, the horses U-turned in the grass berms. The women who had been singing gathered their tiered skirts and picked their songs back up. We walked faster now, with purpose. There was an eagle soaring in the sky; it seemed to chase a plane out of sight. Were these more signs?

When we came to the other side of the hill, there we saw them: several construction men standing around as bulldozers barreled through land. We had a moment of confusion: Why were they digging here? On a Saturday? Miles from where construction had paused days before? Less than 24 hours before, the Standing Rock Tribe had filed an injunction based on countless burials that had been discovered in the direct pathway of the pipeline. (The energy company had claimed everything had been cleared, but no one had consulted the historians from the tribe.) Then we realized: They came here to destroy the graves before the courts could take action against them.

I can’t even describe the feeling of being at the frontline at that time. I was scared, because I didn’t want to get arrested. I was afraid the police would shoot us for no reason other than being Native American. Yet I couldn’t stop my heart from pounding. There was so much adrenaline, so much energy. People began pouring in from behind, hundreds of people on foot with more arriving on horseback and by vehicle. Screaming, singing, praying. Waving signs. Crying. Shouting, “WE FORGIVE YOU! NOW PLEASE STOP!” And when they wouldn’t stop desecrating the hillside unmercifully, we rocked and rocked on the fence. A little boy holding a drum crossed with his mom to face the foreman. Democracy Now kept rolling the film. The fences came down and people surrounded to protect the boy, then to protect the earth.

With tribal flags hoisted high and signs reading “Water is life”, we crossed the fence, chased after bulldozers, and hopped across heaps of broken earth. Some kneeled to the ground to put down tobacco in the wounds. The rest of us ran, ran, ran until we crested another knoll and ran head into a private security force with dogs. Some Crow Creek boys raced bareback on the horses they had brought up from South Dakota and rushed to the frontlines where men and women were falling to their knees. Our opponents were repeatedly pepper spraying us for walking forward. Security dogs spun wildly on leashes, barely controlled by the dog handlers. The horseback squad attempted to distract the dogs, several horses getting bitten in the process. Flag-bearers began using their nations’ symbols in self-defense from the snarling dogs. As people fell to the ground, screaming in pain from the pepper spray in their eyes, the foreshadowing cry could be heard: “Water! Water! We need water! Does anyone have any water they can spare?”

These crews were here illegally. They were intentionally destroying ceremonial places and human remains. What choice did we have? To stand there and let them do it? Or to do exactly what we did and offer forgiveness while begging for them to stop? The oppression has happened for centuries now. When will it finally end? When will Natives finally have accurate depiction in the media?

I want to know why no one asks the Tribal leaders or Tribal police what happened that day. I want to know why they asked a North Dakota Sheriff who never left the side of the highway what happened on the frontlines. He did not come to protect those with rights to their own treaty land from the vicious and uncontrolled dogs, clearly trained to attack us. He did not ensure we had proper medical care when people were bitten by the dogs or pepper sprayed repeatedly in their open eyes. Yet mainstream media paints us as criminals for defending ourselves and each other, our land, our rights, the sacred sites of our allies. Furthermore, they used quotation marks to refer to these burials as “sacred sites”, as if we talk about going to “church” on Christmas or visiting the “graves” at Arlington Cemetery. This erasure of culture and censorship in the media is nothing short of modern day genocide.