Photo by iStock/FrostOnFlower
The times we’re in are bleak. Donald Trump has just been elected. The mainstream media, including, I fear, much of public broadcasting, has abandoned its role as the Fourth Estate and now cleaves to the imperatives of the marketplace: profit-making and entertainment. The neoliberal ideology has both political parties in policy and moral lockdown. Since my first days of social consciousness, protesting the Vietnam War, I’ve witnessed our country transformed from a society into an economy.
If a pipeline company, or a mining consortium, or an oil corporation says that fracking, or risky oil pipelines, or sulfide mines will create jobs, they are handed the keys to the kingdom, and a public subsidy to boot. And if the boom turns into a bust, and the jobs don’t materialize and the pipelines erupt and pollute soil and water, or if the company goes bankrupt and the state has to pay for the cleanup, well, that’s business. Human health and happiness and goodness count for absolutely nothing against economic interests.
How do we confront this now deeply entrenched value system? How do we begin to change the status quo?
We have three options it seems to me — do nothing and hope for the best (denial), give up and become nihilistic (despair), or rouse ourselves in defense of life (bear witness). I say life because I do believe it has come to that, we are looking into an abyss of both eco-system collapse and social disintegration.
But the rousing has started up again and the demonstrations. Or perhaps they were always going on and I wasn’t paying attention. I’ve gone to Washington D.C. on the Earth Train from Saint Paul to demonstrate against the Keystone Pipeline — and at the State Capital in St. Paul. Just recently I joined several hundred people who marched and chanted “Mni Wiconi—Water is Life!” — through the streets of St. Paul to the Army Corps of Engineers building. And it was Standing Rock and what has happened in North Dakota to stop a reckless and crude oil pipeline, a money pipeline, a black snake, that recently roused me again. Standing Rock was no ordinary demonstration.
The native leadership and Tribal Council say that Standing Rock is a “prayer camp.” Using the word 'prayer', rather than 'meditation,’ they say, “You can pray in whatever way is appropriate for you. You don't have to be religious. You can follow your heart. Prayer can also mean taking action on the ground, but in a sacred way.”
The Oceti Sakowin Seven Council Fires Camp, like the Sacred Stones and Red Warrior camps at Standing Rock, insist that all water protectors, whether Native American or not, conduct themselves according to the Seven Lakota Values, as described by camp leader Everett Iron Eyes, Sr.: Prayer. Respect. Compassion. Honesty. Generosity. Humility. Wisdom.
Standing Rock was very local, and yet it was completely global, uniting people from all over the world. It was a breakthrough for humanity, a sacred ceremony of survival, of reunion. As Winona LaDuke said so perfectly, “The beginning is near.”
Today I watched a video of a group of U.S. military veterans asking the Lakota elders at Standing Rock for their forgiveness. Wesley Clark, Jr., the son of retired U.S. Army general and former supreme commander at NATO, Wesley Clark Sr., and himself an Army veteran, said:
Many of us are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. Then we took still more land and we took your children and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways, but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.
Chief Leonard Crow Dog offered forgiveness, saying, “we do not own the land, the land owns us.” This was a historic gesture. This is what is called for now. Listening. Seeing with the eyes of the heart. Healing.
We cannot fight the vast corporate-government juggernaut with force. We would be crushed in an instant. We will not use their weapons: lies, hate, retaliation, violence. We now have a beautiful and eloquent example provided by the wisdom of the Lakota elders. They have stood against dogs, rubber bullets, water cannons, mace, concussion grenades, and other weapons of intimidation. And they have changed the course of history, by keeping a loving, peaceful, and prayerful vigil on their land. They have engendered love and forgiveness. They have helped us all to remember who we are.
A couple of years ago I attended a program at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis called “Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia.” The event was a celebration and reunion for some local, countercultural activists from the late 60s and 70s. During the event a young, Native American speaker caught my attention when he said, “You baby boomers, it’s time to step back up and finish what you started.”
“Right on man!” I thought. “Far out!”
One of the lessons I have learned from Standing Rock is that we must leave aside all that we are against, so that we can defend what we are here to protect. That is the stance of love, and it comes from the heart.