Standing with Standing Rock: a visit from Arvol Looking Horse

On Monday, November 28th, I went to Buffalo to hear about Standing Rock from Lakota spiritual leader Arvol Looking Horse. He is a 19th generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, and has had that responsibility since he was twelve years old for the Lakota, Dakota, and North Dakota Nakota peoples. He is a spiritual leader, a chief, and a sun dance chief. He is fluent in both English and in Lakota. He was sent to a boarding school when he was young. At the boarding school, it was a violation of the rules to speak in indigenous languages. The theory behind the boarding schools was “kill the Indian and save the man.” The goal of the boarding schools was to destroy indigenous languages and indigenous cultures. The boarding schools are closed but indigenous cultures are still under attack.

The situation at Standing Rock has gotten tense. People have been attacked with water cannons. They’ve been shot with bean bags and rubber bullets. Tear gas and mace have been used on unarmed people. One young woman, Sophia Wilansky, had her arm amputated after a direct strike by a concussion grenade.

The camp has received a notice of eviction, effective on December 5th. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stated, however, that it will not forcibly remove people from the land. The current population of the camp is in excess of 15,000, which includes many nonindigenous people. Arvol Looking Horse described it as “big, like a city.” Nevertheless, more support is on its way. Hundreds of military veterans are traveling to Standing Rock, to act in support of the camp. One of those veterans is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), an Iraq War veteran and a major in the National Guard. The veterans intend to stay in Standing Rock from December 4th until the 7th. For anyone who is reading this who intends to go to Standing Rock, besides very warm clothing and arctic gear, you are also advised to bring ear plugs, especially if you will be on the front lines.

According to Stars and Stripes, the veterans have raised more than $495,000 to establish services at the camp. These services include medical and supply tents, secure lines of communications, and heating systems to help water protectors during the cold North Dakota winter.

Arvol Looking Horse said that he has asked to meet with President Obama, but has had no response. He said, “We want our treaties to be honored.” At the talk, he discussed a number of issues:

Police brutality: “Elders have been maced and handcuffed. It is disrespectful to treat the elderly like that. They were put in dog kennels and jail cells… Police are shooting rubber bullets and bean bags at people. As soon as they drop a person, they high five… live ammunition has been shot.”

The meaning of Standing Rock and the attitude of potential visitors: “This is a very sacred place. People should go there with a good mind, to be there and to pray. No foul language. Come with a good mind. Eat everything natural. Non natives bring vegetarian food, which is good, too.”

Desecration of sacred spaces: “Bear Butte is a church to us, a sacred place. At the burial grounds, there were bulldozers and plows and dogs. The people stood with locked arms. They were mostly women and children. They plowed over burial grounds. They show no respect for the burial grounds. There are laws about ‘cemeteries,’ but not about ‘burial grounds.'”

“We need to have our way of life protected. We are healing from all of the things done to our people, such as the massacre at Wounded Knee (1890).”

“I do ceremonies at the sacred grounds. We are trying to not have helicopters flying over us when we have ceremonies. On Turtle Island, the trees, creeks, and rivers are connected. We do ceremonies to preserve our way of life.”

One ceremony that was mentioned was the welcoming mother ceremony, scheduled for March 21st, 2017 (the day after the vernal equinox).

Note to anyone planning to visit Standing Rock: Women are asked to wear dresses when attending ceremonies. If you are a woman and you are going to Standing Rock, make sure to include a heavy long skirt in your luggage. It could be a wrap-type skirt that you could wear over your pants, long underwear, and leggings. Make sure to wear layers. North Dakota in the winter is among the coldest places in the United States.

On supporters: “Thank you to people all over the world who are standing with us.”

On water: “Water is life. The water protectors are trying to protect the water for 18 million people.”

On the young people at Standing Rock: “I have worked with young people, who have been going to speak at the United Nations since 1990. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People… this protects our sacred sites and our way of life. The newspaper called the young people ‘hostiles’ and ‘savages.’ We have very well-educated young people.”

On treaties and massacres and history and the world community: “The 1851 treaty was a peace treaty, and the 1868 treaty covered water and resources… The massacre at Wounded Knee occurred in 1890. In 1990, we prayed that there would be no more Wounded Knees in the world. We can unite spiritually in global communities as people. Every nation has respect for the earth.”

“We are all under one creator. I feel very much at peace with all of you. Carry on our message. We are faced with a lot of bullying.”

How to support Standing Rock water protectors from home: Arvol Looking Horse says to keep praying. “It’s all about healing.”

Donations: Money to keep the camp going through the winter. Also needed are warm clothes, blankets, and tents.

Phone calls: Call the White House. One time that was mentioned for phone calls is Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. Just keep calling in support of the water protectors at Standing Rock.

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