Pilgrimage to Standing Rock (4)

November 8, 2016

There is a wildness here — it comes with the wind flying through the tall grass and people’s hair, it comes pulling on tent lines and flapping the flags of the Indian nations on the hill as if victory was near, it comes with living under the sky all day, it comes with the chaotic bravery of all these different people who have dropped what they were doing to make a stand here before the forces that seem to tame everything.

flagsIt is a beautiful, messy wildness, and though it says it is here to protect with prayer the sacred land and water, it doesn’t stay neat or uniform but flies through all of us like a longing we can’t control, a longing for something we feel is being lost.

Yesterday a large crowd headed to the river where a line of police in riot gear stood silhouetted on top of the hill across the river. Young men paddled canoes across, others swam the frigid waters and then attempted to scale the hill while the police lobbed pepper spray down at them. After a few hours everyone gave up and went back to camp.

What did it mean? Nothing much, except that it was the wildness trying to find its way beyond itself, a burst of longing to make it to the other side, to get through the sadness many of these good people have felt since they were children.

Later the elders announced that this kind of action was not sanctioned, that it was counterproductive, and that everyone must try to keep all actions peaceful and prayerful.

So early this morning a circle of some 1500 people gathered in silence at the behest of the Indigenous Youth Council. Prayers were chanted, the sacred pipe was lit, and a jar of water was sanctified. Then all of us walked in silent prayer in a long procession out of camp and along the road to where the police have their roadblock across a bridge. As we walked I could feel the great wildness in us become strong. It wasn’t tamed by our silence; it was made steady and even noble.

The procession stopped in the middle of the bridge and we all sat down on the pavement, everyone quiet, everyone in their prayer. A small group of Indian youth walked across the bridge and spoke with the line of policemen there. After about twenty minutes they returned and announced to us through a loud speaker that they had invited the police to pray with us, but that they had refused. The young people then asked the police if they would like to drink from the sacred water they carried. Again the police refused, except for one, who took the water and sprinkled it on his uniform.

When we heard this, a cry of  yi-yi-yi-yi-yi  rose up from the women in the crowd, a cry of thankfulness and honor to that man. Tears ran down my cheeks and it was the same for many around me. Then we all stood and silently followed the young people carrying the sacred pipe and water back to camp. The wildness in us, for a moment, flew up in pure, silent joy.

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This is probably the final installment of these Notes from our pilgrimage to Standing Rock. We expect to leave the day after tomorrow — it’s been both an inspiring journey and an ordeal for our old bodies. I want to thank all of you who have written notes of encouragement and gratitude to us — your words give us strength! May we all learn to keep it sacred, keep it prayerful, keep it joyful!