top of page

Memoirs Of A Bearcat: Arrestable Girls, Frontline Girls, Oh-How-I-Love-those-Dog-Bitten-Maced-Girls

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

Part 5 of the Memoirs Of A Bearcat series

Before we carry on with this little memoir of my time at Standing Rock, I’d like to take a moment to thank you for your continued (and very patient) readership. I know it’s been a while since I stopped by with a fresh installment for this series, but I’ve been busy on the frontlines, doing bearcat things! In the past year I’ve found myself returning home to my own traditional territories to take on, yet another, frontline struggle. I’ve accepted that this is probably how my life will be structured because it’s hard to predict when another land developer, resource extractor or judy rojo will decide to try their hand at some colonizer shitand you know we can’t have that, so I’ve had to develop some creative ways to try to keep myself afloat and live a somewhat regular life. However, thanks to the persistent folks at The GroundUp, who remain committed to seeing this memoir fully published, we continue along with our story. Now, we hop into our Wayne’s World time machine and pick up back where we left off at: following the raid at Treaty Camp, late October, 2016...

“It was a good night and a good bonfire. When we awoke the next morning, battle-hardened and bushy tailed— we were feelin’ ourselves, for sure. It was these little things, these acts of defiance, that kept us going during the long months to follow. For every armored vehicle set ablaze is a reminder that we are exactly what our ancestors prayed for—may the bridges we burn light the way…” There are some things that you never really grasp the reality of–until you just do…

Prior to my time at Standing Rock there were many things I’d heard about government repression, but I never truly grasped the reality of it until I personally experienced it. For instance, I didn’t understand the depths of anxiety experienced by individuals who are essentially gang stalked and tracked cross-country by state agents. I didn’t think to Google the specific state laws for passengers riding in cars that have been pulled over or how traffic stops could be used to target individuals for the purpose of gathering everyone’s personal info. I had heard of people having their personal (and business) bank accounts frozen post 9/11 but I’d never given thought to how that could extend to being prevented from accessing cash through e-transfers, via Wal-Mart and Western Union. And though I will admit that I’ve been asked to vacate some fine establishments back in my wild college party days–I never knew that you could be blacklisted from an entire state and be forced to travel to the next state just to rent a room and take a shower. I’d never even heard of a "StingRay” before watching my own phone go from 100% charge to zero battery in seconds. And I never knew that a cell phone could be remotely turned on and have all data extracted without permission. It wasn’t until I stood alongside hundreds of others being doused by water cannons in below freezing temperatures for hours as monitors from Amnesty International stood by in their yellow jackets observing but doing nothing, that I realized that international human rights did not extend to Native Americans in any real or legally binding way. It wasn’t until I experienced state violence myself, that I truly understood the depths of the states reach and the ease in which they prey with pettiness. And trust, the state’s petty game is unmatched. Control is the ultimate high for colonizers. The reality of the situation did not allow us time to decompress or even begin to process the events as they transpired. This level of elevated stress was a perfectly rational response to the incredibly irrational repression that the state had set into our everyday surroundings. Morton County and Dakota access pipeline mercenaries and private security had moved their perimeter closer to camp following the raid, setting up just on the other side of Backwater Bridge which was a short walk from our camp, up a grassy hillside and a few hundred feet down the two-lane highway. In addition to the ever present surveillance measures we’d somehow grown accustomed to, the state now brought in concrete barriers to physically block all access to the highway. They were no longer allowing any passage for campers, residents, or even EMS. They turned ambulances around on more than one occasion, forcing them to reroute back through Bismarck and detour along alternate routes, adding at least an hour to any emergency medical response to a request for transport from the Standing Rock reservation and Fort Yates community. They brought in tons of concertina (razor) wire which was strung across the tops of all access points to reinforce the barriers between camp and…well, the rest of america, it seemed like. The helicopter and small engine aircrafts continued their routine circling overhead every eight minutes despite the FAA’s no fly order. It had become a favorite pastime for folks in camp to spotlight any of the aircrafts that were caught flying with no lights on overhead, and track them until they completely left view. And there may (or may not) have been a few evenings that we enjoyed firework displays, though I’m not sure if the pilots enjoyed them as much as we did ;). But hey, we got our kicks where we could. This, of course, all came to an end when they brought in huge stadium lights which they set up along the camp perimeter, creating artificial daylight round-the-clock, a classic form of psy-ops aimed to disrupt sleep patterns.

Gone were the peaceful nights spent under an inky black North Dakota sky. Gone was the thick blankets of stars we used to gaze up at each night until our campfires dwindled to embers and we headed off to bed. Gone were the sounds of soft laughter and the beat of drums off in the distance comforting and reminding us of what it feels like to be a person amongst Our People. This was a peace that many of us had never known, as we had been ripped away from our families by one of the state’s many overreaching fingers. And it wasn’t until we’d experienced the life within the camp that our spirits finally recognized this as a part of us that we’d deeply missed. But, as the repression grew, it seemed that our community was coldly and abruptly being taken awayyet again. This point marked a major shift in our experience from the long, warm days of late summer into the colder, harsher days of fall. With the added environmental intrusions, we couldn’t help to begin feeling a little closed in. Did you know, that our reservations started off as POW camps? And I’m not sure what “blood memory” is supposed to feel like but sometimes when my mind flashes back to the images of concrete barriers and concertina wire, it reminds me of my own Paiute relatives. They were taken from our homelands in Northern Nevada and marched to the Yakama rez up in Washington state, where they were held in a POW camp for five years as punishment for taking part in the Bannock War back in 1878. When they were brought back to Nevada to reside on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, the soldiers who had marched them halted the line—we don’t talk about this much and I’m sure you’ll understand why, but since these memories can never be forgotten, I’ll tell you now—the soldiers went down the line taking the babies from their mothers, then they swung them by their little feet, smashing their heads upon the boulders until all were dead. They took their little lifeless bodies and skewered them upon poles that upheld american flags and forced our people to walk between them before entering the rez. This was done to drive home the fact that dissent would not be tolerated.

Somehow this still lives somewhere deep within my blood memory and I pray that it always will. Because, as long as it does, I will maintain a clear understanding that each act of repression comes from the same diseased spirit that our ancestors encounteredand this is exactly who america is. While recalling these past traumas may appear self-defeating, I fight the urge to dismiss or avoid because they only serve as a reminder that we are much more than our traumas combined. If it was possible for our people to survive such horror, then I can certainly find a way to get through mine. We’ve done it before and we will do it again. As many times as necessary, I suppose.

When revisiting all of these heavy realizations and taking this walk through memory lane, it’s easy to get into a depressed kind of mode. But while it’s genuine and real and comes from an honest placeI feel that that it’s also important to understand that there is, and always will be, a balance that exists throughout. The same things that we cling to and grieve for also serve as a reminder of our love of everything we fight for. This is what it means to “protect the sacred.” In allowing us to have this small taste of autonomy, our brief reclaiming and reoccupying of our sacred relationshipsthe state really did, “fuck around and find out.” Much like the classic Spinners jam says, “There’s always a chance/a tiny spark will remain./And sparks turn into flame…” And in the coming days, weeks, and months, as they began “taking” things away from us, they came to see that this was all it took to reignite a fire that continues to burn within each of us. We weren’t much of a threat when we didn’t know what it was that we lacked. When we didn’t know what it felt like to be loved by our relatives and accepted by our communities. I mean, you can’t really miss something you’ve never had, right? But after we DID get to know these parts of ourselves, even just the fragments and shadows, for a few moments in timethey saw how quickly embers can be reawakened. And soon they began to SEE the power that lies within us that had previously laid dormant for so long. There were many instances were they were shown how real our spiritual connections truly are, not only with the land but also with our ancestors. And many of them chose to turn in their badges and walk away after witnessing things, physical manifestations, that truly defied their limited knowledge of the power that exists in the natural world. This is an important aspect of spiritual warfare and it demands that we take the utmost care in this world. These are things that, even we, did not fully comprehend. But the older I am allowed to grow, the more grace I find for the people that we were at the time…

As fall depended and October drew to a close, morton county sheriff’s office put out wanted posters seeking info on five individuals, three of whom were members of our camp. At the time we only had about 12 members in total so we definitely felt the increase in attention directed our way. Random visitors began coming around and a drone followed our vehicles, on and off the rez and even out of state. We weren’t getting much sleep, our nervous systems were shot, and we were running on instincts and camp coffee until finally one evening a gracious ally managed to get us a room at the hotel & casino for the night. We quickly gathered our showering supplies and piled into cars, not caring about the cramped accommodations. This, I’d eventually learn was a physiological trauma response, because even though we were struggling in our own separate ways, it was safest to struggle together. Remaining physically close, much like puppies who pile together and sleep in the craziest formations each making sure they are within reach of the others, we were finally able to get some quality sleep.

In the morning we arose well rested and slowly began returning to camp. I was among the last who remained in the hotel roomenjoying a few moments of peace, taking our time to braid each other’s hair. As we were loading our stuff up we began receiving urgent messages to return immediately, an action was going down at the small hill known as “Turtle Island”.

Sacred Stone and Oceti Sakowin camps were set up on opposite banks of the Cannonball River. Turtle Island lay on the Oceti side, surrounded by a natural moat that feeds into the Cannonball, meeting the headwaters of the Missouri River just a few miles downstream. The Island itself was one of the hills that was considered off-limits to most campers. It’s a sacred place with strict protocols that must be followed when stepping foot on and also off of it. I feel it’s important to point out that I, myself, am not Lakota. Though I was fortunate to spend some time there as a guestI don’t assume that any of their tribal stories are mine to share. But, acknowledging this cultural designation should tell you enough to have a basic understanding of why it was seen as sacrilegious when dapl decided to use it as a lookout point and began hauling their dumbass stadium lights up there. When the elders notified morton county of this trespass, not only did these men not retreat from their post, but they made a show out of disrespecting the site, spitting and urinating upon the land. This level of disrespect could not be tolerated without pushback and on the morning of November 1, that time came. We drove the short distance from the hotel and arrived back to find rows of trucks and cars lined up along the path out to Turtle Island. We parked and wove our way through the the line of people, horses, and vehicles making their way out toward Turtle Island on a narrow dirt road cut with long, deep crevices and patches of sand that were easy for a vehicle to get stuck in so most folks were on foot, others flew by on horses. Every so often a truck would pull up and stop just long enough for people to hop on in and away they’d go, speeding off in a cloud of dust. The crowd grew by the minute as more folks from camp came to join in the chants of resistance. The large drum that was present at all actions was brought forward and set up, songs began to pierce the cool morning and war hoops ricocheted off the steep front facing slope of the island. The smell of sweetgrass and sage filled the air as everyone smudged and prepared for battle and prayed that these invaders would come to their senses and see that what they were doing was endangering their own spiritual wellbeing.

Sometimes I laugh, thinking about how intimidating a crowd we must have been. I mean, I know how scary it is getting yelled at by ONE Auntie, there’s no way in hell I’d knowingly face off with the whole damn flock! Lol… As the crowd surged, we found our way to the edge of the river and saw what appeared to be a small makeshift bridge composed by what appeared to be a bunch of five gallon buckets. A couple folks hopped in, grabbed ahold of the rope and started paddling towards the other side of the river. When the cops perched up on the top of the hill realized what was being attempted, they immediately tried to climb down the face of the island but it was too steep. They had to crawl back up and make their way down the opposite side, before walking around the base of the island. While they did that, snipers got into position and soon little red dots appeared throughout the crowd as a cop on the loudspeaker narrated all of our actions:



They warned that anyone who stepped foot on “their shore” would be subject to immediate arrest. (Which, of course, only fed our need to step foot over there, lol!) As the first two swimmers reached the shallow banks of the Island, a police boat came from around the bend. The cops onboard began shouting orders and when their commands were not immediately obeyed, they took aim with large red canisters and began teargasing folks in the water. They managed to spray a few people directly in the face just as they were coming up for air, causing some of them to panic. They started flapping around until they were pulled to back to safety. The riot cops from the top of the hill had made their way down and formed a line at the waters edge with weapons raised. The folks who had made it across were now stuck in a sort of no man’s land, they stood in waist deep in the water with hands raised as the riot cops in front of them and the police boat behind began unleashing teargas and other less-than-lethals' on them. For a moment I found myself frozen, momentarily captive, until one of the aunties hollered at us to go back to camp and pick up more plastic bin covers that could be used as shields . This was the first time since the Treaty Camp raid that my nervous system response had betrayed me and I hated it. I silently vowed to not let it happen again – lol, and that’s how little I knew about PTSD back then. As the last blue tarp was sent over to help provide cover, my sisters and I looked to each other in disbelief, not really knowing what we could do to help until it was decided that someone needed to run back to camp and collect more shields as well as dry clothes for those who had been fished out of the river. While other women made calls back to those who remained at camp, telling them to gather needed items, we ran to the car and made the short drive back, picking up supplies from multiple points along our route and grabbing whatever else was needed from the donation tent. Let me tell you, there is no pack more efficient than a group of Native women coordinating on the fly! And it was a damn good thing too because without something to do it’s easy to become overwhelmed or feel helpless on the frontlines. We returned to the Island with the odds and ends that were soon sent on their way across the water to be of use. I also vowed to find a way to be of more use during future water actions. I hate feeling idle when there’s work to be done. Back then, I wasn’t as confident in my abilities or the skills I had to offer during actionsthis, of course, has since changed. Though the makeshift bridge was a failed attempt, flimsily breaking apart and eventually being fished out of the water by the police boat, this first water action gave us a better idea of what to anticipate for future actions. We learned two important things: one, plastic bin lids made stellar shields (especially when they’re modified with added DIY handles); and two, barricades are essential for all water actions. Additionally, it was clear that a water rescue crew needed to be organized which, coincidentally, fell upon our camp when the father of one of our sisters decided to join us. He had been involved with previous direct-action campaigns in Michigan, protecting the fresh waterways and wild rice from desecration, and was already en route with canoes and other necessary gear. We gathered a team of volunteers which included a few strong swimmers, some medics, former lifeguards, divers, people with canoe experience, and a Navy SEAL; and the morning after the canoes arrival we began our training. We learned how to unload and load our gear, how to board and paddle the canoes, how to do water rescues, and went over basic first aid including how to recognize and treat hypothermia. We trained in and out of the water and did dry runs in full gear. We were tasked by the camp to be present at all future water actions. Not only were we responsible for safety but as first on scene we were also charged with setting up the barricade lines.

We trained for a whole 4 days before we received our first call…

Check out these pictures from Standing Rock The water rescue team was told to be ready at sunrise. By 5:30 a.m. we were loaded in the back of trucks with our gear, game faces on and an actual plan of action. All-in-all it was fairly uneventful; we got our first crack at responding as an organized unit and everything went according to plan. We shuttled folks back and forth in canoes and more people crossed over to the island, soon our frontline had taken strategic points and we were holding position despite rubber bullets. The cops tried to unleash canisters of smoke bombs but, interestingly enough, each time they attempted to smoke us out the wind changed direction sending it back into their own disgruntled faces. The few folks of ours that did catch some gas were immediately treated at the base of the hill by the medic teams and most chose to return to the action. There was a definite point on this day that we could have taken the island but the decision was squashed and we were told to stand down and return to shore, at the elders request. Afterwards, there was much debate about this within camp. A lot of the traditional people and elders were displeased or unsure about this action because regardless of the situation, protocol is protocol and it must be followedno one should have been going over or crossing back without the proper steps being taken. In the following days meetings were held and this was thoroughly debated and discussed until the medicine men went into ceremony and emerged to weigh in on the game plan. While these talks were being held, the rest of us stayed busy winterizing our camps as temperatures fell and colder weather approached. The water rescue crew had an ongoing debate over what we should do when the river began to freeze over. It was already mid-November and although it was unseasonably warm, we knew that North Dakota winters were no joke and many of us felt it was unwise to attempt to navigate icy conditions. Meanwhile, a lot of other crews began organizing around camp. There was a lot of innovation going on that was best delegated to specialized work crews. There were construction crews, wood cutting crews, wood burning stove installation crews and rocket stove crews. There were compost toilet crews, tarpee (wooden teepees draped with tarps) building crews and even a solar crew that arrived with a huge structure that turned out to be a windmill. It lit up bright pink when they erected it on Facebook Hill. It allowed the legal team to harness the wind to power jail support, which came in clutch in the nights and days of actions that followed. Since the solar guys had joined as part of our camp, we got a full solar panel set-up, which was rigged to a car battery in our camp kitchen (we also had heated floors installed thanks to the rocket stove team, twas' dope). Additionally, running power lines were added to each of our living structures and overhead overhead lights complete with light switches were provided. This was nice, but we’d already grown accustomed to living off the grid, so it was more of a luxury at that point than a necessity. Thinking back, it was mind-blowing how quickly we adapted to life without lights, without cell phones, without exchanging goods and services for money, without any of it, and I can’t say that I missed it at all! During the early fall months, I was one of the two women present in our camp. This male:female ratio might seem weird or even intimidating to some but for me, it felt fairly normal as I was raised as the only girl amongst a pack of boys for most of my childhood. I have six brothers and in our “woke” ass fam, there was not much of a gender divide. I was expected to do the same work that my brothers did. There were neither “boy chores” nor was there a concept of “women’s work,” there were only things that needed to be done so we function as a family day-to-day. And, though my brothers have all grown into solid men (each of them is now over 6’ tall and yes, in case you were wondering, I DO regret all the various tortures I put them through when we were kids! (Lol, how was I supposed to know they’d grow up to be giants?!). They’re protective when neededbut overall, they’re the ones who let me know when I’m fucking up and they’ve taught me to be accountable for my own shit. This is the background that I come from and it’s important to state this as it heavily influenced the choices I made in the coming weeks. Though I was never really one to stay in the kitchen, I also understood the dangers of being a lone woman amongst men doing a lot of work that some might consider to be high risk activity. Throughout the fall months rumors were abound about people being snatched, or kidnapped, during and after actions while out in open spaces on the frontlines. Knowing this, I made it a point to be back in camp each evening by sundown and was usually in bed, asleep, by the time it got completely dark. I was no longer going up to the sacred fire or the social dances held late into the evening because I didn’t want to become a liability. After the wanted posters, and with the increased media attention, I knew our camp affiliation placed a target on our backs. We figured that if the mercs really were snatching people for whatever reason, and if they couldn’t catch any of our guys slippin’, they’d likely target me, even within camp. So I kept a low profile and played things close to the vest. At night, when the older guys headed out, one of the younger guys and the camp dog were usually left behind to watch over camp, which I’m sure they hated but they were always very cool about (thanks, D!). Sometimes in the morning when the older guys would return, one of them would turn a space heater on in my tent so when I got up it would be nice and warm. In return, I’d spend my days managing camp stuff and picking up supplies the guys needed but didn’t want to dig through the donation tents for. Within a few weeks I knew every brother’s shoe size, pants size, etc., and personal hygiene requests. I also began keeping a running list of random things needed within camp, like batteries for the walkies or another coffee pot. While they slept during the day, I’d make my rounds to the donation tents, then I’d head up to Facebook Hill and catch up on comms, updating our support team back home. Then I’d manage deliveries which needed to be coordinated and work on winterizing projects throughout the day. We fell into an easy no-nonsense routine but, like anything else, it wouldn’t stay that way. As November chugged along, Nodapl was gaining media traction. We had a never-ending flow of new additions to our camp and since the guys schedule kept them mostly nocturnal, I was asked to take on more of a leadership role helping to run the morning camp debriefings and managing the day-to-day functions on site. New people had to be informed of the agreements and expectations specific to our camp, security was an ongoing issue. There were always things that needed to be coordinated and press people coming around wanting interviews, we turned everyone from Elle Magazine to Rolling Stone away. While there was definite need for media exposure, our camp was involved in security work so it was best for us to keep more of a closed door policy than some other camps. Although this was made clear to all newcomers, we still had a lot of selfish folks who wanted to chase that clout and…other things. This became more of an issue as we got closer to so-called thanksgiving. The overall camp numbers were expected to swell to 4-5 times our normal capacity as Natives and allies from all over planned to spend their vacation days visiting camp. On one hand, it was nice to reunite with some homies from back home that came up to visit, but to be honest, I found the influx of random fresh-faced people wandering around camp to be super overwhelming. I tried to stay focused on the work and not growl at anyone but, it had become painfully obvious how battle-hardened we’d become. I’ve never had much social grace anyway, but I found it especially difficult to be in proximity to people who had no clue of the reality we’d been living under. Fortunately, I did get to spend some time with a good homie. As a former marine, he didn’t require much explaining. And though he was worried about our safety, for a few days I got to run wild with him and feel normal for a bit. Though our normal might have seemed a little off the wall to other folks, we interrupted live broadcasts in the background making stupid jokes and uncontrollably laughing and even caught a live Savage Fam show! But when he left it was back to business and since the guys had pretty much moved out of camp, I was surrounded by folks that I didn’t have much in common with at all. It was at this point I realized how fucking angry the presence of normal people made me. Their tourist vibes and wide-eyed reactions to our stories annoyed me and the dark humor we’d developed to cope with the violence, they didn’t seem to find very funny. There was a definite disconnect and I just didn’t have the energy to explain it all. They weren’t there when our people were being dragged out of ceremony by their hair and marched naked across a field. They weren’t there when our elders returned to camp branded with numbers on their arms. They never met the kid from the camp next to ours that used to come by every morning, hoping for a chance to roll out with the guys when they left to do their rounds.

Until one morning following an action when he didn’t turn up, and he didn't turn up the next day either. No one had seen him. It wasn’t until the third day, as we sat around our campfire, that a lone figure appeared from over the hill. We watched as he slowly walked into camp and quietly took a seat by our fire. His clothes were torn and he was obviously not ok, we were immediately concerned and though he tried like hell, he finally broke down and started crying, saying, “I didn’t tell them anything, I swear I didn’t talk!” The guys gathered him up and took him into a tent to figure out what was going on, emerging later to walk him back to his camp. They solemnly filled us in laterthe rumors about the alleged attempted kidnappings weren’t rumors, and the kid hadn’t been so lucky. He’d gotten separated from the pack at the last action and was chased down, hogtied, blindfolded, and thrown on the back of an ATV by three men who took him up to a makeshift camp somewhere in the surrounding hills where they’d kept him for three days administering various forms of torture, including waterboarding. They demanded information about camp leadership, they wanted to know who was calling the shots. But when it became apparent they weren’t going to get much out of him, they hogtied him again and dropped him off within walking distance to camp, offering no further explanation. They never identified themselves but he assumed they were dapl mercs; though, he did recognize a few of the faces that stopped by to participate in his torture, as faces he’d seen at previous actions. He had wanted nothing more than to become a “real frontliner,” a warrior for the people, he’d saidbut that all changed. When he returned, he was taken immediately into ceremony, after which he was told that he would no longer frontline. He had paid his dues and was now called to serve the people in a different capacity from that point on. Medicine people are not given easy roads to walk but I’m sure that this one was called and has found his rightful place because of what we witnessed in the following days. He returned to the frontlines but only one more time.

It was the second crossing over to Turtle Island. By the time anyone noticed, he was already too far to be stopped. We watched him climb up the face of the steep hill thinking he was on his way to exact revenge. Hell, after all he’d been through, who among us could really blame him? With the mental state he was in the last time we’d seen him, many of us feared the worst was about to happen. People were yelling from the ground, pleading with him to stop, yelling for someone to grab him, but there was nothing we could do but watch. Four snipers who were positioned nearby silently turned and trained their sights on him as he grew closer to a couple of officers looking down from the top of the hill. We were all a bit surprised when he stopped abruptly, just short of the ledge beneath them, and it seemed like everyone held their breath waiting to see what he was going to do. He was staring at one in particular and with fists clenched at his sides, I heard him call out to that man: “OFFICER. OFFICER. DO YOU REMEMBER ME? I REMEMBER YOU. AND I KNOW THAT IT WAS YOU WHO DID THIS TO MY FACE. YOU DID THIS TO ME. I KNOW IT WAS YOU……..AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW, I FORGIVE YOU.” And with that, he turned around and began his descent. I was speechless. Even now, I can’t say that I saw that coming. I don’t know how these things happen, but they do. I was close enough to see that officers face fall as the realization of what he’d done washed over him. He stood up and stumbled a little bit as he tried to step backwards, reaching over to hand off his beanbag gun before he passed out. He hit the ground and was dragged away from the edge by his fellow officers. We didn’t see him on the frontlines again. It’s important to remember when we look back and share these stories that things were neither all good nor were they all bad. Like this story with the cop, folks could argue the outcome, debating whether it was good or bad depending on their views. Meanwhile, we just know and accept that it just exists, and that’s all it has to do. We don’t live within simple-minded binaries and we don’t exist on linear timelines. So there is no need to exploit the trauma or romanticize the truth, because at the root of it all - the medicine is in the resolution…and these are the memoirs of a Bearcat.



bottom of page