Memoirs Of A Bearcat: Bombs Over Backwater
Part 6 of the Memoirs Of A Bearcat series. Time has passed since the events that transpired at Turtle Island in October 2016. Deeper into fall, Bearcat and other warriors carry on.
We were all running low on clean clothes.
It had been weeks since any of us had been able to do laundry. In the warmer summer months, we had been able to use river water and homemade DIY wash bins and all we would have to was hang our clothes out on a line to dry but since the colder weather started moving in, the clothes would hang on the line for days, sometimes freezing up each night and not thawing out until mid-afternoon. We finally caved and decided that it was time to make a laundry run.
We took a vote and the few of us without outstanding felony warrants decided to take on the risk. We chose the most innocent looking driver who also had no warrants— a white ally. She was a girl that one of the brothers met who had quickly moved into his tent with him. She seemed nice enough and was down to take the risk of driving, but other than that we didn’t know too much about her. Yes, this was a serious risk but if the guys who were featured on the wanted posters, guys who were fighting red in tooth and claw against oppressors were ok with it, I didn’t see a problem in letting her stay and help out.
We made it into town alright, it took a little longer than expected though because the highway blockade just outside of camp was forcing everyone to take a detour. We had two huge black garbage bags with everyone’s “mace clothes” with us; meaning, all the clothes from the days we’d been on the frontline and caught a cloud of CS gas from the red canisters they fired at us with abandon. Once you got sprayed, you couldn’t safely wear those clothes again, so we got into the habit of stripping down before crawling back into our tents. We had to or else we’d smoke everyone else out. All mace clothes went into communal garbage bags which were kept sealed until just before we threw them into the washer with a couple cups of baking soda per load. They had to be washed twice and some still had to be thrown away because they were just too saturated to be cleaned.
While we waited for our laundry, we went next door to get some Chinese food. It felt like months since we’d last seen civilization. Aside from the night at the casino hotel, we hadn’t had a lot of opportunities to watch TV though we heard that there had been a lot more coverage of us on the national evening news.
We used to be able to take little field trips over to the casino hotel to sit in their lobby and get some free Wi-Fi, or watch TV in their bar area, but for some reason, as fall set in, hotel management had turned against us. Even though Protectors and media crews from all over the world made sure to keep their rooms sold out, seemingly for months on end, they decided to stop renting to any of us claiming that they were somehow losing money. One afternoon we snuck into the lobby for Wi-Fi to check in with the outside world and we saw maintenance men screwing covers over the outlets. It was clear that they no longer wanted us there. I’m not gonna' lie— it hurt. Seeing as how the casino hotel, which was owned and managed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the very tribe that had called us to protect their land in the first place.
Anyway, as we finished up with our laundry and loaded back up, we debated on which routes to take. Being raised by a different type of crowd, I always favored side streets and backroads to make clean getaways. But, seeing as how this wasn’t our turf and we didn’t really know the area we decided to take the main roads instead. We were fine until we hit the two-lane leading out of town, the only road that was now available to reach camp. This is where we began seeing a familiar line of cars pulled over. It looked like a speed trap, but I know rez cars when I see them, and they were definitely targeting only Indians. I dipped down a little lower in my seat but as we passed by a group of cops sitting to the side of the road, I knew our out-of-state plates were a dead giveaway—so I prepared a FB post listing our mile marker and general whereabouts, just in case. I said that if I didn’t update within the next hour— someone should notify someone in our camp so they would know where to look for us. The old Moccasin Telegram, a tried a true hotline, the method utilized by those in our communities to spread word since time immemorial. #OldWayz
But danger came from within the car too...
“Oh shit. They hit their lights, what do I do!?”
“Pull over. And chill. Everything’s legit on your car, right?”
“Yeah, but it’s in my dad’s name and if they call him, he’s gonna' get mad.”
“The fuck you mean 'he’s gonna' get mad'? Girl, these fools are bout' to kidnap the brown folks in your car! And probably you too, for rollin’ with us. Now get your shit together and get your act right. Don’t be offering up any info, just do what they ask and whatever you do, do not roll down my window or consent to any search. Got it?”
*Soft sniffles from the driver’s seat…*
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU CRYING FOR!?”
We had been pulled over along with a few other cars that were coated with camp dust just outside of Bismarck, North Dakota. Our camp had heard about this police tactic, IDing everyone in the cars—including passengers—as a way to gather intel. But our driver, the ol’ girl, showed her true colors. This was the first in a series of signs telling me that shit was changing, and I needed to get the hell out. See, North Dakota is not an “identify on demand” state and they could not ask vehicle passengers any questions unless they had reason to believe they were breaking the law. Most people during these stops did not know the state laws and had given up their IDs, which the cops took back to their cars to record. These were not legit traffic stops entailing speeding tickets. Many of the homies were arrested on old warrants.
And threats and actual state violence were not the only dangers.
Since early October, protectors all over camp had begun falling ill. We thought it was just another season of the flu. But then we started hearing reports of a fine mist being sprayed by the low-flying planes that surveilled us.
Just as rumors began to jump from one fire to the next and word was beginning to spread online, I found it to be very strange when a well-known organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network took to Facebook to post a live stream in which they vehemently denied that any potential acts of biological warfare might be going on. And yet, the very next day as I emerged from our army tent, a small single engine aircraft flew overhead, and I felt a light mist come down around me; though, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I ran my finger over the small droplets that had gathered on the fabric of the tent before wiping it away on my pants. Only later did I notice that whatever this substance was had dried to a chalky white residue.
A few days after, I too began showing symptoms—most notable, the congested chest and hacking cough.
Luckily, a cook in the camp kitchen next door had come up with a few gallons of fire cider. Fire cider was like gold then. A homeopathic brew, every day he would boil up a fresh batch and toss in some fresh jalapenos. He’d bring each of us our daily dose and we’d drink it down as quickly as we could while it was hot, that was important. It was powerful stuff and seemed to be the only thing that worked to settle our coughs for a few minutes, so we’d enjoy it—taking a few moments to sit by the fire quietly until the coughs came back and we’d return to our reality and carry on with the jobs we were performing. By this time, I’d estimate that 80% of the camp was sick.
Months after camp ended, a small article was published in a local North Dakota newspaper detailing the mysterious death of cattle and other wildlife on properties surrounding camp. It also mentioned that, according to locals, there had allegedly been 14 animals that had been bison-napped and butchered by the wild Indians over at the camp. I never met these alleged wild ass Indians but personally, I’d only seen three buffalo come through camp. All three were donated: two by the tribe, and one, I believe by a family who was driving late one night on their way to camp who came around a bend and hit the animal. Luckily, they were alright. Their truck was lost but never ones to waste, they loaded him up into the back of their brother's pickup and brought him to camp. When they arrived, he was prayed over, butchered and divided amongst the seven camp kitchens. We ate damn good in those days. What I wouldn’t give for some of that bison stew and frybread now. (Honestly, if you ask me—I really don’t give a damn where the bison came from, they all tasted good and found their way to the happy hunting grounds. But hey that’s just if you’re askin’ me...lol! I side with the wild Indians, though. But I have never napped a bison in my life.)
Years later, it was revealed through court documents that the EPA had conducted an investigation which turned up evidence of an anticoagulant rodenticide, Rozol, being found in extremely high concentrations in nearby fields. Rozol is best known as a prairie dog killer that’s heavily regulated by the EPA. It’s basically a poison that’s supposed to be dusted sparingly deep inside prairie dog burrows. As they come in contact with it and breathe it into their system, the chemical prevents their blood from coagulating (or clotting) properly inside their bodies, causing them to bleed out within a few days. Despite being legal in only a handful of states—somehow, a rancher in the neighboring community of Cannonball managed to get his hands on 39,000 pounds of the stuff in early 2016. By March of that year, just as the NoDAPL Movement was getting under way, and right around the time the first camp was set up near the river, which runs alongside his property line—this dumbass decided to saturate his entire property with the poison. Within weeks the EPA was alerted and soon the carcasses of six bald eagles, a few bison, some antelope, and thousands of prairie dogs that were sent into the afterlife were found. And that was just the beginning.
Over the next few years countless numbers of various other wildlife ranging from scavengers like coyotes and smaller rodents to predators like foxes and birds of prey and even herbivores were poisoned as the chemicals had seeped into the water supply and remained in the soil and grass. Carried in the wind, in the bodies of poisoned animals, Rozol continued to spread, miles and miles from the original application site for years after the initial dusting.
These are allegedly the bison that we’d seen kept in a corral for weeks up on the hill behind Turtle Island. We knew them as “the captured ones,” the warrior buffalo that came to us on that day when North Camp was raided. They were chased by helicopter and corralled. We watched as they were kept for days up on that hill, seemingly without any food or access to water. They calmly watched us from between the bars of their small corral as we prayed for them from our small concentration camp. It was torture seeing them being punished for coming to our aid and many of us wanted to liberate them but the scouts who crossed the small valley reported they were surrounded by armed guards.
Nevertheless, there was at least one attempt made.
It was zero-dark-thirty. We gathered at an outpost, and it had just begun drizzling. We stood around the fire solemnly, patiently waited for our orders and prepared to distract and evade our enemy by running in zig-zags if we began taking fire. Sadly, none of our teams made it very far, we were detected by infrared cams. As we piled into the backs of pickup trucks and returned to camp later that night, buffalo-less and sad, we watched as the falling rain turned to snow. The first snow of many for the season.
Many Protectors believe that this substance, Rozol, was what was being sprayed on us for weeks throughout the fall at camp. Many theorized that when the mist dried, the particles became airborne and those particles are what irritated our lungs, causing mass respiratory infections. Many also believe that this intentional exposure is linked to many cases of cancers that have been reported by Protectors in the years following our time at Standing Rock. Of course, I cannot provide any proof of this (though you can google the info about the ranchers and look into the effects of Rozol to further educate yourselves)—but knowing the history of this country, I can see why many folks believe this to be true. Clearly, some type of mass respiratory infection occurred at camp, and it lasted much longer than the average cold. Many who were affected ended up having to pack up and head home. A few reported back that they had gone straight to their primary care physician and tested negative for pneumonia, strep and the flu. Strangely, I do recall one person posting results of their bloodwork online with notes from their doctor that mentioned an “unknown Covid,” this was back in early 2017. Oddly, many who reported catching the "DAPL Cough" have also reported experiencing much milder cases of Covid-19. Not sure if there’s any connection, and none of this has been corroborated by medical professionals, it’s just something that’s been discussed amongst members of our community. Regardless, even now in 2022, there still isn’t much known about the "DAPL Cough" but there are many things that I still sit and wonder about…
Since we were way out on the prairies of North Dakota there weren’t many hospitals or clinics nearby, the closest ER being over an hour away in Bismarck. Fortunately, when the call went out, many medics packed up and came to camp: MDs, EMTs, nurses, psychologists, herbalists, doulas, all kinds of body workers and even some of those people who align chakras (wtf a chakra? I still don’t know, but I’m grateful!). So many different practitioners arrived, each offering their services and specialized care, that soon enough we had outgrown a medic tent and a whole medical village was established.
In a centralized location, it was easily accessible for all. It had its own donation tent specifically for medical supplies. Yurts went up and spaces were cordoned for groups providing specialized care and everything from prenatal/women’s care to emergency triage was available. There was even a respite center that doubled as a warming center, welcoming anyone who needed to warm themselves or get some rest. Sadly, the care that was made available to us at camp was much better than what many of us had access to at home. All was provided free of charge; further, no documentation was necessary, and it was truly a labor of love and I truly LOVED seeing it: It made me feel cared for, in a way that I haven’t since felt in a medical environment. The setup was cool, but when you factor in how quickly this same space was able to convert to accommodate actions, it was truly remarkable.
When “all warriors” were called to report to the frontlines, teams of frontline medics were also gearing up and readying their crews to head out and provide on-site care and emergency triage. Vehicle transports began running to and from the medical village, on-call for emergency help. It is because of the folks who did the work in these spaces that not one life was lost on the action frontlines. And it was these medics and practitioners that we put our trust in as we were about to engage in one of the bloodiest standoffs we’d seen yet.
The morning of Nov. 20th, 2016, I accompanied a sister, who recently joined our camp, to the medic village.
We’d heard that a few of the docs had manage to secure some actual antibiotics but were only giving them out to the most extreme cases, people who were in bad shape with the "DAPL Cough." My sister wanted to see if she was bad enough to qualify and I was just along for the ride, but as I sat waiting, the medics noticed my cough and encouraged me to get checked out as well. I thought, what the hell, we’re already here. And to our surprise I was worse off than my sister was!
Not only did the medics confirm that I had a bad case of the "DAPL Cough," they also diagnosed me with double ear infections. I guess I hadn’t noticed the pounding in my ears: I thought they were just feeling sensitive due to the LRAD and concussion grenades. And the soreness radiating from my ears down through my throat? I thought that was from all the coughing I’d done over the past three weeks; plus, all the CS gas we’d been exposed to probably didn’t help much either. In all actuality, it was probably a combination of all the above. And on top of all that, earlier that month I had begun my “moontime,” which usually lasted a few days and was never too much of an inconvenience. But by late November I realized that I had been flowing for over 20 days, some of the heaviest that I’d ever experienced, too! So, I casually mentioned this to the nurse who was checking me out as she took my vitals. Curiously, she asked me some questions before calling the medical doctor over and before I knew it, I overheard them debating whether or not to call for emergency transport to take me to the nearest ER!
What the hell?!
This really blew my mind. I felt that there would have been much clearer warnings, severe pain or something if my body was really in a bad enough condition to warrant this amount of concern. I assumed that they were just overreacting, that they must be used to some fragile ass patients, and that was not me. No, sir. Not me at all!
There was no way in hell I was leaving camp for a couple pints of blood, or whatever it was they were tryna do. We went back and forth about this for a while before finally coming to an agreement: I would come by and check in with them daily and they would allow me to remain on site for a few more days. They’d monitor me but, if I didn’t improve, and improve fast; I’d have to be sent out to Bismarck. They gave me a little stash of prescription meds to treat my infected ears and hopefully knock out my DAPL cough, and the good fairy herbalists fixed me up some raspberry tea concoction to drink and some elderberry tincture in a little dropper bottle. I wasn’t quite sure how that was gonna help with my everlasting moon, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Looking back now, I wonder just how much these medical professionals actually knew about the levels of Rozol we were being exposed to or the affects that it could have on our bodies. I’m no doctor but if it works as an anticoagulant on the animals, causing them to bleed out and die—my experience with the environmental exposure was probably not much different from theirs. Mannn, those fuckers almost got me! I could have been murked out in my prime! Just like our little relatives in that field across the river. Smh, poor little guys…this shit still makes me mad. More than that, it gives me chills thinking about the fellow Protectors we’ve lost to cancers since camp.
We made our way back to our camp. The day went along as usual, deliveries were made, press was turned away and there was a women’s meeting to attend at the camp next door. “Women’s meetings,” this term eventually became problematic because we had certain individuals who had joined our camp that didn’t share in mentality. They had been in camp sometime during late summer, but had left just as I was arriving, and returned amidst all the chaos in the fall.
Now, to put this in perspective, and without giving too much away—I had become part of a camp made up of folks who had traveled primarily from the so-called Southwest. A majority of them came from a similar background centered around the Pueblo culture. I’d worked for some of the Pueblo’s back in my non-profit days and though I got along great with most of the community members, my coworkers in the tribally run service departments were just not my cup of tea. I found their nepotistic misogyny to be bullshit. And each department seemed to be head by a different problematic man who hated women. Especially, outspoken ones who were intent on getting the job done (Hi, have you met me? Good to see you. Lol).
So, I had this fear about this type of misogynistic male when I first entered camp but to my surprise, most men were not like the ones who ran their tribal councils. And it wasn’t until these certain, specific men, returned to camp that we had any sort of issues with misogyny. Since so-called Thanksgiving was growing closer and more women had come to join our camp, there was a need to form an unofficial smaller council—as women naturally do. And since I was one of the overall camp “leaders,” a recognized spokesperson who helped run the morning meetings, I was often the one elected to report the issues that the women felt needed addressing back to the other (male) leaders. To the men’s credit, they seemed to take our issues seriously and we had been able to address most without issue—most, but not all.
The one thing that became a running issue was the issue with outsider’s access. Particularly, with non-Native visitors—and I wouldn’t figure out why this was an issue until months later. We never seemed to have any trouble with fellow Natives, I’d like to think this was because we were raised with some communal understandings. It seemed to be mostly the allied folks didn’t share these same perceptions and they took our need to run a secure space, personally. Perceiving any need to keep outsiders at a distance as “mean” and crying settler tears each time the issue would come up. It wasn’t until a Pueblo sister stepped in to remind folks that, although receiving guests in a good way is a traditional trait for many of our nations, it wasn’t our only way of being. As during times of war our people would always make sure to move to secure our spaces first.
This finally seemed to get through to a majority of folks, realizing that our communities did not welcome settlers during times of war, and this was indeed a time of war. And this became a common theme, to work through these differences of “opinion” by reverting back to our knowledge of our people's understandings of winning tradition.
As the sun began to set that evening, Nov. 20th, camp was abuzz with nervous energy. We’d grown used to fairly consistent frontline actions, pretty much every other day we threw down. But a few days had passed since we last were assaulted and we were definitely beginning to feel antsy. Lol…
(TW: please forgive the dark humor. I know that state violence and assault are really not laughing matters. I guess I’m laughing more at the realization of how warped this shit really was. Like, I remember craving pepper spray for a while after camp and the absence of regular abuse felt like an unnatural void in my schedule. Weird stuff, for sure. But I’m not the only one who experienced this.)
A few of us gathered around our campfire and tried to distract ourselves by preparing dinner, chicken soup! We joked around as we searched for ingredients, all the food had been moved into various random ice chests because our kitchen was currently undergoing winter preparation and reconstruction. It wasn’t long before we heard that familiar crackle and call sign came over the radio. There was an action forming up on the bridge, so the guys immediately laced up and headed out the door. Thirty minutes later our call came through.
“Water rescue crew. Water rescue crew. Prep for pickup. Front side of PC, 20 minutes. Over.”
I began my normal frontline routine, which by then, looked something like this: Anytime we were called to the frontlines I’d wait to hear the horses, the Crow Creek Riders, to run past. They’re a group of traditionally trained Lakota warriors, mostly youth raised on horses, who knew how to maneuver on the frontlines (check out YouTube to see some of their traditional formations in action against the cops and DAPL mercenaries). This was my cue because they always kept a level head so anytime there was a call out for: “ALL WARRIORS TO THE FRONTLINES,” over the camp PA system I'd know the first wave was going. Now, if you went along with this first wave, you may be standing on the frontlines for hours before any real shit popped off. So, I'd made it my routine to wait after this first call out, until I heard the Crow Creek horses go by. In the meantime, I’d make sure my bug-out bag was set and my frontline essentials were ready to roll.
Now, as Natives, we tend to be pretty ritualistic by nature and I am no exception to this rule. By this time, I had developed a routine; a ceremony, if you will. A specific set of processes done in a particular order that ties an individual to a collective cultural consciousness or allows them to tap into a spiritual body through ritual. When a call came through, I’d confirm; then go alert the crew. Change my clothes and tie my boots just how I like em'. I’d double check that my frontline bag had all my necessary essentials: my protection piece and medicines, bottle of water, a cigarette and lighter, extra pair of socks, spare mask, goggles, space blanket and a gawddamn tanka bar (lol, have you ever eaten a tanka bar while smoking a cigarette?! Holayyy. It’ll put some fire in your life!). I’d make sure my bugout bag was positioned by the door, just in case we had to evacuate for any reason. Then I’d head over to our pickup point and start arming up on our medicines: water, corn pollen, sage or sweet, bear root, and a bit of tobacco. Yes, this definitely was a ritualistic process—but ceremony is a central point in my chaos.😊In fact, I don’t know many frontliners that don’t have some kind of ritual, ceremony, or process that gets them ready to do what needs to be done.
Just as we finished smudging down and braiding up, a small pickup truck pulled up and we hopped in. We headed to the bridge, parking along the small hill that overlooked the barricade on Backwater Bridge located on Hwy 1806, just to north of the encampment. This desolate two-lane stretch of highway once provided access between the Cannonball/Standing Rock/Ft. Yates communities and the much larger town of Bismarck, North Dakota but since the Raid on North Camp (Oct. 27th, 2016), it had become the new frontline. Two burned out military vehicles stood gutted on the bridge situated over a small but quickly moving river and Morton Country also added concrete barriers, razor wire, stadium lights, to their command post.
We hopped out. A couple Protectors quickly began hooking tow chains to the bottom of the gutted military vehicles. Allegedly, this was an attempt to remove them in hopes of clearing the passage so the road could be reopened. I have a feeling that there were other actions planned for the evening at multiple access points and the bridge was to serve more as a distraction. Tactically, it served its purpose. But spatially, it had the potential to turn into a disaster really quick.
The sun had just set behind the eastern hills and the temperatures were already falling quickly. While the others immediately dispersed into the crowd that was growing by the minute, I stood up near the hill and took all of it in before making a move into the chaos.
As it was only a few days before so-called thanksgiving a lot of family and friends had already begun arriving. Though we were excited to see them, especially after being away from home for so long, we knew that there was really no way to prepare them for the things we’d grown accustomed to. We knew to expect to be fired on by less-than-lethals including rubber bullets, concussion grenades, CS gas, and LRADs—they didn’t. And all it would take was for someone to be caught off guard, dazed, blinded or just plain freaked out if there was a sudden surge in the crowd or a stampede of folks attempting to retreat. I could just imagine people going over the low side-railing and falling into the swift moving current below. As I went to move into position so I could keep better eyes on the water the barrels pointing at us from the opposite of the barricade erupted.
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
One right after another, I felt the sound of the blasts reverberating off the surrounding hillsides and quickly took cover behind the tires of the 18-wheeler. Protectors with shields moved in front of those who didn’t, blocking them from the onslaught of projectiles. Soon those with shields began to move forward. They huddled together tightly forming a mass and providing cover across the front of the formation and along the sides, while a secondary line moved in directly behind and raised their shields at an angle to provide effective cover for those in the front. Rubber bullets and concussion grenades glanced off the sides while those that were shot square on stopped dead against the shields with a loud BOOM.
I watched from my perch as the frontline moved slowly, closer to the barricade but I noticed that DAPL didn’t seem to be firing too many smoke bombs. I realized they’d been baiting us closer for a reason! Shots rang out but this time they fired off way more than usual and didn’t stop shooting for a good minute. Only a few projectiles landed on the bridge, the majority of them streaked high across the sky, coming down in the easement area behind me. Thinking the cops just really sucked at their fucking jobs, I looked forward and quickly understood why. They didn’t overshoot their landing; they were tactically placing smoke bombs—attempting to create a chemical kettle situation on the bridge! Just what I’d feared.
I immediately began grabbing blinded people and escorting them off of the bridge. If I couldn’t find a medic or none were available, I administered eyewashes myself. I wouldn’t let them go until we had found their battle buddy or a medic to care for them. The scene was complete chaos. Some people were emerging from the thick blanket of smoke bleeding, others had to be carried.
The temperatures had been falling all evening and suddenly, we saw the latest thing they’d added to their arsenal—a cascade of water through a cannon was quickly dousing everyone within range, and soon people around the world would be outraged as they watched us being soaked in the freezing cold.
At this point, my anxiety began to rise. It’s one of those moments where, if you take a moment to come up for air you realize that some shit is actually going down and your body immediately begins to respond. I went down to the corners of the bridge where lookey-loo's (clearly tourists) were standing there with wide eyes and phone cameras trying to absorb what the hell was going on. I assigned a couple of them to water watch, even though they looked scared as hell—I didn’t have time to break it down to them and quickly just told them if anyone were to fall or go in, it was their job to notify medical or the akicitas (a Lakota word for warrior). Luckily, Crow Creek was also keeping eyes on the water as the river was quickly freezing over.
People began quickly moving to the grassy easement areas on either side of the bridge and soon fires were lit as people stripped wet clothing and tore open packages of space blankets in an effort to warm themselves and care for each other. When the cops saw how quickly we had regrouped and adjusted to defensive positions, complete with tarps to block the frigid water they were spraying into the crowd, they were BIG MAD. Out of spite, they began trying to douse the warming fires, so our people would have to retreat from the frontlines to warm themselves, but they were thwarted when teams of dedicated people moved the tarps to protect the fires.
The Crow Creek Riders had gathered up some dry firewood from the opposite banks of the river and, like clockwork, the river had begun to freeze over. Soon, chunks of dry wood were being slid across the ice to the frontliners who not only kept the embers burning but resituated their location and added fuel to their fires!
They were just out of range of the water cannons and soon the water truck DAPL had brought ran dry and a hose had to be run down to the river's edge, where ice had to be broken, so they could siphon more of our sacred first medicine—water, to spray at us. Their frontline was made up of officers in three shifts, each standing for twenty minutes in the cold, then switching out to go sit in warming tents for the rest of the hour. They’d return to the line only to see the same masked up faces on our side standing strong and I think this scared them a bit. Much like some of the water actions— they assumed our bodies would give way to hypothermia and exhaustion. They don’t know what it is to stand with the ancestors at your side, they only know their own feeble body’s limitations. Shit, if I was them, I’d have been scared too!
At one point, I went back at the truck to see if anyone else was checking in but no one else was there. I looked around and took a moment to lift my mask and breathe, and as I looked over at the bridge it was lit up like the Fourth of July. Gas canisters and shots into the dark mixed with campfire smoke, all set before a backdrop of the stadium lights, it was spooky. Flash bangs were going off and booms from rifles were allegedly firing less-than-lethals into the crowd. At one point I counted 26 projectiles in the air. It’s kinda embarrassing to admit but for a moment here I hesitated. Every part of my body was saying HELL NO, I ain’t going back into that!
I had to physically force myself to override that fear to mask back up and go back out there—but I did, because there is no honor in leaving your relatives to stand alone. I did so, because this is what I came down to do.
DAPL had infiltrated the security lines to prevent communication, and they blasted 2 Live Crew over the walkies so we really had no idea of the organizing the medics were doing to help the injured, we were all left just doing the best that we could do. The cops had also been using their loudspeaker throughout the night, to terrorize. Constantly telling us to stay in camp, or to go home, and that they had been authorized to use live rounds. This was a threat that was constantly on my mind as their tactics became more and more aggressive as the weeks wore on.
At one point, a younger sister from my camp came staggering out of the smoke. I recognized that she was injured and went to her immediately. All of 16-years-old, this strongheart had joined our camp back in the early fall and had been on the frontlines through every major battle with us for months. Seemingly fearless; I recall seeing her gassed, shot at, and attacked numerous times on the frontlines—each time she’d wash her eyes out, shake it off and return to raise hell! This time though I could tell her wound was different this time.
She explained that she’d been shot in the genitals, which was a common thing to happen on the frontlines. I believe DAPL were trying to terrorize us by hitting the women in the most sacred of places first, thinking it would agitate the warriors to take aggressive action, so they’d be justified in using live rounds. This was just something we had to learn to anticipate but it still didn’t make it easier seeing the people that you love getting injured this way. Every single one of our resolves was tested in this way. I was (and still am) very protective of my little sister, and knowing her heart, I knew she did not want to leave the action.
She was trying to convince me to let her just walk it off, but she could barely walk at all, and I decided that it was time for me to be a good sister. Much to her dismay, I finally got through on the security line and arranged for a shuttle for her to the medic tent. I don’t know how they located us so quickly through the crowds and all the chaos but soon a car pulled up and came to a screeching halt right in front of us. The driver threw the back door open and as I loaded little sister in, I gave this woman a side-eye. I questioned if she was indeed a legit transport (as if we had many options). To which she quickly replied, “Who else would be pullin’ up to the frontlines??” (Lol). I nodded and sent little sister on her way. I would later learn that this racecar driver was actually a relative from my own tribe in Nevada; a down ass frontliner who took good care of little sister, who ended up corralled down with the medics for the remainder of the evening.
I stayed there that night on the bridge as long as I could stand…and I still carry some guilt feeling like it wasn’t long enough. Most of our camp staggered in sometime during the early morning hours. We huddled together in one tarpee; eating chicken soup and laughing, coughing from the mace radiating off our clothes. I can still feel that burn in my throat as I write this now. Afterwards we returned to our tents, stripped down and somehow got a few hours of rest.
When I woke up, everything around me was covered in frost. Even the sleeping bags we were in and our hair. As I stepped out into the morning sun I ran into one of our brothers from Red Warrior Camp. He told me about those who stood throughout the night. The hardcore ones who only returned to camp to change clothes and be treated for their hypothermia because they had been sprayed with the water cannon for hours, yet they remained—holding the line in defiance despite the below freezing temperatures. They literally were medically separated from their bugout bags, which they were frozen solid to. For some reason, hearing this really broke my heart, it still makes me emotional to this day.
That warrior spirit is something else.
He also told me what happened with Protector Sophia, and without getting too graphic here, he told me how she was carrying water to those still holding the line when she was hit with a concussion grenade. He said there was an explosion and then came her scream—he said he'd never forget her scream. She lost part of her arm that day, regardless of what they say, we know the cops took it. It was their intent and their weaponry that did it to her and countless others that night. There is still so much to say and many stories that can be told of that battle on November 20th, 2016, at Backwater Bridge. It’s pretty hard to watch footage and believe that I was actually there too. It took me a solid year to be able to watch without a physical reaction from the PTSD.
We learned a lot about ourselves that night. Most of it though, will never be shared outside of our circles, the ones who were there and stood shoulder to shoulder with us. Trauma bonding, they call it. Mitakuye oyasin, is what t