The second installment of the Memoirs Of A Bearcat journey guides you to the start of first of many battles. Refresh your memory or catch up by reading The Journey Of An Autonomous Frontline Protector... And Various Other Mishaps
When I say, “angry protesters,” what I mean is a group of unarmed (mostly) Native men, women and children who were understandably angry as hell at the violence they were experiencing (and they had every right to be). I could tell it was a grassroots organizing effort done on the ground level as a last ditch effort to stop something that was egregiously wrong. I watched as women, who could no longer stand by helplessly and simply ask the desecration to stop, climb through the barbed wire fence and run toward the heavy machinery with abandon.
The pieces of my time at camp that I choose to share with you are just one person’s experience out of many, not a full narrative. As you read this, please receive me as an outsider, not an insider — as I was only a visitor in another’s home territory. When I left, I took only my memories; and when I left, they kept all of their grief. A grief that still exists and that is deep as only they can know, as this land is their immediate family while for me, but a relative. I can empathize but I cannot assume to know the pain they felt while experiencing these same events.
If any of our relatives from the Oceti Sakowin (the Seven Council Fires, not the camp) should tell you a record of the events that I address that contradicts my own — it is my hope that you honor them, believe them and put their narrative first. I am in no way an expert nor authority in this struggle, just someone who was called to be among those who stood. This is the mindset that I went into camp with and what guided me throughout my time there.
I am grateful for the hospitality of my relatives. I know them to be a strong people. We were greeted in the old ways and welcomed, they fed us well and made room. They shared their stories, songs, medicines, and ceremony and even shared their buffalo. They honored us in many ways. This is where I earned my feather and I tend to my responsibilities to remain worthy of carrying it.
I will be sharing with you some of the things that happened along a desolate two-lane highway road that cuts through the grass-covered prairie hills that are the unceded territory of the Lakota Nation. Much of what we experienced there was traumatic physically, emotionally and spiritually, as we were purposely attacked in each of these ways and more. To be mindful of all readers, I must offer this TRIGGER WARNING – the rest of this series will include sensitive themes, topics and descriptions, such as: physical violence and assault, bodily injury, emotional trauma, spiritual abuse, PTSD/anxiety/mental health emergencies, intergenerational trauma, genocide, human rights violations, civil rights violations, the desecration of sacred sites including the disruption of burial spaces and other culturally significant locations, wrongful arrest/internment, incarceration/political prisoners, addiction, homelessness, domestic violence, lateral violence, gender based violence, riot/wartime violence, state violence, colonial violence, sexual aggression, sexual assault, PSYOP, militarization and policing tactics, biological warfare and concentration camps.
Yeah. Shit got real.
I’d appreciate it if you'd be mindful that these were real events that happened to real people. Although, I may not share their names or identify these people, out of respect for their privacy and for their protection from the law, please be sensitive and act like you have common sense when sharing this article or discussing it with others. And please, handle yourselves with care – especially if you are an Oceti vet or any other type of frontliner. Take a break when you need, drink some water bro, and know that I won’t be offended if you choose not to read this at all...
Chuckles would come over the quiet camp as we awakened, nestled in our sleeping bags at sunrise. These calls over the camp PA system would gradually grow louder and more raucous as more warriors came to life; especially, after the camp roll call, “RED WARRIOR CAMP, ARE YOU UP!? PUEBLO CAMP, ARE YOU UP?! IHANKTONWAN DAKOTA OYATE, YOU UP?! WE’VE GOT WORK TO DOOOO! WE MUST STOP THIS BLACK SNAKE! KIKTAPOOOO...” Each camp would answer back, warcries and “MNI WICONIIII,” filling the morning sky. Sometimes these morning wake-up calls would be funny and teasing, sometimes they’d be deep and solemn and sometimes they’d be a call to report, "ALL WARRIORS TO THE FRONTLINES!" Nevertheless, each morning we’d awaken together. As a community. As a family. As it should be. I first traveled to camp in September, 2016 with a friend that I’d met through various community events centered around the underground hip-hop community in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When he invited me along, I said I’d think about it. I’d been involved in a lot of community organizing throughout college and during my career in the non-profit industry but I was never too interested in becoming an "ecoterrorist" or "tree hugger." Someone else had emailed me back in June about the camp that was being formed in North Dakota along the Cannonball River led by a group of youth. I thought it was interesting but it was focused more around Native issues and that just wasn’t my specialty. I stayed on the community health and prevention education side of things. In my colonized mind, it just made more sense to focus on the community as a whole rather than segment ourselves off as a smaller group. I had no idea what the hell I was talking about back then, obviously. This truth was one of the things I would come to learn. Just prior to 2016 I had been fired from my job with a nationally recognized non-profit corporation chartered by a state government (yes, I wrote non-profit corporation chartered by a state government, half grant funded and half government funded. They’re a real good time... if you’re a real opportunist and you are good at predation. *stares at you judgingly*) in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment from a supervisor. I went through the filing process with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and eventually won the right to sue but turned down settlement offers. I wanted to keep my right to speak freely (it may come in handy one day). I guess I already had the inclination that I was not going to return to the non-profit sector. I’d already worked for a few local non-profits, a tribal social services department and an international organization; none operated at the level of ethics that I require personally so I always parted ways. I realized that it wasn’t necessarily the organization or individual but the entire industry as a whole that was problematic. Plus, it's embarrassing to say but in my weaker moments I tried to apply at other non-profits only to find out that I’d been black-balled, as many truth-tellers and whistle-blowers are. It's a damn shame because I actually do really well with the “troubled kid” crowd. You’d think that they’d want to employ people that were ethical AF yet good with the “bad kids.” (P.S. - they’re not bad kids, most of them have just seen through you and this bullshit system and refuse to participate in it in any way, which I totally fucking get and support and if given the opportunity I'd encourage them to “Play the system, take them for everything they’re worth.” *shrugs* That’s probably why they aren't ‘tryna let me near their youth though, huh! Lol...) Anyway, I had been turned down by yet another program the morning I saw the dog attacks on Facebook...
On Sept. 3, 2016 unlicensed security personnel hired by Enbridge, the corporation behind the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), unleashed dogs to attack a group of protesters who had arrived to stop bulldozers that were plowing up the ground of a Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sacred site. The courts had already ordered a temporary restraining order barring them from any further construction until the matter could be brought before the court. Amy Goodman, for Democracy Now!, was on site with her camera crew and caught the attack on film and broadcast it to the world. German shepherds and other large trained dogs were charging the crowd of angry protesters that had run up to a barbed wire fence alongside the dig site. When I say, “angry protesters,” what I mean is a group of unarmed, (mostly) Native, men, women and children who were understandably angry as hell at the violence they were experiencing (and they had every right to be). I could tell it was grassroots organizing effort done on the ground level as a last-ditch effort to stop something that was egregiously wrong. I watched as women, who could no longer stand by helplessly simply asking the desecration to stop, climbed through the barbed wire fence and ran toward the heavy machinery with abandon. There were white men in hardhats grabbing people and throwing them to the ground. The chaos continued until the bulldozers pulled back but the security workers formed a line and unleashed their dogs, one of which, ran into the crowd and attacked some on horseback (that damn dog was lucky it didn’t get the shit kicked out of it), as the men in hardhats unleashed tear gas on the group. I watched as the camera zoomed in on a dog that had human blood on its nose and mouth, a white woman in sunglasses was yanking it around on a leash. The dog looked up at the group of protesters in front of it intently but seemingly without malice, like it didn’t know why it had been sicked on them. As the incident progressed, the video footage showed the woman handler trying to command this dog to lunge at the protesters but the dog was obviously showing signs of being intimidated. Maybe intimidated isn’t the right word, some animals attack when they feel intimidated, this dog looked almost apologetic as it was pushed into the crowd. Like he was actually a “real nice guy” pushed into the crowd by his belligerent girlfriend at a Lynyrd Skynyrd Reunion Tour concert? Yeah...like that. This dog knew deep down he had already done some racist bad dog type shit but this was going too far now, even for him. A couple of these dogs did end up turning on their handlers and biting them. It would eventually come to light that the dogs and their handlers came from out of state and had no license to be working in North Dakota. There was a lawsuit brought against Frost Kennel’s (out of Ohio) and DAPL but I never heard what happened with it. It was at this point that I noticed the major media began referring to the protesters as “Water Protectors.” It was also at this point that I picked up my phone and texted my friend (who would become a brother throughout the events that followed), “If ur still heading up, I’m down.” And I packed my bags. We had originally planned a five-day trip, if I’m not mistaken, but we ended up staying a couple of days longer. My brother had already been frontline for a few other campaigns such as Save Oak Flat and Abolish Columbus Day. He knew people that were already on the ground up there so that’s who we went to camp with. We made a stop in Denver and met up with another Protector who was present the day of the dog attacks and had been bitten. I sat beside him as he showed us the large bite on his arm that was scabbed over and bruised and he gave us the rundown of what to expect. I remember this was my first time hearing about “mercs”. I was like, wtf is a merc?! I didn’t ask though (cuz I didn’t want to sound like an L-7 weenie, you know) but I soon found out that it was short for “mercenary,” a member of a hired security team made up of ex-special forces that market themselves as “risk management consultants.” I guess, after they retired they didn’t want to quit the action and drive mini vans like normal vets so they formed a group that operates as a private security company, operating simultaneously as a disabled veteran run small business; although, they are awarded millions in security contracts from the Dept. Of Defense. They make the big bucks and have access to top of the line gear and tech. The mercs we went up against were Tiggerswan (purposeful misspelling, easily researchable if you google: “DAPL security”), a company of ex-Delta Force army vets based out of North Carolina. If I were to say anything about them, I’d say they were a bunch of typical american meatheads who depend heavily on ammo and scouts. From the internal documentation dug up by investigative journalists over the past few years, they had absolutely no understanding of Native culture or traditional organizing — and we used that to our advantage. In fact, I believe that’s the only thing that allowed the camps to go on as long as they did. I came to understand that Indigenous knowledge is still extremely applicable; especially, in doing movement work or any type of anti-capitalist organizing because our people were not capitalists (nor socialists, but that's a whole 'nother post). Indigenous knowledge is only accepted as wisdom after it has been found efficient then tried and true throughout generations, you’re just not ‘gonna beat that. And that’s why you shouldn’t fuck with the Natives – we're always going to have home field advantage and we’ll always be knowledgeable in tactics that settlers and colonizers aren’t. There’s a reason why the u.s. decided to make treaties with our nations — they didn’t want to keep getting their ass kicked! To this day, Native nations are the only nations who have ever defeated the u.s. on the battlefield and we did it, not once, but three times. And those are just the ones that are documented! So, fuck around and find out, if you want. I wouldn’t recommend it though. They said Oct. 27, 2016 isn’t a battle that we won, and for a few moments of that day, I thought that too. I was all sad 'cuz I thought we lost...again. But now, I realize it wasn’t a battle at all, it was an attempted occupation. They wanted to come in and push us out, completely. From North Camp all the way to the rez line, they wanted us gone and they really thought it was 'gonna happen that day when they rolled out of Bismarck with over three hundred cops in riot gear, national guardsmen with assault rifles, and snipers set up on the hill. They really thought they had us. But... because there may (or may not) have been a lookout strategically positioned outside of the city who reported the convoy coming our way two hours before they (allegedly) arrived, our wakeup call was, “ALL WARRIORS TO THE FRONTINES!”
My first time of many.
This day will live forever in my mind as the day that I reconnected with my ancestors in the presence of Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the nineteenth Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle. That day marked one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. It guided me to begin my journey by counting coup on my own namesake, a bearcat. It’s also the day I first experienced terrorism in the form of LRADs, concussion grenades, CS gas and tazers, amidst police brutality. It’s the day I was chased by men in military uniforms with sniper rifles. It's the day I first felt the protection of a man that was not related to me that showed me that Native women are worth protecting and the day that a herd of buffalo appeared to tell us that we were doing the right thing and that we were necessary. Our non-human relatives stood ready to do their part too, examples of which came in many forms throughout the coming months. A day that I thought was ended by an arrest of a Native woman who clearly had a gun planted on her in plain view — until I hopped in the back of a truck and we rounded a corner near a fire blockade and I thought I saw Reverend Al Sharpton baptizing some poor soul down in a shallow pond but it turned out to be my brother deescalating an infiltrator who had an assault rifle trained on his face... It was a day that I thought had ended upon our return to an eerily dark and solemn camp, until I was awakened from my restless sleep by someone slapping the outside of our tent and yelling, “GET UP! THERE’S A FIRE ON THE HILL!”
You see, the battles don't end for frontline protectors, we just rest while the blockades are in place. This work requires a certain type of person cuz the ability to withstand trauma and continue functioning within chaos are skills you can't get from a book. We’re not the typical “positive vibe tribe” type activists who will perform a single tear should you litter. We smudge to Cypress Hill and aren't afraid to burn these bridges - and these are the memoirs of a Bearcat.