Updated: Dec 18, 2020
The third installment of the Memoirs Of A Bearcat journey takes you into the rebellion and fight of Frontline protectors against the american empire and colonizers. Refresh your memory or catch up by reading the second installment Memoirs Of A Bearcat: KIKTAPO! Remember Why You're Here!
Everyone stopped what they were doing and a rowdy cheer rose from the crowd as we watched a small herd of buffalo that seemed to come out of nowhere. As they stampeded through the lands that we had just been pushed off of, eight of the largest broke off and ran closer to the fence line that stood between us and them and we laughed watching the cops trying to fumble over the barbed wire and out of their way. As they ran by war cries and lilis filled the sky welcoming them back to their homelands. A little ways behind them, back on the hill, we saw riders on horseback dodging the cops or national guard in their ATV’s that were trying to chase them down. We saw rifles being raised and little puffs of dust that rose from the places their bullets hit behind the horses. They dodged here and there and eventually made it to the other side of the hill, but not before they lifted a raised fist in the air in defiance and celebration and we responded with the same! It was as if the herd and the Crow Creek Riders instinctively knew that we needed to be reminded of who we are and what we came to do. Instantly the feeling in the crowd changed and there was no way in hell that we were giving up the fight! We may have been pushed back a little but we were not defeated and this wasn’t even close to over.
I have a confession...this article was supposed to be written last week. For some reason, I just haven’t been able to put the words together and get them out on paper. For the past week I’ve been having issues with my throat and ear and I thought I might be getting sick but it’s so weird, the symptoms come and go throughout the day. What the hell? The lymph node on one side of my throat swells up and feels like a marble sitting on my windpipes. It wasn’t until this morning that it finally dawned on me — this isn’t strep throat or an earache. It's actually a trauma response. A new one that’s come along just when I was beginning to feel confident in understanding my post-Standing Rock post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); unfortunately, one of the many things that frontliners experience, a hideous gift from the state, that can present itself in many forms. PTSD feels like returning to a life that you once inhabited to find that it longer fits and even though the trauma only exists as memory, the pressure of keeping those memories can manifest physically if you’re not careful.
Four years later I’m still learning how to identify my emotions and find appropriate techniques to self-soothe and manage the stress. Some days are better than others. Why would I subject myself to this by returning to the scene of the crime? Well, after trying and failing to ignore my mental health, I finally came to terms with the fact that healing and transformation is a necessary process that runs on its own timeline. Part of the process is managing it day to day and one of the things that helps many people is not talking about the traumatic event(s) but writing about it. It’s a tool that has become essential in my life as I’ve worked to call all parts of my spirit back to me.
Last Christmas, I was asleep in the living room of the apartment I was living in when shots rang out. The perpetrators fired seven rounds then sped off in a nearby car only to return two more times: In total, 38 shots were fired into the apartment directly beneath mine. I later found out that this was the hoods way of telling the guy who had just moved in that chomos are not welcome in our community. I can’t really be mad at that, and I do believe in street justice, in fact I think that it’s not utilized enough. Unfortunately, this incident revived a lot of my triggers that had been fading and I had to start working on them all over again. As bullets shattered panes of glass and ricocheted around the courtyard, I just remember thinking, “Shit, I can’t go. I still have work to do! I haven’t told my nephews and nieces yet!” Because when your experiences lead you right back to where you started and you begin to see that these cycles of violence will continue until they are dealt with, it becomes clear that this knowledge needs to be handed to the next generation who have a duty to pick up this battle wherever it is left off. As a third generation land defender who carries medicine on both sides of my family, answering the call to stand was not a really a choice — it's just what we do. And I know the ones that come after us will most likely be called to do the same work. So, it is important that I write these things in case I’m not around to tell those follow in my footsteps. It’s also a necessary part of my healing process that I cannot neglect. So, this is what I can offer you, little ones. Remember that we do not waste any part of anything so take both the good and the bad and learn to apply them where you feel it best to do so. Wear them like armor when it is your turn to go to battle and know that our ancestors are waiting to stand beside you and our plant and animal relatives will do the same...
Oct. 27, 2016 began early and people were preparing. We knew that we’d probably be seeing action. Over the past few days there had been a couple false starts, reports of incoming law enforcement convoys that never appeared. The night before, a few of us took a cruise up the road about a mile to “Treaty Camp” (aka “North Camp”) to check on the line. All was clear, just the occasional random headlights up in the hills — camp security, the Akicita, out doing patrols and checking outposts up near Farmer Fred’s land. There was also a call for more people with traditional tipi’s or easy to erect tents willing to go occupy this pop-up camp space to safeguard the land from the efforts of Dapl, who had continued to dig; although, they had been ordered by the courts not to. Many elders and traditionals chose to move up there, a lot of the younger friskier warriors went to stand guard and protect. You had to be willing to lose everything there because Treaty Camp was situated directly in the trajectory of the pipeline, a strategic re-occupation of the land between Hwy 1806 and banks along the mouth of the Missouri River.
The land we were fighting for was unceded land. This means it was included in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 as Lakota Territory and has never been sold or relinquished by the Lakota. They remain the rightful “owners,” if we’re talking about things in the white man’s way. Actually, in the white man’s way the Lakota have even MORE rights to that land being that treaty is constitutionally recognized as the “supreme law of the land.” (Geez, it’s literally your own laws – y'all are the ones that made that shit up, least you can do is KNOW about it. Smh. Would be even cooler if you actually WENT by it. But anyways...)
Camp had it’s own security teams that served in any capacity needed from securing the perimeter to more special ops type stuff and direct actions. There were two gates leading into Oceti Sakowin camp, the large overflow camp that had popped up across the river from the original Sacred Stone encampment aka “main camp.” It was situated on a hillside between the two-lane highway 1806 and Cannonball River. “North Gate” was the main entrance that was manned 24 hours a day, usually, by the younger men eager to earn a place one day amongst the “Akicita” (the traditional high ranking Lakota warriors/soldiers). They’d greet each vehicle by asking, “New or returning?” And if you said “returning,” they’d reply, “Welcome home!” If the person was new to camp they’d point out available spaces where they could set up camp and answer any questions the arrivals had. While all talk was going on another young warrior would carry around an old coffee can with embers and medicine to smudge each vehicle down, a spiritual practice for all of our protection. See, Oceti Sakowin and all related camps were not just campsites, they were prayer camps, resistance camps or historic gatherings, depending on who you asked. But to be present at camp meant that you were expected to adhere to the proper cultural protocol as determined by our hosts.
Traditionally, we honored autonomy. Meaning, every group had the right to organize themselves how they saw fit in their own areas and every being had the right to live their lives with dignity. This is how we shared a continent communally with other people, tribes, and species, for centuries throughout Turtle Island. Much like a social contract, there was protocol for going into another’s home or territory that showed that you had basic respect for life, carried yourself as a reflection of your people and were honorable in making your intentions clear. Even in times of war there was protocol involved and there were some things that you just don’t do.
When the call for warriors to come stand, they said that everyone was welcome to come to camp but that didn’t mean it was a free-for-all — it was an open invitation for those willing to come in a “good way.” Meaning, those with an understanding that there was protocol involved and we were there to do work. I think a lot of feel-good, “hippy dippy” types, didn’t understand this. Yes, it was a prayer camp but it was also a frontline resistance camp. Yes, the sign said no weapons and come in prayer but that didn’t mean we were there to hug it out! (Sheeeeit, you better THUG OUT OR BUG OUT! Haha... but really though.) A lot of people don’t seem to understand that “peaceful” is not a praxis and “prayerful” does not mean “passive.”
Vilifying “violence,” or acting as if you get to define the narrative and set the boundaries as you watch from the outside, is big colonizer energy.
Yes, we’re peaceful. ‘Cuz, like Crazy Horse said, it’s a good day to die! And yes, we pray. We pray for guidance right before we take action to protect the sacred! But it seemed that some people were more worried about protecting their feelings. These are the people who should have stayed home. But these are just my thoughts on the matter.
“Oceti Sakowin” refers to the Seven Council Fires of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Peoples. When the seven bands come together and light the Seven Council Fires it’s powerful. I won’t get into specifics because that’s not mine to tell but what I do know is the Lakota have some fire ass ceremony and you don’t want that smoke, ask Custer! The last time the fires were lit was before the defeat of the 7th Calvalry and general george armstrong custer at the Battle of Greasy Grass (aka little bighorn), a major coup. So you know you messed up when the Lakota roll out all 7 of them fires. We could feel that we were in the presence of some HEAVY medicine, which would arrive in many forms over the next few months as Warriors from Indigenous nations all the WORLD felt the call and came to stand. The stronghearts from each nation, as it was prophesized.
There’s “guns and butter” and then there’s warrior spirit.
As we reported to the frontlines on the morning of Oct. 27th, 2016, we knew which strategy we would be employing when a tall Lakota man wearing a warbonnet strode up to the line, quietly called for attention, and carefully unwrapped a bundle. I didn’t know at the time but this man was Arvol Looking Horse, the nineteenth Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe. He is a Lakota medicine man that was born into the lineage that was tasked with carrying the sacred pipe and its teachings for the people. I don’t share this to present myself as some kinda “mystical Indian” or otherwise perform for the white gaze but this was a defining moment in my life when I began to develop my sense and understanding of the presence of the spiritual world. As I stood in the presence of generational wisdom, it was during these prayers and pipe ceremony that three different women from three different parts of my life returned to speak to me.
One at a time, they spoke in voices so clear they could have been standing beside me.
Without introducing themselves, I knew who they were, they had come to give me a sort of pep talk in preparation for battle. They each spoke of who I was and where I was from. They reminded me to stay true to those things and focus on my purpose. They said that they were happy that I was there and that it was time for me to take my place, that in order for me to do this work I would have to learn to listen, take direction and follow through without asking questions because some things were just not for me to know. I was guided to count coup for good measure.
Soon, the bundle was wrapped back up and put away. The gentle faces of humble elders became a stern presence of defiant spirit and the crowd parted to make room for a large drum that would become the heartbeat for day. War cries pierced the air as a convoy of militarized tanks along with police officers in riot gear came over the hill, snipers with assault rifles were perched on the hill tops. They slowed to a stop as they met our line, large logs and bales of hay blocked their path. Commands came over their intercom, “Your presence here is unlawful, please disperse and go back to camp. You need to remove the blockade. We have an order to clear this area. Anyone who crosses the easement will be subject to arrest. Any actions done to prevent us from clearing this area will be seen as an act of aggression. We do not want anyone to get hurt. Please vacate the field, all your belongings will be handled with care and respect and will be returned to you at a future date.” Orders that would be repeated throughout the day.
As I was directed by my ancestors, I walked towards the bearcats rolling in. I instructed my battle buddy to pour a bit of water onto my hands then presented myself with hands up as the soldier on the speaker commanded that I not approach. I put hands on the tank and blessed it with our sacred first medicine, the reason why we were all gathered there that day, the water. I looked over to my left where another bearcat was slowly rolling forward and saw a little old lady who had walked up to do the same. She looked frail and was so small that she couldn’t be seen over the hood of the tank. I immediately dashed over in front of her and though the tank had only been going a few miles per hour, the weight of it was enough to throw me off balance. I can’t imagine what it would have done if it had made contact with her. I later found out that this was the lady they call “Granny RedFeather,” a Lakota elder and respected frontliner since way back in the American Indian Movement (AIM) days. She was present at Wounded Knee 2 back in 1973. A true veteran. The crowd surged forward and so did the cops, who snatched the woman and pulled her behind them where I could not see, a younger woman was hysterically crying at grandma’s mistreatment and she eventually got ziptied too.
I returned to my battle buddy, a former marine from Walatowa (Jemez Pueblo), one of the only ones from my camp who agreed to accompany me to the frontlines that day; though, he could not take direct action as he’s a single father with two small kids an he had to return home in the next few days to care for them. He surveyed the scene and when he looked back to me, he already knew what I was going to do. I wrote my emergency contact number with a Sharpie on his arm in case anything happened and asked him if he would hold my gear, giving him some purpose as I could tell he was fighting his own battle within. Men have a tough time; especially, men who are naturally inclined to protect as warriors for the people, they have to be extra disciplined on the frontlines. Our society has conditioned them to utilize very few of their tools, physical violence being the main one. It takes a strong man to withstand enemy taunts and be mindful of enemy tactics, and an even stronger one to play a supportive role for a woman. This man is one of them.
People had begun crossing the divide to meet the line of officers trying to move into the encampment area itself. Women linked arms and sang the AIM song, men stationed themselves nearby, ready to protect and absorb as much of the physical threat as they could. The police were armed and had large industrial sized canisters of CS gas. They tried to apprehend one young man but he was too quick and slipped their grasp. He managed to get a few steps away before he was hit with a tazer, the wires had attached themselves to his eyelid and his body dropped as he seized. Other young men quickly formed a shield around him and someone grabbed the wires and yanked them out of his face. A few of the cops laughed as they lifted their tazers again, it was clear that this shot was not accidental. Without a second thought, I crossed the easement and became arrestable.
I moved past this grouping of cops and went deeper into the field where soldiers from the North Dakota national guard were trying to move quietly around the back side of the encampment. They had come in on little golf carts that were converted to handle the terrain but they lacked stealth. They were spotted by some of the wild ones, the younger warriors, who began trying to seize their carts after they realized the keys had been left in the ignition. The wild ones' hijinks diverted the guardsmen's attention and as the soldiers rushed over to handle the commotion I moved down into the embankment of the river.
There were little ravines through the ground so I knew they wouldn’t be able to come in with their carts. If they wanted to catch me they’d have to catch me on foot. I knew they couldn't swing their line to sweep camp if I outflanked them. Of course, they don’t like having anyone behind their line (that kinda defeats the whole purpose of the sweep). I also knew that there were likely snipers up on the hill on the other side of the river watching me. They made a few attempts to chase me but I held that position between the plateau that camp was on and the river, avoiding them and waiting, every once in a while I’d pop up back behind their line before retreating toward the river. I decided that if anything, I'd just hit the river and swim over to the rez side. I swam it the week before and I was feeling confident in my backstroke! (Ayyyez, just graceful. Haha...jk. Kinda. But anyways...) After awhile the six guards huddled up on the hill and I knew they were trying to decide how they were going to corral me. They knew I was gonna hit the river if they tried to approach and they didn't know what to do about that. I knew a ceremony was going on somewhere in camp. I thought, man, if I can just get them enough time for an extra prayer or two, maybe it would be what's necessary. I was alone in that field, taking the opportunity to relax my feelers, and what do I see? In my camp there is a sister who said she was not able to cross into arrestable territory but here she was, trotting down this hill all by herself, carrying her jar of ashes, and looking like she didn't have a care in the world! She wasn't masked up or anything and looked out of place in that setting. When she got to me, I asked her how the hell she got through the cops and made it down to me so easily?! She said, idk but someone handed me a pair of goggles and I knew you didn't have any so I brought them down for you! Lol...I said, you’ve got some heavy medicine sister, you must be invisible cuz nobody even saw you! She laughed, asked how I was, told me what was going on down the road and gave me some water. Then she said she should probably head back up and went trotting back up from where she had come. Eventually, a brother signaled for me to move further south towards a little grove of trees, he had been keeping an eye out for me while I was down there. The national guardsmen had finally gotten into position to creep down towards me after their sergeant yelled at them for letting me play around with them for so long, "IT'S BEEN ONE FUCKING PERSON DOWN THERE FLANKING US AND YOU GUYS HAVEN'T HANDLED IT YET?! IT'S A GIRL!!!" I made sure that they saw me laugh at them before I ducked into the trees and looped back around and up to the road safely. It was a rough day for all but it was these little moments that kept me alright for many weeks to come.
When I made it back up to the road I noticed that the cop line had made about thirty feet of progress after removing the first barricade. They had detained about half of the group of elders that had organized themselves a sit-in in the field. A second blockade was being formed and someone had donated their truck to the cause. The warriors surrounded it, smashed out the side windows and had begun securing a few people for lockdowns. One attached in the drivers seat, one in the passenger seat, one in the back of the cab, and a few locked down to the transmission and other various parts of the truck. The rest formed a line to physically block the approaching cop line that was making about 3ft of progress every 10-15 minutes as they moved forward as a unit with shields and weapons at the front clearing the way for the tanks to roll forward. One smaller group hastily erected some tipi poles and were just finishing tying it when the cops broke through to the line pinning some people to the truck. I saw them grab one of our brothers by his hair and yanked him down to secure him behind the line for arrest.
It went on like this for what seemed like hours. It was early afternoon when they grabbed someone's coup stick and smashed It on the ground. They grabbed this person and were trying to pull them back behind their line for arrest but the crowd had begun fighting back using de-arrest tactics, so every time they’d reach out and try to snatch someone, the people around them would grab them and break the hold to pull them back. This was the routine: Cops would deploy CS gas or fire a few rounds of concussion grenades into the crowd, as we recovered they’d move the line up another three feet and try to grab people, we’d try to grab them back and so on and so forth. I had moved to one side of the crowd after being hit with one concussion grenade as another detonated at my feet. They had begun using their LRAD, which is an acoustic weapon that blasts sounds so loudly that it can knock you off balance or even make you pass out. We had been warned of this and came prepared with ear plugs. I always kept one pair in my pocket and one tucked into my bra.
At one point, the cops seemed to pause their forward push and a few feet to my right I saw them take down a Native woman. I had my earplugs in but I still heard the faint pops, which I later found out were gunshots. I was taught that when there was one sense you can’t use, there were other things you could watch for. For instance, when it’s dark outside and you can’t directly watch what’s going on around you, you can still get into position and watch the shadows and reflections to see where people are moving around you. In this instance, I had to keep my earplugs in due to the LRAD so I couldn’t hear very much but I could watch the crowd’s movements to detect danger and react accordingly. When these pops went off, the crowd moved and I could no longer see the woman being held by the cops on the ground but I could see the other cops that had moved to block our line of sight. This was how I immediately knew that it was a set up. The cops either knew and anticipated the gunshots beforehand or for some other reason felt there was no immediate threat to their lives, their reactions did not match the scenario logically or by any measure of how they’re trained to react in real life settings. They seemed almost relaxed and were more interested in crowd control than the woman who was struggling and allegedly firing rounds just behind them. Much later we’d find out details that confirmed my suspicions when Red Fawn’s case went to court.
The day progressed with more beatings and more attacks, at one point a horse trailer backed into the line, warriors on top taking the vantage point away from the cops but we were still pushed back little by little throughout the afternoon until they had secured the entrance to Treaty Camp. You could feel the exhaustion setting in, it was heartbreaking taking another L to the state. Our numbers dwindled, elders being taken and treated roughly, men being extracted from a sweat lodge in the field naked in the autumn cold, ceremony inturrupted, tipi’s cut open and sacred items destroyed, as the assaults with projectiles and batons continued. Our spirits started to sag and I wondered, what now? Do we all go home? Was it over this quick? What are our options from here? I had regrouped with the few that I had come with and we were trying to decide what to do when my sister looked over my shoulder, her eyes growing wide as she said, “Omg, what is that? Do you see that?!” I turned and squinted, trying to make out the mass on the horizon coming over the hill and someone shouted, BUFFALO!!! Everyone stopped what they were doing and a rowdy cheer rose from the crowd as we watched a small herd of buffalo that seemed to come out of nowhere. As they stampeded through the lands that we had just been pushed off of, eight of the largest broke off and ran closer to the fence line that stood between us and them and we laughed watching the cops trying to fumble over the barbed wire and out of their way. As they ran by war cries and lilis filled the sky welcoming them back to their homelands. A little ways behind them, back on the hill, we saw riders on horseback dodging the cops or national guard in their ATV’s that were trying to chase them down. We saw rifles being raised and little puffs of dust that rose from the places their bullets hit behind the horses. They dodged here and there and eventually made it to the other side of the hill, but not before they lifted a raised fist in the air in defiance and celebration and we responded with the same! It was as if the herd and the Crow Creek Riders instinctively knew that we needed to be reminded of who we are and what we came to do. Instantly the feeling in the crowd changed and there was no way in hell that we were giving up the fight! We may have been pushed back a little but we were not defeated and this wasn’t even close to over.
My group and I decided to head back to camp, check in and regroup. We had been on the frontlines all day and were in need of food and some rest so we hoped into the back of someone’s truck that was shuttling people to and from camp. I remembered that there were other points that were being held that day when we noticed plumes of black smoke rising up from two other locations. As we pulled onto the road we noticed a white truck barreling towards us and heard over the cackle of someone’s walkie, “GUN! GUN!” A few people were trying to chase the white truck on foot and other vehicles attempted to block the road to stop it but it swerved around them and almost hit a couple people walking back to camp. We followed along behind it, not knowing what was going on, and passed the turn off to a little dirt road where one of the plumes of smoke was coming from. As we rounded the corner nearest camp we slowed to a stop behind a few other cars and off to the side of the road we saw where the white truck ended up, haphazardly wrecked down near a small pond.
As I looked out, I noticed a small group of people standing in the water and for a moment, it looked as if someone was being baptized. Rev. Jesse Jackson had made a visit to camp the day before (where he took a really uncomfortable looking photo on a horse?) and I thought to myself, this was a rather ill timed photo op wtf? In reality, what we were seeing was the former driver of the white truck being surrounded by the brothers from our own camp. He had been run off the road and when he exited the truck he had an assault rifle in hand which he began pointing wildly at those crowding around him. Everyone in the back of the truck crouched down as low as we could, two of the others that had hopped in alongside us began whispering, asking if they should go down there. I said, I wouldn’t. But the woman explained that she had come to Standing Rock to get the story for her publication out of San Francisco, the guy with her was her camera man and after a moment they decided to hop out and go down. The rest of us wished them luck and told them to be safe. We watched as the gunman was backed further out into the pond until he was about knee-deep in the water. As a lone man approached him, it seemed he was trying to get close enough to take down the armed man, who pulled the gun back up into shooting position and put it directly in the lone man’s face. Our driver yelled for us to get down as he hit the gas and we could feel ourselves going off-road...