Updated: Mar 13, 2021
In the fourth installment of the Memoirs Of A Bearcat series, Bearcat explores the tension between the Water Protectors and the state and the depths of evil that the state will sink to oppress.
Why, hello there stranger! Long time, no see.
I definitely didn’t expect to leave you hanging on such a suspenseful cliff for so long but what can I say… LIFE, mannn! Sometimes it comes at you fast. Fortunately, I keep my feathers numbered for such an occasion! (Yeahhh… I don’t really know what Johnny Cash meant by that either but graceful transitions have never really been my thing, sooo… Onward, shall we?)
As evening fell over the Oceti Sakowin encampment on Oct. 27th, 2016 there were a few people still trickling in from up near Treaty Camp or one of the blockades. A few returned only long enough to change their gear before heading back out on night missions. We returned safely, smelling of CS gas with dried Maalox mix crusted on our hairlines. As our camp regrouped, we began piecing together the events of the day.
This is when we first heard the name kyle thompson and how he’d attempted to breach camp armed with an assault rifle but was instead run off the road by camp security. When he realized that he was surrounded, he hopped out of the cab, masked up with guns ablaze, only to be backed into the pond where he cried and peed his pants (this is the interaction we had seen from the back of a truck while up on the road. Member’, I thought it was Jesse Jackson doing a baptism? Nah. Apparently, I actually do need glasses and Rev. Jackson split at the first sign of action.) Mr. PeePee Pants was eventually disarmed, then exposed as an infiltrator by paperwork found in the glovebox of his white truck— a truck that was promptly, and righteously, torched after it was discovered that it was actually paid for and insured by dapl. He was turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police to deal with.
Many people still have misconceptions about this take down. Word on the streets is that he was either A.) taken down as a known infiltrator or, B.) he was viciously hunted down and cornered by a group of wild savages. The truth is actually far more telling. See, Mr. PeePee Pants had been living among us in camp for weeks, sent in undercover by dapl security. Allegedly, he was chosen for the job because of his partial Native blood, I guess they thought that might help him access secure spaces. In all reality, people in camp probably just thought he was another random white kid. Much like a lot of the Burning Man exhibitionists, ayahuasca drinkin’ yogi’s, and run-of-the-mill crystal charging saviors who came to camp for “the experience.” The actual threat he posed was the fact that he appeared to be a Water Protector, masked up while holding a firearm. That was enough to get his shit for brains blown out by law enforcement snipers up on surrounding hills. And it could have been enough for them to justify opening fire on all of us! This is something the brother who disarmed him knew and what persuaded thompson to eventually hand over his weapons amicably. Yes, I did say “weapons,” as there was also a much lesser talked about 9mm strapped to his ankle as well.
The camp kitchens remained dark that night, as many of our kitchen crews had reported to the frontlines and had been arrested during the day. The only sounds coming over the camp Pa system were updates from legal. I believe they were still going by the “Red Owl Legal Collective” at this point but they eventually morphed into what is now known as the Water Protector Legal Collective. They worked out of a big green army tent positioned up on Facebook Hill, the only place within camp with some semblance of internet connectivity. These pro-bono lawyers and volunteers did their best to track down arrested Water Protectors that had been detained that day while Morton County law enforcement, in all their spiteful glory, did their best to “lose” entire human beings in the maze of transfers cross state and into neighboring jurisdictions. Throughout the night and into the coming days they located detainees, negotiated releases, and coordinated pick-ups; regularly sending vans out to pick people up and bring them “home.” Many of the people who were arrested report being kicked out of county lock-ups in the middle of the night with no shoes, no cellphone and no adequate clothing. Ongoing announcements were made, directing each of our camps (within the larger Oceti encampment) to report any of our members who had not returned from the frontlines so they could then be searched for and brought home.
As the night began to quiet down and my body began to relax, the adrenaline finally allowed the pain to start creeping in. My neck stiffened up and my head began to pound, it wasn’t until I got dizzy enough to throw up that I finally went over to the medic tent. The medic crew may have had an even longer day than the rest of us! Not only were they on the frontlines all day flushing eyes, wrapping limbs, and doing triage, but they had also been heavily targeted. Quite a few rubber bullets were fired their way and a couple of them had been pulled from a medical shuttle vehicle while it was still rolling. They were zip-tied and arrested while wearing a Red Cross.
At this point the medic team all looked exhausted but, like the rest of us, they kept right on working. Their army tent had a little waiting area sectioned off. It was already getting late but there were still a few people in there. One laid out on a makeshift bed for observation, someone was getting an ankle wrapped, and another was being slowly walked around by one of the attendants. When it was my turn, they checked my vitals and inquired about any injuries, pretty basic stuff. In retrospect, this was one of the last times I felt appropriately cared for by health care professionals. See, if you go to a regular hospital talkin’ bout getting hit with two concussion grenades and an LRAD, you might just find yourself on a 72 hr hold. (Also, optometrists don’t know what “fairly regular exposure” to CS gas is and they get real weird if you ask about the long term effects…lol, they probably think I’m on some weird Saw type stuff.)
There were rows of shelves packed with plastic tubs and boxes stacked high. Lights hung from the ceiling and there were bunch of storage drawers, almost like you’d see at a hardware store or at a bait & tackle shop; each drawer carefully marked. A couple herbalists were going back and forth opening little drawers, taking out bundles or tiny bottles, and measuring different herbs or medicines to put into teabags or small bottles with droppers. It was quite Stevie Nicks, very badass. Much Hocus Pocus.
When it was time to sleep, we climbed into our sleeping bags and slowly drifted to unconsciousness only to be awakened by someone slapping on the side of the tent, “GET UP! GET UP – THERE’S A FIRE!” We hastily pulled sweatshirts on over our pajamas, somehow found our shoes and came tumbling out of the army tent. We looked up at the hill just across the road from the encampment and there that wandering pyre was, slowly climbing over the ridge.
We could hear the worried excitement of other camps as they, like us, readied for whatever was to come our way. The de facto leader pulled me aside and asked if everyone was up and moving. I told him yes. He and the boys looked ready to head out on another night mission. He handed me a walkie-talkie and said that they’d be up at lookout points. He pointed them out to me, focusing in on one, and told me that if he called on the walkie-talkie and then flashed the spotlight three times from that particular location he focused on, I was to immediately take all the women and children to the other side of the river to safety. If traffic jammed the exits, we were to take the river. I gathered everyone together, had them pack small bug-out bags and designated them to the vehicles they’d be riding in if we did end up having to evacuate.
It was then announced that the entire camp was closed. Nobody in and nobody out. And we needed to stay in our camps, as security had all entry points secured.
As we watched the fire grow upon the hill, there came an unmistakable shadow from one side. It was an ATV of some sort, with two riders. One was driving; and the other one created chaos. Every few feet, there came a small puff and something that looked like a fireball shot out from behind the ATV as the riders made their way across the top of the hill.
Now, on the other side of the fire, nestled about five miles back, was an enemy command post. I believe it was law enforcement but it could have been dapl. Maybe it was both but I cannot recall now. I guess they’d had enough of our frontline antics, especially after someone allegedly torched one of their armored vehicles (a vehicle other than the one Mr. PeePee Pants drove) earlier that night, so they decided to try and smoke us out of camp. Little did they know how strong our protections were but they would learn this time, and many other times over the next few months.
Inexplicably, and very quickly, the night wind decided to shift. It hadn’t been too strong earlier that night but for some reason it decided to pick up a little, change direction and go back over the hill from whence it came. We later heard that our enemy’s convoy, which waited in anticipation of an early morning raid much like the one’s custer used to pull on sleeping encampments, had to quickly withdraw. They were sentscrambling to clear all the tech and evacuate their own post. As the night wore down, everyone settled back into bed and I sat on a tailgate wrapped in a blanket remaining on night watch, slowly watching the embers fade as the hotspots burnt out.
They told us of their arrests, the zip-ties, how they were made to strip and how they were then forced to stand for hours in a dog cage along with eighty or more other women.
The next day, a somber feeling hovered over camp. The charred scar on the hill suited the mood perfectly. I believe it even began to rain a bit. Vans carrying people freshly released from jail began arriving and this continued throughout the day. This is when we started hearing rumors of dog kennels.
We stayed close to camp and were in the middle of making frybread when two elders showed up. As customary, we quickly found them comfortable seats, offered them some fresh bread and poured two cups of cedar tea. I really liked these women.One was the mother of another camper who lived on the rez a short distance from camp. A teacher, if I remember correctly. The other was a lady we had just met a few days prior; she was the grandma of “Auntie Beachress” a character created by Native comedienne Tonia Jo Hall; without a doubt, she had a really good spirit about her. They sat down and made small talk, little jokes here and there while we continued with our bread. Then came their story: Almost nonchalantly. It broke my heart and I don’t know if I’ve been the same since. These elder ladies had been arrested on the frontlines at Treaty Camp the previous day. Their delicate arms showed fresh bruises. The shapes of fingers were etched around their fragile looking wrists. They pulled their jackets up further…and there… plain as day… written in black Sharpie marker were numbers. Booking numbers. Like how the nazis carved into Jewish arms. The same placement on the left forearm and everything. It was a sudden and sick reminder of the genetic markers, left by experiences so brutal we have permanent scars of intergenerational trauma inscribed onto our DNA to this day. This is something that Natives and Holocaust survivors share. For Natives, these are scars of disrupted lives and forever changed relationships with colonizing forces. This is what trauma can do…
They told us of their arrests, the zip-ties, how they were made to strip and how they were then forced to stand for hours in a dog cage along with eighty or more other women. When asked how they knew it was a dog cage they replied that these were not the regular holding cells in the jail, they were set up in a different location to hold Water Protectors specifically. And they knew the cages were meant for the police dogs because there were framed pictures of the K-9s all along the walls surrounding them. They were not given proper care, space or access to restroom facilities. There was a blue tarp hanging between their cage and the cage that the men were forced into. They stood because there was not enough room to sit. Some of them stood for so long they went to the restroom on themselves. Some fell. Some passed out.
I had to leave the area and just cry. I didn’t know whether to be mad or sad. I was so angry that I was shaking, but I also knew that I could do nothing about it since we were sworn to non-violence while at camp. I was devastated knowing that such terribly unjust things had happened to two such lovely people, but I also knew I could do nothing to change that either. So,what is the recourse? When you can’t go one way or another? When you cannot change the past and you cannot rage into the future? Well… I got myself together, dried my tears, drank some water and went back to making bread— that’s what I did. Because sometimes that’s what Indian women have to do. The world will come crashing down around us multiple times but at the end of the day, our people still need to eat and we’ll still be there, making sure that happens. Prepping for the next round with a little more fire in our hearts and a little more quickness to our wit. Yet, I still carry this uneasy feeling.
The following day, we all trudged along, trying to gain some momentum back in our step. This was the first time that I’d experienced “land trauma,” alongside others. And I realized how it can affect Native People simultaneously, whether we’re tree-huggers or not. We all pulled together supplies to replace the tents and clothing and gear for the people who had lost everything to the raid and we tried to make sure everyone was accounted for the best we could.
There was an announcement that afternoon that Morton County wanted to drop off the things that they’d seized during the raid. You know, the stuff they’d reassured us would be treated with respect and returned with dignity? Yeah, we knew better than to trust their word and we were right. They coordinated with camp leaders and arranged a drop-off at a neutral place not far from camp. A couple teams of guys in pickup trucks were sent to meet them. When the teams arrived, they reported that Morton County had all the stuff loaded up into garbage trucks, which they proceeded to dump and leave on the side of the road. While gathering up the belongings they realized that most, if not all of the stuff was broken, torn, ripped, spray painted and water damaged. Upon further inspection, they realized that it wasn’t water damaged in the typical sense. Most everything was drenched in urine and mace. Despite this, everything was loaded up and brought back to camp to be sifted through and organized so the owners could claim anything they might still want. There were tents, tipi covers, clothes of all shapes and sizes, various electronics, personal items, ceremonial items; including, a 300-year-old turtle shell rattle, medicines and Native food.
For days, volunteers worked to organize stuff into sad little rows, just waiting to be found and claimed by rightful owners. We were sad every time we looked at it. The whole thing was just so damn depressing until one day it became too much and it was decided that our grieving period was over. It was time to move forward and push on. A messenger went around camp and notified everyone to be ready to roll out at 7p.m. but not to make any sudden movements or give any indication that there was something planned. Attend to chores and dinner as usual, as soon as it got dark, it’s go time!
We strolled around, trying to maintain camp, and at 7p.m. we loaded into the backs of pickups, smashed together in the backseats of cars and made a quick move towards the small island just south of camp called “Turtle Island.” The night watch on duty didn’t know what to make of us, we watched their cruisers go back and forth in a frenzy up on the hill, not knowing which direction they should commit to. Frantically calling for backup, I suppose. We got to a space just below the hill and war hoops and high pitched lililis filled the sky as trucks and cars formed a tight circle with headlights pointing toward the center. Someone brought their sound system out and turned it up. As we lit what remained of the items taken from Treaty Camp, the belongings that they so graciously seasoned in their urine and mace, and sent it off in a good way - B-Real’s voice echoed off the hills, “When the shit goes dowwwn, you betta be readayyy…(when the shit goes down)…” As the night breeze shifted, it carried our Yosemite Sam mix of smudge and prayers straight up to bless the fuck out of the cops looking down from their perch atop Turtle Island.
It was a good night and a good bonfire. When we awoke the next morning, battle-hardened and bushy tailed— we werefeelin’ 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. These are the memoirs of a Bearcat.