A Letter Home from the Road to Standing Rock

Dear Julian and Zeke,

I'm on my second day of driving. If I keep going, I should get to the camp at Standing Rock just before midnight. A corporation is trying to dig an oil pipeline across the Midwest, and it endangers the water used by millions of people. They are also trying to dig up sacred land that is protected for use by the Lakota tribe. They have been making a brave, peaceful stand for months now, and the pipeline still isn't finished. I'm going to help however I can.

I wish you could be here with me. Or that we were all going somewhere else for a different reason. Because I saw vultures today with their drooping necks and had no one to point them out to. And nobody laughed at me when I whooped out a little shriek because a hawk swooped so close to my windshield I thought he was going to grab me pull me out through the glass.

I overheard a guy in a cowboy hat tell people what he would do if he had his druthers. I saw a barn door built into the side of a hill like the Batcave. I saw horses in every combination of colors, I saw cattle and sheep grazing, and I saw a buttes and mountains frame the big Montana sky.

And I saw a train go by that just had the name "Mr. Rogers" graffitied onto its side, but without you here, I just saw it. I didn't laugh about it or try to explain why it's funny, and I won't remember it for long. Or maybe I will, since I'm writing to you about it.

Anyway, I've also had a lot of time to think. What am I doing? And why?

Even having lived elsewhere for a number of years now, I've spent about half my life in the Dakotas. But I did so through a settler's lens, and I learned and know very little about the indigenous tribes, or about the different reservations even. We did learn about "manifest destiny," though, which certainly didn't seem good or right, but it was presented to me as acceptable, so I accepted it. I was a kid. Like you are now. And I'm writing to tell you now that this is not acceptable, and it never has been.

I'm going to Standing Rock because if this happens, then things are no different than the "past" I learned about as a student. If I stay home now, then I am no different than the people whose apathy tens and hundreds of years ago looks so inconceivable now in retrospect.

I am going because I can, which means that if I don't, it's only because I have the privilege of being too afraid.

It was a clear, beautiful day today. By the time I got near Miles City, the sun had started to think about setting. I wasn't sure, but this seemed like my last best chance to get some gas and some food and some long underwear. I was anticipating a beautiful, huge sunset, and I had vague plans to stop at the side of the road to take pictures of it. But I lingered too long in town, just looking at trinkets and reshuffling things in the car, and I missed it.

By the time I had started driving again, the sun had set. I think I was nervous to start the last leg. Miles City is the spot on the map I had picked to leave the more familiar I-94, which runs through Fargo and becomes the same route I took with my family as a child when we would visit my grandparents in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Anyway, I'm turning east now because I've heard there is a police blockade on the highway coming into the camp from the north and that the road is closed.

So, I'm driving in the dark across the western edges of the prairie, through towns I haven't even heard of. I don't know what I'm going to find. I don't know what impact I can have, if any. But by writing to you, I at least feel like I understand a little better why I felt like I needed to come out here. I hope you do too. I miss you already.