Our Lives on this Earth: A Story of Soul Connecting with Spirit

Our Lives on this Earth: A Story of Soul Connecting with Spirit

By Ryan Flesch

It was Nov. 6, 2016. I had spent three months following the Water Protectors camping out in the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota on social media, and listening quietly to the intellect of my heart. My heart wanted me there, so I posted to social media: “I have spent too much time sitting in the comfort of my own home saying to myself that something I see is wrong. I'm getting up and I'm going to Standing Rock to show my support with my life, not the share button.”

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The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

Welcome one and all to the first semi-annual, fully manual Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards. Thank you for being here, wherever that may be.

These awards were created by me as a way to recognize a handful of Washingtonians who deserve a few extra hand-claps for the way their work and their way of life contributed to positive change in 2017.

The judging process was stringent and unscientific. I created the categories to suit my fancies, and I’ve awarded fake awards to whatever number of people I please. By the end, I’ll have failed to mention just about everyone, so if you find you've been omitted, don’t despair. The pool of nominees was limited to people I know about and managed to think of while writing this, and as a periodic shut-in, that’s not as long a list of names as you might think. For instance, I only finally discovered a few months ago that Chance the Rapper is amazing, if that gives you some idea. So, if you or someone you know has been egregiously overlooked, please get in touch with me and I’m sure I’d be happy to make up some new awards in the near future.

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Standing Rock descends on the White House with sage and ceremony

By Jacq Williams

It's true, what they say: You get used to being cold. It doesn't take all that long, either. One month on the prairie and I barely noticed I was shivering all the time in the constant sodden chill; I was used to the dull ache in my throat and eyes as my sinuses clogged and unclogged, used to never getting fully undressed, to changing one bit of clothing at a time, hiding under blankets. 

It was only fitting that the Native Nations Rise March took place on a freezing, blustery wet day in Washington DC, when just the day before the temperature had neared the seventies. It was as if the tribes who had flooded the capital en masse, arriving by bus and carpooled ride, by plane and train and truck, had dragged the wind-whipped prairie to the Capital with them, perhaps to accentuate the profundity and raw elemental nature of the struggle they faced at Standing Rock. The cold has never deterred the resilience of the First Nations people to fight for the Earth, and it did not this day in Washington, either.

Over 5,000 Native Americans and their allies showed up to walk down the road to the white house, beating drums and dancing and burning bundles of sage. The air was filled with smoke, and with song, prayer, and chants:

"You can't drink oil; keep it in the soil!" 

"We exist! We resist! We rise!" 

And of course, always, "Mni Wiconi!" Water is life.

As we made our way to the National Mall, I glanced up at the suited men and women peering out the windows of the high rises, small groups of them gathered to watch the long train of people march by with our banners and drums and the puppet of the black snake, which weaved through the crowd held aloft on several sticks. I wondered what the people up in those windows were thinking, and if they always stared like that when there was a demonstration taking place, or if there was something special about this one. Something exotic and otherized in the bright colors and burning bundles of herbs.

The way they stood, gawking, made me think about how this country has always treated Native Americans: fetishizing their clothing, culture and looks, bestowing the pigeon-holing archetypes of the "Noble Savage," and at the same time stripping their basic human dignities and long-written land treaties, subjecting them to literally hundreds of years of systematic environmental racism. 

Photo by Jacq Williams.

I thought about how this march, the people who braved the prairie winter, this whole long and harrowing fight, was about violently forcing Native Americans to accept something that was deemed too dangerous for white people. I can't stop coming back to that, through all of this.

We marched. 

We marched to Trump Tower, where on the front lawn the Sioux erected a teepee, and small groups of women danced, while the men drummed and prayed as they symbolically reclaimed the stolen land of their people. I stood on a bench to see protectors snaking around blocks in either directions, dozens of tribes represented, thousands of flushed and sniffling faces who came streaming into the streets from the warm comfort of their lives to stand up for the sacred. Just as they had done at Standing Rock.

I was starting to run into more and more people I knew from camp, people we fed in the kitchen, people who taught me songs and told me secrets, and who came into our yurt at night looking to swap histories. I hugged and laughed with people I was desperate to see again, children and the women who herded them down the slippery hills at camp, the head of security, and the people who built the school among them. I knew half of them had ridden buses for days to be here. Their faces made me ache to be back on the prairie, where we interacted in such an unadulterated and archaic way, never buried in our phones or dogged down by the necessity of exchanging dollars with one another. We learned more about each other than best friends know, having to be present and integral in one another's lives from the very beginning. Having no other choice but to work together. 

We marched on, to the front gates of the White House, where I doubted the President cared enough to glance out of the window, had he been there at all.

It's a strange feeling, resisting in such a forthright and visual way, fighting for what you know is your life and the lives of your children's children, and knowing the lawmakers and lobbyists of this country have the option to just look away. The people in power, and the people at home, who don't visit news sources which would even cover something like this march, can still doze in comfort while we scream in the face of willful ignorance. 

Photo by Jacq Williams.

The Water Protectors gathered at the White House fence, chanted and held banners, and were told to get off of the sidewalk by the police and secret service, over and over again. We took pictures and burned more sage, and some people called out to the police: "Join us! Your grandchildren need clean water, too!" They were met with the blank stares of unabashed indifference. To them we were merely a possible security threat, to be assessed, addressed, dismissed.

My small group broke off and made it to the rally on the lawn. We hung around the outskirts, and were glad we did, as Dave Archambault's voice was the one we soon heard over the surrounding speakers. DAPL Dave, as he is called, is the Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and it is widely believed that he made a deal with Energy Transfer Partners and the BIA to dismantle the camps—even those on the private property of Ladonna Allard—and essentially smooth the way for the pipeline's completion. 

Those who didn't know about this cheered him as his spoke his message of unity. Those who did, like Ladonna's daughter, Prairie, stood in the back and shouted their discontent. I felt the splintering, just like I had at camp, of the reality of the situation versus the perception. 

The reality, I have come to understand, is that we were never going to stop a 3 billion dollar pipeline from being completed. Not in a capitalist society which places the monetary value of commodity over life in all its forms. We were there operating under the perception, the hopeful belief, that the will of millions of Americans and the thousands of people who showed up to represent them, were enough to convince the world that the sanctity of our Native Tribes— their sacred land and their drinking water—are of more value than another faulty pipeline meant to carry oil which wouldn't even be used for American consumption. Essentially, that water/life was more important than oil/money. 

We were wrong. Despite the best of our efforts, the black snake has been built and will carry highly volatile fracked oil as early as next week.

But that doesn't mean that it was futile to gather on the prairie or flood the streets of Washington. All else aside, I don't know one person who returned home from the protest in North Dakota without a profound sense of purpose and empowerment, and a deeper understanding of the intersectionality of our resistance. Knowing, down to our marrow, that while we shout for the water we are also shouting for racial equality, environmental justice, and the reconfiguring of an economic system which keeps defense contractors buying islands while children starve on our own soil. 

Gathering like this, making camp and forming community in the face of capitalist greed, flooding the streets of Washington in winter, are in themselves acts of profound defiance. Going back to our own lives with the seeds we took from these gatherings, and planting, cultivating, and redistributing the crop amongst ourselves— that is an act of revolution. To reconfigure a pyramid-shaped system which has forever only benefitted the top, we need people on the ground who have already chosen to live a different way, who are willing to drop everything to come together in rejection of this wildly inequitable structure, to break down the pyramid and use the stones to build well-trodden paths from house to house. 

Standing Rock, and the Native Nations Rise March on DC, have proven that we have those people. That we are willing to brave the elements and our own self-doubt in order to return to a more harmonious, communal, sacred way of life, and that our numbers are growing. The truth is this: among the sleeping souls of complacency, there is an awakening of warriors for a new world who are ready to resist, and to re-imagine. At a moment's notice, ready to rise.

 

Jacq Williams is a freelance writer, homesteader, and activist from Southeast Michigan who spent several weeks at Sacred Stone Camp in Standing Rock in the fall and winter of 2016. She is currently working on an advocacy project for pregnant women in prison and transitional housing, called the Inmate Birth and Infancy Project.

How to Bring the Lessons of Standing Rock into the Classroom

Photo taken by Matt Halvorson on the Standing Rock Reservation in November 2016.
 

Amid the recent executive order expediting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Reservation, teachers inside and outside the community must continue to engage their students and reflect on both its impact and historical context.

The movement to protect the sacred lands of the Oceti Sakowin (the Seven Council Fires of the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Nations) not only united a network of tribal nations and allies, but also sparked long overdue—and sometimes difficult—discussions on a multitude of complex issues, including environmental protection, tribal sovereignty, racial oppression, privilege, and access to power.

While the Sacred Stone Camp has been disbanded, teachers can still engage students in this dialogue and keep this issue—and the history of Native people and lands—in the national consciousness. Below are some resources and suggestions for teachers to leverage now:

Photo taken by  Matt Halvorson  on the Standing Rock Reservation in November 2016.

Photo taken by Matt Halvorson on the Standing Rock Reservation in November 2016.

  1. Get the facts. Discover the historical context of the events leading to Standing Rock with this brief primer from KGW-TV in Portland and a more detailed version from NYC Stands with Standing Rock titled the #StandingRockSyllabus.
  2. Understand firsthand perspectives. Read an account of the protests from Robert Cook, who leads Teach For America’s Native Alliance Initiative. Also be sure to visit an inspiring piece from Tariq Brownotter, a senior at McLaughlin High School in South Dakota who ran more than 500 miles from South Dakota to Washington, D.C., as part of a Dakota Access Pipeline Awareness run. The Washington Post and National Geographic have more voices from the Sacred Stone camp. (RUFS Note: read more about Matt Halvorson's experience at Standing Rock on the Rise Up For Students blog)
  3. Create a powerful lesson. Several news organizations have put together downloadable lesson plans that cover the conflict from a variety of viewpoints in both print and video, including National Geographic, The New York Times (here and here), and KQED-TV, San Francisco’s PBS affiliate. Aside from news outlets, check out this page from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which offers ways for educators to make Standing Rock accessible to students across a range of subjects.
  4. Teach stories of youth activism. You can also view a collection of resources from The Choices Program, which focuses on youth activists’ role in this and other social movements.
  5. Stay engaged. Learn more about organizations advocating for the rights of Native communities:

 

An original version of this post originally appeared on TeacherPop. Reposted with permission.

Brought to you by Teach For America, TeacherPop provides real talk, tips, and activities that teachers can use in the classroom. Writers offer advice for all of the challenges new teachers face, sharing everything from difficult reflections on their darkest days to quick tips for sprucing up their classrooms and their lives.

With largest #NoDAPL camps evacuated, Standing Rock picks up the pieces

I drove back to the #NoDAPL camps at Standing Rock this week.

The Army Corps of Engineers in conjunction with Morton County Law Enforcement issued a deadline of 2 pm Wednesday (Feb. 22) to clear the Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin), which sits on contested land, as well as Rosebud camp and part of Sacred Stone, both of which are (were?) on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation but below the flood plane.

I wanted to be present for the deadline, to do what I could to help, and right at 2 p.m. I found myself in the Oceti camp in a pickup truck trying to find two kids who we’d been told needed to get out (and they did).

Two water protectors look out over the evacuated Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin) as the 2 p.m. eviction deadline ticks past on Feb. 22, 2016. Photo by  Matt Halvorson .

Two water protectors look out over the evacuated Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin) as the 2 p.m. eviction deadline ticks past on Feb. 22, 2016. Photo by Matt Halvorson.

 

The strange thing, though, was that the police were not particularly aggressive in clearing out the camp. They arrested either nine or 10 people Wednesday, depending on which report you read, and I’m told that something like 50 more were arrested the next day when the police came back through and fully cleared the camps.

The police tried to intimidate and definitely inflicted some physical injury, but all in all, the eviction was surprisingly peaceful. It only takes one police officer responding with too much force too quickly, or one person reacting too strongly to seeing his grandmother being handled by the police for violence to erupt and turn a situation like this into a disaster.

Instead, it was peaceful-ish, as policing goes. Or if peaceful isn’t the right word, well, nobody died. The police were not startlingly violent toward the water protectors who chose to stay in camp and pray until the end, which is what I was afraid of. But then, the #NoDAPL movement has never been characterized by fatal violence.

Set aside for a moment the grotesque images of water cannons, rubber bullets and explosives used by police in riot gear in Standing Rock.

During the protests in Ferguson of the past few years, militarized police frequently shot real bullets at Black Lives Matter protesters and occasionally killed them. Even when the PR risk should have steadied their trigger fingers, fatalities were commonplace. On the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder, for example, St. Louis Police shot and killed another young black man during that night’s protest.

In Standing Rock, on the other hand, through more than 10 months of steady demonstrations and consistent police confrontation, not one water protector was killed. The police inflicted serious injuries and committed atrocities, but everyone survived.

This has been on my mind for months but hasn’t been something I’ve known how to talk about, partly because I was in Standing Rock bearing witness to much of the police violence that has made the news. And it was painful and traumatic and frightening. But I also made an appearance in Ferguson, and I know that the stakes were more immediate there, though no higher in the long run.

I don't know what it means. Our government and law enforcement certainly have a deep and storied history of killing indigenous people. They just haven't done that in Standing Rock yet, even as they're doing it elsewhere. Maybe it just means that our oppression of people of color has been tailored to each specific community.

Whatever the case, just as happened on Dec. 4 last year when the Army Corps under the Obama administration denied the easement needed for Energy Transfer Partners to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline, this is a time of change and transition for the #NoDAPL camps. Roughly 600 people remained in the camps from mid-December through mid-February, and only a handful of reinforcements arrived this week.

Now many of them are heading home. Many more are staying and continuing the fight on the ground in North Dakota, and a group of committed indigenous activists have promised to continue finding new sites for prayer camps to continue if needed. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who owns the Sacred Stone land and founded the original camp last April, has vowed to maintain a community on her own land as well, come figurative hell or literal high water.

And everyone who is leaving is leaving profoundly changed, it seems, carrying with them a sense of invigorated spirituality and an empowered sense of capability and responsibility to stand up more fiercely than ever to injustice.

Perhaps my greatest takeaway has been the interconnectedness of movements that had remained, until now, disparate. The issues being raised by #NoDAPL water protectors, indigenous rights advocates, environmental activists, Black Lives Matter protesters, immigrant rights groups, education advocates, workers' rights groups and countless others are all symptoms of the same disease, branches of a tree whose trunk contains the sickness of capitalist greed, colonial entitlement and systemic inequity.

I see the possibility for enormous breakthroughs as our passions are shown more clearly to have a common enemy, and as it becomes harder to ignore that our own liberation is dependent on our neighbor’s.

We’re all in this together — even the police officers and DAPL employees who are following orders in order to maintain an income they’re afraid to lose. Even Trump and everyone who voted for him. We are protecting this water for everyone. We are shouting for everyone’s sake that Black Lives Matter -- not just for the Black men and women who face the greatest immediate risk -- because no life is truly valued by a society that declares some expendable. We are demanding equitable access to high-quality public education because its absence leaves a cavity in our country and our communities.

No matter what you hear in the mainstream media, the #NoDAPL movement isn’t ending. It’s just shifting, dispersing, expanding. Water falls from the sky as millions of individual drops, but those beads of water don’t remain separate. They can’t help but combine, to join together as they touch, and in doing so, to become a roaring, powerful body of water.

We, too, seem like millions of individuals, but we come from the same source, whatever that is. We are intrinsically connected. And when we act out those connections, they deepen, and we awaken the potential of our unified power to overwhelm the hate and division that plagues us now.