Let’s talk about Standing Rock for a minute

“I walked into the room, and was just utterly speechless. I had absolutely nothing to say to anyone”, said the dharma teacher. After an entire lifetime of leading Buddhist meditation and teaching, she was so completely perplexed and disheartened by the mess of the elections that she simply had nothing to say about it.

That is exactly how I have felt about what is happening at Standing Rock. I just do not know what to say. I am completely speechless because, on the one hand, it feels so completely obvious to me– obvious to me that the people are justified in their occupation, obvious that the state needs to stop their violence and obvious that the pipeline should be halted– and at the same time, I am speechless because I am so in awe of what is happening. It’s like that feeling of looking at something amazing, like the Grand Canyon or a redwood tree, where you are completely overcome by wonder and rendered speechless.

What feels obvious to me is this: Of course. Of course the people of Standing Rock are justified in being there, of course they deserve the right to not just protest but hold the land and of course the government should call the whole thing off.

The pattern seems obvious to me. To settle this country, early colonizers systematically removed native peoples from this land, a pattern that continued through westward expansion, and today, as tribes are relegated to small, remote reservations. And Morton County law enforcement officials replicated that pattern last Thursday when police, armed, wearing riot gear and with tanks were deployed to move the people from their ancestral lands, guaranteed to them by the Fort Laramie Treaty.

The motives of our government, and the values they are protecting, are laid bare: the protection of a harmful fossil fuel industry, corporate profits and the disregard of Indigenous rights. The recent acquittal of Ammon Bundy and company, the ranchers who armed themselves and occupied a Federal building in the Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge, on the same day that Native protesters and allies were removed from their lands highlights a clear racial and ancestral hierarchy, where white people who formed an armed militia on federal property get off scotch free, while Indigenous occupiers are forcedly removed.

When I watch videos of private police releasing dogs, or state police wrestling protesters, I cannot help but think of the photos we have from the Civil Rights movement, where our government responded the same way. We look back at the Civil Right movement now, knowing that we are a better country for it. So when will governments and corporations stop reproducing violence in the face of change, and only decades later realizing the gift of that change?

The events at Standing Rock are heartbreaking and outraging. They are the Great Unravelling, the violent gnashing of corporate capitalism as it clings vehemently to its entrenched ideals.

And, at the same time, I am speechless because it is absolutely miraculous. Like the Black Lives Matter movement, it feels like an historical moment of our time, where we are literally watching as brave souls band together to change the course of our world. Those at Standing Rock are performing acts of merit on all of our behalves.

In every interview I have seen with Indigenous leaders, when asked why they are doing this, they say they are doing it to ensure clean water for all. They are not just doing this form themselves; they are acting on behalf of all present and future generations. They understand that they are not simply individual, autonomous beings, or beings simply connected through our existence on the planet at the same time. We are beings that are interwoven in a deep and inseparable web of life– life of different species, life alive yesterday, and life that will be alive in the future.

Those at Standing Rock are seeing themselves in a bigger and radically different way, moving from seeing themselves as individuals, separate from others and the rest of the world, to understanding themselves as a “we”.

The protest is also momentous because it is a global convergence of Indigenous leaders. Right now, we need our Indigenous leaders more than ever. I recently heard Indigenous leader Patricia St. Ogne say that Indigenous leaders hold the seed of survival. These leaders come from lineages that have seen destruction of the world as they know it, and survived. Right now, when we are facing the collapse of our natural systems, we need the voices of those who know destruction and resistance more than ever.

I feel gobsmacked, completely overwhelmed by the deep feeling of reverence and gratitude for those at Standing Rock. I stand in awe of them. They are working on my behalf. They are working on behalf of the children I do not even have yet. They are working on all of our behalf, and not just in the fight for clean water, but in the fight for a decolonized and life sustaining world.

This is the Great Turning. The global shift in perspective, the understanding of and moving from a place of deep interconnection, the appearance of some public sense of sacredness and reverence, the empowerment and solidarity of those who never lost that.

And, no surprise, it is happening in direct parallel of the Great Unravelling, the corporate clamp down on private property and a reliance on state violence, instituationalized racism and state supported greed.

We still do not know how this will turn out. Will the water keepers prevail, or will they be overtaken by state violence? Will the Dakota Access Pipeline be halted, and the land returned to those to whom it was promised? There is no way of knowing, but I am grateful to bare witness to this movement, and even more grateful that I can contribute, however small or great, to the outcome.

There are many ways to help out. For those who cannot drop what we are doing and drive out there, you can donate. Follow this link: Donate here. I just did. I hope you will too.

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