Driving out from Oregon through the Columbia River Gorge, I saw orange-vested and orange-hard hatted people working on the tracks that parallel the highway. I thought of the recent train derailment in Mosier, Oregon that sent dozens of freight cars filled with Bakken crude oil shooting across the landscape, bursting into flames. Flames of crude oil, causing thick grey smoke to fill the normally clear blue summer skies of Mosier. Driving East, I passed giant wind turbines dotting former, and current, Columbia River water irrigated wheat fields, golden with the Fall season. I passed a truck whose decal said, "Wind without harm," and had a symbol implying the creation of wind technology that decreases the harm to raptors.
While I am driving to the Sacred Stone Camp, the fight waged by the Protectors at Standing Rock is one that can be found in any square mile in the United States: what is the source of power, of energy, of appropriate use of resources, of sustainable growth for all beings and the Earth. Look where you live: what are your lines of protection that you are willing to draw? Clean, lead-free drinking water? Low or zero emissions vehicles? Organic foods and farming? These have long been considered 'environmental' movements and choices. The Protectors at Standing Rock and Red Warrior camp teach, now, that these are all one movement for the people and the Earth.
I drive East and I say the names of the people whose lands I cross, the ones I know, and I commit to learning the names of ones I haven't learned. Tygh and Wyam, Tenino and Duck-Spus, Wasco, Umatilla, Paiute, Nez Perce, Yakama, Shosone-Bannock. Spokane, Blackfeet, Chippewa, Cheyenne, Crow. I think of all of the people who live in the lands I cross as members of these Tribes, dancing and praying the ways of their people, people whose dances and prayers have echoed in these canyons, grasslands, and mountains since time immemorial.
I cross the headwaters of the MIssouri River, saying these names aloud. I think of my own people, descended from Ireland and Austria and Slovenia, immigrated to South Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota. I think of other white identified people whose ancestors came from England, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden in large numbers and forever changed the ways of the people already living in North America. Most progressive white people do not say the names of the lands they originate from, except in small moments of cultural connection. Why? Because so many of us are very aware of the genocide that white people committed when they came here. So many of us are aware of modern day white supremacy and do not want to identify as anything that can be seen as part of white supremacy. So many of us feel the sorrow of carrying that legacy and living with its benefits. So many of us feel the loss of not knowing the ancient prayers and dances of the people we come from, even as opportunity exists to connect with aspects of those stories and ways.
That is the history - today is the history that we make. Each of us. I go to the Sacred Stone camp not only because of this history, but because today's moment will define tomorrow's needs and the lives of the generations to come. Because I know that 150 years ago, there were white people who saw the harms being committed and did what they could to stop it, and fought and raged and grieved when they witnessed so much loss. Because I seek to share that story in the story of my own life. Because I have the chance to act to be a part of the change that the actions of the Protectors at Sacred Stone and Red Warrior camp have lead us to witness is available.
While I will work in quiet ways during my time there, the fire of commitment has long been bring in my heart, and will continue, long after I leave the Dakotas. And while President Obama's administration took an unprecedented step to act to align with the goals of the Protectors, it is a long legacy of the U.S. Government to stall long enough for attention to wane, then allow a project to be built within Native American lands anyway. The larger change must come from, and is available to, everyone.