By Morning Star Gali of Native Voice Network
I am writing this as I make my second journey in two weeks to the Oceti Sakowin camp from California, a one way distance of 1600 miles through snowy and slick terrain.
A week ago Sunday I was there, standing with hundreds of fellow water protectors on the backwater bridge where an assault of rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, concussion (compression) grenades, LRAD sound cannons and high pressured water hoses were unleashed onto unarmed water protectors.
At midnight, six hours into the attack Morton Co. Sheriffs waged on non-violent water protectors, I walk up from a sacred fire that was built to help keep people warm and to dry damp clothing. I hear a familiar sound of rattles and singing. A line of California Bird Singers had formed at the front barricade with the women lining up in front of them dancing. I respectfully stepped in and joined the women, in awe of their ability to not only make it to the front of the barricade without harm or having water cannons leashed upon them, but also in the moment of prayerful songs that were being offered to bless so many that had been injured and continued to stand their ground.
Since first contact, it wasn’t until 1978 that Native peoples were allowed to participate openly in ceremony with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA).
My generation is the first that has been afforded the right to openly sing our traditional songs and practice our dances, yet as what is taking place at Standing Rock clearly shows, desecration of burial sites, sites of worship and prayer are not protected from a proposed oil pipeline. What we hold most sacred in our connection to the earth and the sacred water we are born from is not protected under any law. As the bird singers were able to sing an entire set of songs that Sunday night on the bridge, I was reminded of the many years that our people were forced in hiding to quietly practice these traditional ways. To be on the bridge taking part in the songs and dances shared was a powerful act of cultural resistance.
As I was tear gassed multiple times Sunday evening, I instinctively made my way to the Cannonball River. I could not see and was quite disoriented, yet my body guided me to the water for the healing and oxygen it carried to gather back my surroundings and recover.
What I hold most valued are the elders that were on the bridge enduring the assaults and freezing temperatures. They smudged us down, they held their hands in prayer and their presence alone was so powerful.
As I head back to the Oceti Sakowin camp, the governor of North Dakota has declared the camp to be evacuated due to “weather conditions.” Encouragement of contacting local and state representatives is needed at this time, along with continued divesture of the banks financing the Dakota Access Pipeline.