MORIAH RHAME FEUERHELM·SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2016
My husband, my friend, and I left for a 12 hour drive to Cannonball, North Dakota on Thanksgiving day to stand in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux Tribe. I thought when I left Saudi Arabia in 1991, at the end of Operation Desert Storm, that I’d ever feel as unsafe as I did in the theater of war on American soil, and I was wrong. When we arrived, the concertina wire, road block barricades and burned out cars greeted us with jagged smile, and my heart sank. My eyes tried to drink it in, teepee’s, tents, yurts, vehicles, dust, and smoke as far as the eyes could see. The smell of the GP Large tents, took me back to a place I never wanted to revisit. This was the longest 3 days of my life since the war. At the gas station in Cannonball, my husband met a man looking to find Standing Rock, his name is Rich and he followed us in. Rich, it turns out is a Purple Heart recipient from Afghanistan. Within minutes we were embracing because we understood each other’s pain. I knew who Rich was without having to say a word, and he knew who I was, comrades in arms.
What is happening between the hired militarized security forces and the people of the Standing Rock Sioux would be a mis-characterization not to refer to it as a conflict. When you have jersey barriers on a bridge, concertina wire, flood lights, 38,000 pound mine resistant armor protected personnel carriers against people who are burning sage bundles, and using the victory sign as a means of protest it’s not a demonstration, it’s a human rights violation. The Dakota Access Pipeline forces are known as DAPL.
What I observed at Standing Rock absolutely changed me, healed me, and hurt me in ways I never imagined. There is a vested community of people who genuinely want to be a part of history to change the world for the better. They cook meals as a community, pray together, accept one another immediately regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation and gender. There are announcements all over the camp, “What ever your ‘ism’ is, leave it at the gate. No racism, sexism, stupidism, no isms allowed.”
My husband and our friend who is a Franciscan Sister had been to the camp a week before. This time my friend Alliza who is a member of the Navajo Nation traveled with us. I think in the 24 hours we spent in the car together, I learned more about the plight of Native Americans than I had learned in college. Alliza, is a wise teacher. We stayed in the Southwest section of camp with her people. I learned about the sacred fire, lessons of the Hopi, Navajo, and Lakota Sioux. I met people from all nations. I felt accepted as white female, and never once did I feel as if I were an outsider. The motto of the camp, “Mitakuye Oyasin, we are all related,” could not have been more true. I thanked two Muslim women coming to stand with the Sioux, while wearing a veteran hat.
Dogs, horses, and kids,run free through camp. Portable restrooms dot the landscape with dumpsters, and propane refilling trucks. It’s bitterly cold, and people jump in trash bins to recycle bottles, paper, and plastic. The smells of sage, cedar, and medicinal herbs linger in the wind. Barking, hoof beats, sacred songs of the nations, hammering, generators, laughter, and battle cries erupt throughout the night. It’s a menagerie of experiences and people, you’ll take away from the camp what you want. Alliza shared bitter medicine from her beloved grandfather who had died. She kept it in a sacred pouch for protection from negativity. She graciously shared that medicine and I ingested that into my being, she knew I would need it. I was grateful from my heart because I knew how precious it is to her.
All day and night volunteers wash dishes, make food, keep order, hug one another, and try to use their phones, and computers. I had 4 bars on my phone the entire time I was there, but couldn’t even update a Facebook status. I’m not certain, nor do I have any proof that the militarized oil security forces are using jammers, but I have my suspicions. Jammers are legal only to the federal government and used by the military. Police forces have used them in the United States to disrupt or thwart protests. They work by disrupting the communication between the cell phone and the tower. I couldn’t even upstream a simple Snapchat video. I was shooting a livestream event on Facebook, a oil security plane flew directly overhead and I lost my signal each time. I have no proof, and in my opinion only I have my suspicions that the agencies are using a dirtbox, that not only jams phones but collects data from all the cell phones in an area. If you have about $9000.00 you can mount one to your plane too. Stingray trackers are available and similar to a dirtbox.
I walked with Alliza to the river in a peaceful march. The sky was blue, the land was blond. Turtle Island is a hill, and outcropping of rocks on the water where the Lakota have ancestors buried. The Dakota Access Pipeline denies the fact that Turtle Island is a burial site. On our walk there, I panicked. I put earplugs in because the previous Sunday, concussion grenades and sound canons were used, this is also denied by the militarized oil security. On top of the hill concertina wire glittered in the sun, stadium lighting lined the expanse with armored vehicles and armed personnel. The Morton County Sherri’s Department stood by looking down upon us. I had no weapon, no Kevlar helmet, no first aid kit and no M-16. I was vulnerable, naked in the open, and realized from the vantage point of the security forces I couldn’t even low crawl into the grass to take cover. I fought my tears back and swallowed hard. I was reliving the worst moments of my life, and I was doing it on American soil. The irony was that it was people just like me up on that hill. I now had it slap me in the face at rocket like speed how the Iraqi people felt, how my fellow soldiers caught in the open felt, and hot, bitter, tears streamed down my face. I didn’t know what to do, so I walked to the edge of the water where the security forces had concertina wired the Native Americans canoes into the shore, stood at attention and saluted the security forces for a good ten seconds.
What happened next was quite remarkable and changed my life forever. A Navajo flag flanked the shoreline tied to a tree branch, a Navajo man by the name of Cedric embraced me. I fell into his shoulders and cried from my soul. I repeated to him over, and over. I am so sorry, I am so ashamed, I am so very sorry. He hugged me while I sobbed and didn’t let go. I felt all the shame of what my ancestors had done to the Native Americans, I felt the shame of what my military brother’s and sister’s were doing to these people and I couldn’t get rid of the shame. He opened my hands and placed cedar and tobacco into my palms, he thanked me for my service and hugged me again under the watchful eyes of the police. I owe him a debt of gratitude for life, he broke my heart wide open and now the healing can begin.
Two elders led a ceremony of healing. The first elder said, “If your heart is black and full of hate, you belong up on the hill with the DAPL.” He spoke of non-violence, forgiveness, compassion and not taking up arms. He understood how angry people are, he knew this week that they would be tested, he knows that some people may lose their lives and be returned to the creator and stressed once again this can only be achieved through peaceful resistance. They sang sacred songs and blessed us. Another Navajo speaker came to the front, he explained how many hours he had driven from Arizona to get to Standing Rock. When he spoke he broke down, “When I think of my children, my grandchildren I want one day to say, I fished in the Missouri river and caught a fish today because grandfather was there to protect the water.” It was that simple, you can’t drink oil. I went to war so people could have cheap gas. The Native Americans are always the people to pay for the American way. This pipeline is a private venture, for private profit. They are essentially building a pipeline through Arlington National Cemetery. President Obama has abandoned the First People and President Elect Donald Trump is a financial investor.
I am a self employed Midwestern mother of four children. I am in debt 35,000 for student loans for my children. My son is graduating from the military next week. I am not a professional protester. The rumors online about what happened to Sophia Wilanski are unjust. The DAPL said she made an IED from a propane tank, my guess is she was hit by a concussion grenade, again I can’t prove this but it is my opinion. I have seen what war can do to a body, and this is a war declared on the Lakota Sioux water protectors. I am an average mom, an average citizen, an average veteran trying to support the right thing.
I am terrified for my fellow veterans going to Standing Rock. We are wounded people that have been mistreated by our government and sometimes our citizens. We are a tired collective of people that are exhausted by abuse, tired of being silenced and drained by war. My fear is that those who have been sworn to protect the Constitution, and our citizens whether on foreign or domestic soil will do just that. There are veterans arriving that are republican, democratic, independent, they have no race or creed. My fear is that since the Federal government has ignored this situation, and allowed itself to report to the needs of business over citizens that many lives will be shed. An active duty army member said to me this weekend, “That will never happen, they don’t want another Kent State on their hands.” I wish I could agree but I don’t. Veterans will fight for the people of Standing Rock. There are children in this camp, and I wish to God the parents would remove their children to a safe place, Standing Rock is not safe, it’s under a militarized security force. When you place jersey blocks on a bridge to take cover behind and have enough military power to control 10,000 unarmed people, you are courting certain disaster.
Please, pray for the people of Standing Rock. Please do something, to do nothing means we will all have blood on our hands December 5th.