On Saturday, October 15, everyone in the camp met for Pipe ceremony preceding a direct action at the pipeline construction site. This account is based on my memory; no notes were taken. I’ve made every effort to remain faithful to the messages conveyed, but these are paraphrases, not direct quotes.
The call came while the eastern sky was still dark: Wake up, water protectors! Wake up, water warriors! Hoka hey – it’s time to get up! We have been sleeping for more than 500 years. This is the time to stand up and protect our land for coming generations! We are the seventh generation, this is the seventh fire, now is the time for us to stand up at Standing Rock! They want to portray us as savages – it is time to show them that we are protecting the water and land not only for our people but for all people and for all of life. The world is looking at you! It’s time to get up and remember that!”
Lakota Elder Guy Dull Knife of Pine Ridge, SD, was rousing the people for Pipe ceremony at the South Gate, riding through the camp with microphone in hand, his voice resounding in the still, cold air. Wondering how to find the South Gate – perhaps follow the drums that were now echoing some distance away? – I rolled out of my sleeping bag, hastily changed clothes and maneuvered out of my tiny tent with flashlight in hand. Fortunately I encountered one of the women I’d met in the kitchen earlier, and together we followed the rutted dirt roads through the camp – how far? Half a mile? More? – to a fire beside one of the gated driveways opening onto Rt. 1806. Shadowy forms of people circled the fire; several elders were sitting beside it. There was no other sign of activity; the summoning voice was still distant.
This Pipe ceremony for the entire camp was to precede a triple action at the pipeline construction site – that was all I knew. We waited in chilly silence until the voice and sound of drums grew louder, and two trucks approached: Guy Dull Knife as ceremonial leader and his assistants. Sage was sent around to smudge the people as the singers honored the four directions, the Great Mystery, and Mother Earth; Pipe carriers were called to the center to prepare their ceremonial pipes as the canupa-filling song was sung. And as the Pipes were taken around the circle for the hundreds of people, Dull Knife spoke of the sacred intent and protocol of the action that was about to take place.
This was an action of prayer and love, he reminded the people: we were in ceremony and should act accordingly, with dignity and restraint; the water protectors must stay in prayer. He understood that the young men, seeing the abuses of the police and DAPL mercenaries, could get angry, but this was a place to keep emotions in check, to hold oneself accountable to the people. If a water warrior did get angry and begin to swear and act out, a security person from the people would step in to stop him, and that would reflect badly, that the people were not in unity and prayer. The eyes of the world were on the water protectors, people from all over the world, even movie stars, were coming to stand and be arrested with them.
I could hear a wry smile in Dull Knife’s booming voice: are there any movie stars here? Come and stand with us!
His tone shifted: He knew that there were spies for DAPL and the police and the feds among us. He invited them to come along and see that the water protectors were not savages, but that they were protecting the water that the families and children of the police and DAPL also needed to drink. We cannot drink oil, the water must be protected, the water is life! In fact, he invited them to come and stand with the water protectors, be arrested alongside them!
The Pipes were coming to the completion of the ceremony. As their carriers performed the closing portions of the ritual, Dull Knife began calling out the logistics: move quickly to your cars, buddy up, we leave in five minutes for the sites! People were striding in all directions – which way had we come? Where was my campsite and car? And was I prepared to go and risk being arrested? I made a guess as to the direction from which we’d come and started walking, soul-searching all the way, heart pounding as I thought of the increased militarization of the forces that surely would meet the water protectors.
By the time I found my tent and car, the decision had been made for me; the cars were gone and the camp was relatively quiet. Wondering what I should do now, I made my way up to the central drum circle, and found a cluster of women at the speaker’s tent, preparing for a ceremony. One of them smiled and asked if I would like to take part in a water ceremony by the river. I hesitated – was this a part of the action? The elder woman in ceremonial regalia – Bea Jackson, Ojibwe medicine woman – smiled. “It’s all part of the action,” she said. Her assistant clarified: this was a separate ceremony, to be held away from the front line, at the Cannonball River.
I learned later that Bea’s elders had given her this ceremony to share with the people of Standing Rock and beyond, that it was a blessing for the water, to give it healing properties for the people and all beings. It was based on a three-line chant of love, gratitude and respect for the water, sung as the water was poured into sacred copper vessels and offered to the Mystery and the Earth. Then, as the water-carriers made their way down to the river, chanting, each person they encountered was given a small amount of the healing water to drink, At the river, each woman would have an opportunity to offer a little of the remaining water to the river with a prayer, followed by a pinch of tobacco carrying her prayers for the protection of the waters. Every day the water would be blessed and shared with the people and with the river, drawing them ever closer in a sacred bond.
After a few men of the camp helped us up the steep hill from the riverbank, Bea thanked the women who had taken part in the ceremony: if we were interested in learning more, she said, she would offer further teachings in the afternoon, followed by a special women’s ceremony in the evening.
It was the night of the full moon.