My Journey to Sacred Stone Camp

Jori Kaniehtakohe Rourke

I had been reading and watching everything I could on the Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s fight against big oil.

Watching the events that unfolded two weekends ago, I was in tears. Seeing the construction company workers and private security guards antagonizing the water protectors into provocation, literally throwing stones to protect one another.

I couldn’t believe it, in 2016 and our brothers and sisters were being treated poorly on their own land. Then later, the press release from Morton County Sheriff’s Department was debilitating. The words hurt: “guard” dogs attacked the protectors and they were maced…there were “weapons,” which the “rioters” used to jab and assault the workers and security officers. This is all alleged, because no law enforcement was on the scene and they only took statements after the fact from the “security officers.”

RELATED: Manning: ‘And Then the Dogs Came’: Dakota Access Gets Violent, Destroys Graves, Sacred Sites

I was visiting my childhood friend when she asked if I wanted to drive with her to the Sacred Stone Camp. My answer was everyone’s answer. I will be forever thankful for the opportunity, and the people that made it possible for me to go and experience the power of the People.

We drove from Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is over a seven-hour drive just to get to Bismarck, North Dakota. To the south, about 45 miles was the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the Sacred Stone Camp.

There were three construction signs informing us that Highway 1806 was closed. We came upon a police blockade. There were six police vehicles and about three to four officers—that we could see.

The officer asked where we were going. “The casino.”

“Are you aware there is a protest ongoing?” Yes.

“Be careful, there will be pedestrians along the side of the road.”

We wondered what would have been the response if we had said we were actually headed to the Sacred Stone Camp…would we have been detoured? It would have doubled the travel time to the reservation.

We drove passed the sacred site that was recently desecrated by the Dakota Access bulldozers. We were greeted at the main entrance by camp volunteers when we arrived. We were directed to the media tent at the top of the hill to the camp. We watched the remainder of a press conference with Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II and the leaders of the protectors.

We were registered as media by the Indigenous Environmental Network, Executive Director, Tom Goldtooth. I watched as Chairman Archambault, Dallas Goldtooth and Melanie Benjamin gave interviews to Al Jazeera News.

From the top of the hill, we could see the whole camp. The women’s camp, where we were supposed to meet our contact, Tanya Aubid, was at the very back of the camp, along the trees and water. This is where they stayed for the past several months. It was their home. And it was one of the most beautiful lands I have ever seen.

Nearby, my eyes were drawn to a red sunshade. There was a Hotinonshon:ni Confederacy flag, a red Warrior Society flag, and a women’s warrior flag flying around it.

We walked down the hill and entered the camp. The main path was adorned by flagpoles on each side. There were so many nations’ flags. I was in awe. This is us. We are here. We are still here. Again, we saw more Hotinonshon:ni and Warrior Society flags flying.

Pride. Respect. Love.

We walked through the camp. We tried to find our contact, but she was on a horse when we arrived and was milling about the camp. We learned she is one of the leaders of the protectors.

We saw the red sunshade from earlier, off to the right. I started walking towards it and recognized a young boy in a warrior sweatshirt from one of our community members Facebook posts. Elated, I introduced myself and asked if they were from Akwesasne. I met Darlene Gray. I told her who my parents were. She immediately knew “me.” We were welcomed into their camp.

How easily we found Akwesasro:non (Mohawks from Akwesasne) in a camp of thousands. What were the odds? Stacy Huff arrived, fresh from the public showers at the marina 10 miles away. I hugged her, happy to see her, even though we just met.

Across from their new home were sweat lodges, and on the side—the Missouri River.

People walking by, came to sit down. There were children running about. There were non-Natives at the camp. It isn’t just Indigenous Peoples against the “white man” and big oil. It is everyone’s fight.

We sat down around the fire pit. It had recently gone out, white ashes flew into the afternoon air. Stacy told us about the patrol groups, the four fronts. The base camp, the camp across the river, the Red Warrior camp. How people were chosen for duties according to their strengths. How the possibility of arrest was imminent if you went to the front lines.

Not long into the conversation, people were rushing through the camp. Yelling. There was a meeting called by the Elders. They wanted to talk to the camp about the National Guard. Some were yelling that the National Guard was coming.

Previous to our arrival, there were rumblings that the Governor of North Dakota had the Guard on standby in anticipation of the outcome of the case brought by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. People were saying that the Guard could be arriving later today. My mother and sister were messaging me to be careful, they read the troops were coming in too. I had no phone service to answer them; I was okay for now.

RELATED: North Dakota Governor Activates National Guard, Tribal Leaders Respond


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