My Journey to Sacred Stone Camp

Jori Kaniehtakohe Rourke

The camp erupted. Protectors hurriedly rushed to base camp. I was separated from my friends, as they decided to walk to base camp. Stacy and I started for it in her car. She said if anything were to happen, to stay in her car. As we got to the base camp, the People settled.

Men, women, children, elders, from all different tribes standing with non-Natives, we listened to the Elders and Chairman Archambault speak. He quelled the rumors of the National Guard. He said the camp should not live in fear. He would not let any armed forces enter the camp, and disassemble it. He reminded the protectors that Judge James Boasberg’s decision was not final. If the decision is in favor of the Energy Transfer Partners, the Standing Rock Sioux would appeal it. It would not be the end. It was the beginning.

The fear that had spread through the camp ceded.

He told us to remember that violence is not always outright and asked everyone to not use violence in the days to come, including our words and body language. To continue to pray. As we know, they want us to provoke them. If there was violence, the DAPL would have no problem putting their black snake in the ground, in our waters. Everyone’s waters. There are so many waters connected to the Missouri River.

After they spoke, the Elder asked everyone who knew the song, to sing with her. It was a Sundance song. A man came around, burning cedar in a coffee can. We smudged ourselves. Another man passed out tobacco to everyone. I balled some up in my hand and closed my eyes. The song overcame everyone. When I opened my eyes, everyone had their hands up in the air. They were giving their power to the People, to the prayer and accepting power from our Brother, the Sun in return. It felt as if I was standing with family. I was.

Later, a speaker asked everyone to head to the shores of the Missouri River. The canoes from Coastal tribes were arriving from the west on their 2016 canoe journey themed “Don’t Forget the Water,” Teqwu?ma?. They were from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and Canada...the newly arrived water protectors totaled more than 60 people, transported halfway across the country, in only eight vehicles!

Each of the leaders of the canoe families spoke. They told us who they were, where they were from, what they went through to get there and why they answered the call to action: All in support of the Standing Rock Sioux. In support of humanity.

There were war cries, chants of "water is life," "respect our waters," songs, both hands in the air, one fist in the air, in strength. A man at the anchor of one of the canoes had tears in his eyes. He tried to hold them back. He was all of us.

Next to me, a man had come down the small hill to be closer to the shore. He just started singing, two other men joined him. They were compelled. The protectors beat their drums and sang “Tunkashila,” a welcoming song for the water protectors. As in our traditions, they all asked permission to come ashore. The people cried, “Aho!” To honor and welcome them. The canoers came ashore and integrated into the camp.

It started to rain and grow cold. The media started to pack up. The sun started to set. Our day at the Sacred Stone Camp was coming to an end. With sadness we made our way back to the car. All day, we felt like we belonged there. In that moment, that was our purpose, to be there. Wishing we could stay and proud of all the people that were.

We left the camp and drove back through the blockade. The police officers were no longer standing there. In their place were four National Guard soldiers—posted in universal camouflage patterned uniforms. It was clear, the National Guard was certainly present now. Chairman Archambault’s words rang: He would not let them enter the camp.

We were waved through, leaving our brothers and sisters. We would go home and continue to follow the protectors, share each other’s social media posts and pray for them. Pray for the water.

The Sacred Stone Camp is one of the largest gatherings of North American Indigenous Peoples, in our modern recorded history. We give strength to those protecting our lands, water and future generations.

With the decision of Judge Boasberg denying Standing Rock’s injunction to stop construction of the DAPL, remember Chairman Archambalt’s words, “This is only the beginning.”

We believe this to be true as the Joint Statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior Regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers addressed what Judge Boasberg did not-- “the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects… it is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”

RELATED: Moments After Judge Denies DAPL Injunction, Federal Agencies Intervene

Yes, an interest greater than that of big oil.

We are water. Water is life. Mni Wiconi. Kaiatakeha'tshé:ra ne ohnekanos.

Jori Kaniehtakohe Rourke is from the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation and is a proud member of the Wolf Clan. She is employed by the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, for the Office of Tribal Council.


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