Jimmy Starkey speaks with young people at Standing Rock - Photo: Marshall Lee, Yakama Nation.
Courtesy Marshall Lee, Yakama Nation.
Thing About Skins: Jimmy Starkey speaks with young people at Standing Rock.

Voices From the Front Lines in Standing Rock v.1: Artist Jimmy Starkey and Defeating the Strategy of Death

Gyasi Ross

Every single person at the various Standing Rock Prayer Camps has a different story. Some of them have more than one. We’re familiar with some the bigger storylines—the Standing Rock Nation’s pursuit of equal treatment, of environmental justice, of the United States government doing what it is legally required to do.  We’re familiar with those, and we should hear about those. Those stories are incredibly important and involve the nation-to-nation relationship of Nation Nations to the federal government.

But those aren’t the only stories. 

I want to share a few stories that I personally find very compelling; interviews with fascinating individuals and coverage of stories that are playing out in real time.  All of the folks at these camps, women and men, are warriors, protectors and should be thanked and congratulated. None of them are greater than any other warrior or protector’s story. 

The first time I went to the Oceti Sakowin Camp, there were, of course, many Native people (and some non-Natives as well) who were particularly fascinating to me. These folks told amazing stories of sacrifice and belief and love for Native people.  Hopefully we can cover many of those.  However, the brother who I knew I had to get some smoke signals going out of the camp was a brother named Jimmy Starkey. I met him as I wandered aimlessly around camp and he introduced himself. I later told him that I had to drive up the road a bit and we rode together.  Within that very short ride, he literally changed the way I thought about certain things and caused me to question certain others.  I do not want to have too long of an introduction for Jimmy because he is most definitely capable of talking for himself. I did, however, want to give a bit of context for what you folks can expect to read over the next couple of weeks.

Hello Jimmy. Could you please tell me where you are from and what you do? 

I paint, I sculpt, make siyo tanka, bows, pipes, all the things we used to use artifactually.  I also make the false art that we are forced to make. 

I also try to maintain a way that makes me be healthy as opposed to pursuing health.  Be in a way that manifests health.  I’m committed to being a person not afflicted with the cyclic pandemic symptoms of oppression.  One of the ways is by the spontaneity that comes with smoking marijuana.  I love her company.  I also love wakalapi. 

Why are you here at Standing Rock, at the Oceti Sakowin Camp?

I am here…because…prophecies are being fulfilled.  The canupa is gone, the bundle is kept.  That’s why woope is coming back again—this time not as a female, but as a man named “Falling Star.”  There’s a song about him that says “Nothing is sacred. That’s why I’m coming.” Some washichus might call him “Lucifer.”

My dream is to create the aesthetic standard that causes the movement toward making the east preeminent over the west again. Therefore, the children, the youth, the daylight, the dawn are restored to power again. 

The components of a Lakota Nation are being reborn.  That’s what I’m here to facilitate.  We have to defeat the strategy of death with the strategy of life—the way to do that is by lifeway and not law.  The Lakota way is lifeway and not law.  The Lakota way is “This is the way to do it.” Not “This is the way not to do it.” 

The birds and the dogs will show us the way. 

When we first spoke, one of the things that stuck out most was you said you’ve been staying in a tipi for the past six years. Why in the world would you do that?

I actually started 10 years ago when I got rid of all the furniture in my apartment.  I started eating simply.  And I began to become compassionate and empathetic and the squirrel nation taught me that—I had about 40 squirrels around my house.  It scared me at first but then I started doctoring them using “ivermectin” for their mange.  I’d use about a Q-tip sized dollop and I gave it to them by the finger and they got healed right up.  I realized how brave they were for living up so high.  So I wanted to be alive like that—I didn’t want to be in a square, like a hospital or a bed or a coffin.  I didn’t want to be in all of those coffins—houses, beds, schools. 

The tipi relieves that.  She’s round.  She’s the only structure in the world that always wants to implode in this exploding world.

Do you feel that close to the ground, literally and figuratively, changes your perspective? 

They want us raised off the earth so we cannot reconnect.  The oppressor is very disconnected and uprooted and that’s why they cannot stay in one place.  They have to always walk to find more earth, more things to conquer.  Look at the cottonwood—they do not have to go anyplace—my tipi is under a bunch of cottonwoods in Bernie MT. 

There’s a guy named Wilhelm Reich, he died in 1957 in Prison.  He created an orgone capacitor, and orgone collector.  He named it “Orgone” after “Orgasm.  He thought it was love medicine.  If you look at a tipi, it’s a natural orgone collector.  The wasichu feared this man and technology so much they killed him.  It’ll heal you. 

If you had to make a prediction, what do you think will be the result of this encampment and resistance?

An Indigenous backbone from the Arctic to the Andes and natural nation states east and west of that based upon local control, ethnicity because the beast is going to die.  Like Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya.  The people had all the power.  The United States thinks still thinks we’re clowns and we don’t have a clue but they’re going to find out. 

What are your thoughts on direct action, white allies and “arrestables?”

Our white allies have to use their white privilege if they are committed to this cause. White privilege leadership.  Native people should not be considered arrestable because counting coup and getting away and dying in battle are no longer the goals of battle.  The only people who should be arrestable are our allies. 

Myself, I still think it’s still about touching the enemy and getting away or dying in battle and not rotting away in a cell.  All those people tying themselves to the construction equipment should be blue haired white grannies.  Because they have white privilege and you don’t see white people getting shot in the street just for being who they are.  You see Indians.  So you should not see one more Indian in a cell and call that progress—that is repugnant and offensive and just another colonized thought, eating another Indian soul in the belly of the beast. 

Thank you Jimmy.

Wesley Roach, Skan Photography





Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large

Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories

Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

Instagram: BigIndianGyasi


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Dear Gyasi, Thanks for this

Deborahh's picture
Submitted by Deborahh on
Dear Gyasi, Thanks for this great piece. I was interested to see Jimmy's comment about Falling Star, and that wasichus might call this being Lucifer. I looked into the Lakota story about Fallen Star, and learned that the legend tells of two women who ascended to the heavens and married stars, and became pregnant, then returned to earth, and that Fallen Star is one of their sons. This story is in fact much more like the Christian legend of Jesus than that of Lucifer - Lucifer was an angel who reached the highest level of honour, then defied the Creator and was banished - that's why he was considered fallen. But he had no mortal blood - he was all star, if you like. Jesus, on the other hand, was depicted as the offspring of the Creator and a mortal woman, and he was depicted as a saviour, while Lucifer is depicted as a demon who wishes to destroy everything in his hatred and resentment of the Creator after his banishment (what we call the devil). Personally I am not a Christian, nor am I indigenous, so not trying to promote anything here - just eager to learn more about the stories, and also how we can all work together, and hopefully, one day, lay the sadly all too well-deserved wasichu label to rest. In the meantime I stand with the Standing Rock Water Protectors. Water is Life! All the best, Deborah

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