Gyasi Ross
Thing About Skins: Voices from Standing Rock part 3 - Comedian Tito Ybarra

Voices From The Front Lines In Standing Rock v.3: Comedian Tito Ybarra And Rethinking The Bigger Picture

Gyasi Ross

There are people from all walks of life staying at the Prayer Camps in Standing Rock. There are definitely veteran environmental activists, new environmental organizers, Native sovereignty organizers, educators, folks who come in for short periods of time to support the Camps and educators. There are women and men, young children and elders, Native, black, white and from all colors of the rainbow.  True believers.  As the weather turns cooler and the struggle runs longer, all of these various categories draw closer and depend upon each other more. 

I realized you literally could run into anybody there. 

As I walked around Oceti Sakowin Camp one night, I struck up conversation with a young man sitting in his truck.  He later told me that he was suspicious of me because I was taking pictures of the tipis and thought I “was a brother disguised as an Indian.”  We both laughed at that; I told him that he was a quarter correct.  We talked about the Camps, the movement and lessons to take home.  We both later discovered that we both were familiar with each other’s work and when I went back home to look at more of his work, I realized that this brother was amazing, prolific and brave both in his comedic work as well as his activism.  Don’t let the jokes fool you; the brother can get deep.  Please read this short interview with Red Lake comedian Tito Ybarra. 

Tito, could you please tell me where you are from and what you do? 

Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Enrolled member of Red Lake Nation.  Currently reside in Bemidji, MN.  I’m a comedian. 

Why are you here at the Ocetic Sakowin Prayer Camp?

It started out as me feeling obligated that this was the least that I could do because Standing Rock has always been so supportive of me since I started comedy six years ago.  But then I got out here and I got in touch with the bigger picture—that you’re out here for everyone. So now it isn’t just about obligation—it’s about learning and trying to help make a difference.

Is This Experience Going to Change You?  If so, How? 

Most definitely.  I was raised in the inner city and many of the values and beliefs that people hold that affect us as Natives in a negative way is what I was raised around.  Patriarchy.  Money.  So it’s nice to get into touch with something different.  I knew that there was something different out there, but I didn’t know what it was.  Now I’m learning something different everyday.  I know I’ll be able to use that something different, what I’m learning, whether it be in my comedy or it be at home in Red Lake. 

Do You Think This Encampment and this No DAPL Movement is Going to be Successful? 

Yes, most definitely.  It’s already being successful personally and I believe it will also be successful in the bigger picture. I started comedy because I liked the idea of no one being able to take it away from me.  Just like anything—money, property—that can all be taken away.  But the things you learn out here, learning to survive, consuming less, are things that no one can take away from me.  And with that knowledge, I don’t have to worry about anyone taking anything away from me.  I’ve been studying alternative energy source and living off the grid for the past few years and I know I can do that back home.  We’re going to have to return to a place of living smartly at some point in many ways. I’m losing weight. I’m personally trying to be smarter about my own life. Live better.  Right now we’re so caught up in making that money.  But really, that’s only so we’re comfortable.  I realized—I drive a truck that uses gas and those things aren’t going to change overnight.  But we have to start transitioning at some point, so why not now?  America is behind a lot of country. 

I just had this thought: everyone wants to get where they’re going to faster.  Like your trip to Paris—that would be very hard to do with solar power.  It would be much harder and more expensive.  But maybe that’s the way it is supposed to be?  Maybe I would appreciate things more if things weren’t so convenient.  Maybe slowing down is good because there are places and people hurting because of “progress.”  Maybe if we took the time to sit and listen, people wouldn’t be so angry and unhealthy.  We don’t listen—we’re in too much of a hurry.  That’s why we have to remind people that Black Lives Matter.  That’s why we have to remind people that people need clean drinking water.

What’s your goal?  When I came out, I wanted to just support.  Now, my goal is to keep learning Native values, beliefs and teachings.  We have those things everywhere but in order to learn that we have to be humbled.  This is a humbling experience.  I’m so used to colonized way of thinking, convenience and pride and ego.  This is humbling.  I’ve had to step back from my opinion and what I think and listen and learn.  I had to think a bit more about the bigger picture and what are the goals of the camp.  I didn’t get a lot of these teachings when I was younger, but I’m getting it now.

Follow Tito Ybarra on Twitter - - Facebook - and check out his website at


Wesley Roach, Skan Photography



Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large

Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories

Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

Instagram: BigIndianGyasi


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Pinkstar's picture
Submitted by Pinkstar on
Sad to see that a Palestinian flag was flying at protest camp. Everyone knows that the Jews are indigenous to Israel and it is a slap in the face to all Jews.