This bright and beautiful morning, we join the 9:00a.m.
gathering at the Dome where the addition of 2 wood-burning barrel stoves has
greatly enhanced the physical warmth of the previously only communally-heated
space. I search for familiar faces, which is easier here inside as people
disrobe and unmask noses and mouths, and I’m pleased to see several still here –
or here again, as I am.
A couple younger men spring up to offer us their seats
close to the stove, handing Liz a cup of coffee, and then help pull the sleeves
as I wiggle out of my fabulous down coat. Although the gathering begins with about 35-40
people, before the end at least 80-100 people will have arrived.
An elder male facilitates this gathering which I quickly
learn is a very intense and important one for the sacred fire was purported to
have been extinguished last night, and there are conflicting messages about
staying or leaving.
When we first heard the rumor last night that the fire
went out, I was thinking the weather was the culprit that vanquished the Sacred
Flame but I was soon to learn it was the elders who began the fire also opted
to put it out yesterday.
Water Protectors, including other elders who have been
here from the beginning, are shocked, distraught and disappointed but our
serene, competent, funny but serious facilitator quickly spells out the truth.
It is true that the chief of the Sioux Nation has told
everyone they can go home now. It is also true that the elders who began the
Sacred Fire feel their mission has been completed: they prayed for Federal Government
intervention and feel that has been accomplished.
They are also concerned about the extreme dangers North
Dakota arctic weather presents to those living outdoors on Oceti Sakowin,
Rosebud, and Sacred Stone Camps, especially because of the police and military
barricades making the 20 mile trip to the nearest city a now 50 mile trip.
And because of the governor’s promise to not clear the
roads, a promise he has apparently since withdrawn.
So the ceremony to extinguish the fire took place yesterday,
before we arrived at camp. But a Native man stood up and revealed he was
invited by these elders to participate in the fire-extinguishing ceremony. He
said he cried over the fire and then the embers and then the darkness as he
prayed for guidance, prayed for the fire
Later that evening, many other elders and tribal members
decided the Sacred Fire should not go out, for we know our mission has not been
accomplished: we know corporations in this country do whatever the hell they
want to do, regardless of who is hurt, who is destroyed, who has to suffer –
and whatever demands any government agency makes as they know the penalties for
disobeying are miniscule if any.
We know ETP/DAPL immediately boldly flouted the Federal
demands that they cease building and flaunted their intention to continue
digging under the water promising to finish the pipeline as planned.
So, the crying man continues the story: he returned to
the Sacred Fire late last night to witness embers leaping from the doused
flames and he believes the fire never went out.
The youth come into the gathering to announce they will
take over the tending of the Sacred Fire for all the Water Protectors and
excitement rises where despair had reigned.
We are cautioned several times that those who are not
prepared or experienced surviving in arctic conditions need to go home. Now.
We are assured that the tribe will help anyone who wants
to leave; and the tribe will also support anyone who meets the criteria to stay
if they choose to.
Several Native people share they are warriors, they have
been born here and have lived here all their lives, they have prayed here,
learned the ways of the elders, speak in their native tongue, and engage in
ceremony and the Lakota, Nakota, Dakota ways of life.
And they will not leave.
Another group of Native Water Protectors, including a
lawyer, enter the Dome and update us on all the supplies that have been
donated, enabling the building of structures that can truly provide a safe
space for warriors continuing the vigil throughout the winter.
We learn there are over 600 people still at the camp with
others arriving daily – and leaving daily. People make announcements about army
tents finally winterized and volunteers needed to help cook, to build more
latrines, to help move people from the fringes into the center of camps so it
will be easier to look after each other.
And someone has to volunteer to monitor the levels of the
Cannon Ball River – the rumor that the Army Corps of Engineers plans to flood
the lake is just that: a rumor. But the water level needs to be monitored
anyway – it is winter and water fluctuates during the winter.
Other volunteers are called to work on building
structures to protect and house the water for the camp.
And the bustle of coming together and building a viable,
safe, loving community whose foundations are love and prayer and protection of
the Mother Earth, of tearing down parts of the previous community, or figuring
out how to not only withstand the bitter howling winds and frozen waters of the
North Dakota plains but also the force of police and military enforcing the
will of the Black Snake.
It is an exciting time to be here at camp: the transitions
might be painful and unsure, but the spirit shines bright and the sacred fire
is evidenced in the sun, the lightning, the burning of wood as well.
I’m sorry I have to leave later this afternoon in order
to ensure I’m in court tomorrow morning. Apparently there might be a class
action suit against DAPL for trampling on our 1st Amendment Rights!