Cathy's Blog

Something’s Happening Here


Photo credit: #DakotaAccessPipeline on Twitter.

The presence of Native Americans is mostly symbolic throughout the Dakotas, found in the names of towns, lakes, and rivers. Even the ubiquitous profile of an Indian purported to be Sitting Bull that appears on State road signs is not the real thing. It’s the face of Tomahawk, one of the Indian police who assassinated him. What little we know about these shadow people often turns out to be a myth.

Quite suddenly, however, the indigenous residents of the Dakotas are no longer an abstraction. The “water protectors” at the Standing Rock Reservation that borders the two states are the real thing, and they have captured the attention of the media about the inherent danger of yet another toxic oil pipeline. Their story has gone viral, and now the whole world is watching. What has yet to be reported is the significance of the name of their reservation.

There are standing rocks atop high hills all over the northern plains, and they are sacred to the Dakota. They still make pilgrimages to these mysterious sites to ask for guidance from a powerful entity they call the First Ancestor. The Standing Rock in southeastern North Dakota (see my June 2015 post) is called Inyan Bostentata, meaning “water pouring out of rock.” Here the rock is not an icon but the remains of the First Ancestor, who created the earth out of a piece of himself and opened his veins to make water, giving so much to future generations that he shrank and turned to stone. Spring water still flows from rocks at the base of this hill, pure and delicious.

The Tewaukan Standing Rock in South Dakota tells a similar story of ancestral self-sacrifice. On it are two sets of prints. One is of the claws of the Thunderbird, who could enter the earthly plane only by alighting on a sacred object; the other set is of the hands of the First Ancestor, who placed  them on the rock and prayed to the Thunderbird until he died.

When the Hunkpapa Lakota, Sitting Bull’s people, were rounded up in the 1880s they brought their standing rock with them, and it became the name of their reservation. It is still there, mounted on a high pedestal across from the office of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, an affront to the agency to this day.

The gathering of water protectors that began on this reservation a month ago has now grown to four thousand. Indigenous people from all over the world have joined the Dakota, an unprecedented coalition of 400 tribes and nations from the far corners of the earth, and they are still arriving. Many tribes come with their spiritual people, called grandmas and grandpas. This afternoon they were conducting a ceremony at the Sacred Stone Camp, planting corn and willows, when armored vehicles from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department pulled up and twenty police in full riot gear jumped out, pointed their assault rifles at these spiritual people, grabbed them, these grandmas and grandpas, arrested them for criminal trespassing, and hauled them off to jail.

Something’s happening here, and they don’t know what it is.

September 29, 2016

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