By Kelly Hayes on February 22, 2017
Last night, law enforcement announced that the checkpoint nearest the Oceti Sakowin camp would become a one-way exit, blockading further support from reaching the camp. Today, a last call to leave the camp, before police advance, will be issued at noon. Those who wish to leave will be shuttled away. Those who wish to stay face arrest at 2pm, when police move in to clear the camps.
As I await what many are calling the “last stand” at Standing Rock, my heart is heavy and my mind is overrun by fear. I know despair is a weapon, wielded by those who would destroy us, so I don’t want to let it take hold. Hope is a discipline, and radical possibilities cannot come to pass without it. So, as I sit here, far away from a place that brought hundreds of Indigenous nations together from around the United States and the world, I want to remind us all of a few things.
Victory Comes in Many Forms
As someone who organizes direct actions, I always tell participants that victory comes in stages. If you’re in a vehicle with co-strugglers, on your way to deploy, that’s a huge victory, because having that crew, that community, that is willing to throw down in that moment, is a victory many oppressed people never see. The love and connection we have seen at Standing Rock, and the courage of Water Protectors as they held fast together on Highway 1806 against water cannons and rubber bullets — this is what that first victory looks like. Because if you have that, you’ve given possibility a human expression. You have become the fight.
Holding space and building a moment also matters. #NoDAPL, as a movement moment, has changed those who’ve experienced it. Whether you see holding space as an act of prayer, a direct action or both, these efforts were made material, and set the stage for an unprecedented convergence. Native youth rose up and gave us all something to believe in. I met one of those youth last spring, while I was far from home, running a direct action training. He asked me to come to camp, and I did so, back when there were about 5o people at camp, and, at best, one article about what was going on there.
That invitation changed my life.
From my first trip, when entire Native families participated in advanced tactical workshops, to my last, when I watched Water Protectors gassed in a river where they might have drowned, Standing Rock awoke a part of me I never knew was sleeping. I was already a street organizer, but on that soil, I was a warrior for my people — not because of street action, but because of intention, and a will to do the work.
All of this is victory, as is the interconnectedness many Native people have found during this historic time. There have also been disagreements and grievances, which will always come when movements are born. Such conflicts will only further escalate when movements grow quickly, and organically, when open calls for participation are issued, and when the tactic of occupation is in play. I hope that those who are still experiencing such conflicts are able to enter into some transformation, on the other side of this difficult moment, because it’s not always clear what justice looks like, and we sometimes have to take a journey together to find out.
The truth is, we need each other, now more than ever.
We Have Been Seen
Erasure has always been at the heart of this government’s attacks on Native people. From mass murder to assimilation and forced relocation, these attacks have pushed us — and the heinous acts perpetrated against us — out of public view. American mythology requires us to disappear, or else its narratives about pioneers, happy Thanksgivings and being a “nation of immigrants” simply won’t add up.
Erasing us has always been this country’s intention, because in the eyes of the state, we have never held value here, outside of what could be taken from us. And such efforts have been effective. Our people are surrounded by points of extraction. Native children drink tainted water and face high rates of suicide. Our people are more likely to be killed by police than any other group, and yet few know the names of our dead. This is because colonialism didn’t simply steal and destroy. It created a culture that factored us out.
But not anymore.
Our people have risen up. We have been seen. We have battled together, and the world has watched. We have stared down the violence of this government in our own times, with the blood of what couldn’t be killed in our veins. We have known that our ancestors were with us — just as they are with our resisters in Standing Rock today.
This cannot be taken from us.
This Is Not a Last Stand
The camps are not Standing Rock. The rise of the encampments was a profoundly important moment in the history of the Standing Rock Sioux, and for all of us, but that moment is not a place, or a people. That place, and those people, will endure, long after the Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners and Donald Trump have turned to dust. The Standing Rock Sioux have many battles ahead, and they are not done advocating for themselves or their people. Their last stand, and ours, has yet to come. Our people wove dreamcatchers out of razor wire in Standing Rock. They will not be undone today.
Remember, Native sovereignty is possible. Native freedom is possible. Because in resistance, all things are possible.