It wasn’t until we headed into the Standing Rock Reservation that I began to get a sense of the issues facing the Lakota people. The Standing Rock Reservation consists of 2.8 million acres spread over North and South Dakota. When it was originally established under the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty it covered far more territory including the sacred Black Hills. Article 12 of the treaty stipulated that there would be no cession of land unless approved by three-fourths of the adult males. Nevertheless, Congress unilaterally passed the Act of February 28, 1877 removing the sacred Black Hills from the Great Sioux Reservation. In 1889 Congress further reduced the Great Sioux Reservation dividing it into six separate reservations including the Standing Rock Reservation. Today it is most widely known for the protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline which cuts through reservation lands.
Phyllis Young, a former council member for the Standing Rock Sioux was one of the principal coordinators/organizers for Central Oceti Sakowin camp, the main camp housing nearly 13,000 protesters – known as “water protectors” – who gathered to resist the construction of the 1,172 mile long oil pipeline. We met with Phyllis in Cannonball and walked with her out to a statue, called Not Afraid to Look, which looks out over the camp. The large sculpture was created by Native artists, Charles Rencountre and Alicia Rencountre-Da Silva, as a symbol of the Plains ancestors and the affirmation that the Native peoples are still here despite outsiders who tried to kill or erase them all. The artist states,, “Not Afraid to Look oversees the circle of life along the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers and observes the destruction by the Dakota Access Pipeline Project, the Energy Transfer Partnership and the U.S.and Dakota governments that continue to disregard the laws of the US Constitution and common sense.” Although oil is being pumped through the pipeline there are still efforts to halt its use and the flow of oil has been stopped through court action in the past. Standing next to the enormous statue I could feel the struggle that continues today.
I was moved by the spirit of the 73 year old Ms Young who is now also involved in the efforts to find the thousands of children who went missing in the Indian boarding schools. The trauma of the boarding schools lies deep within today’s generation, many of whom heard the stories of the schools from their grandparents and parents who were forced to attend. In each of the locations we visited on our odyssey we were told tearful stories of the boarding schools by Native Americans from many different tribes thus weaving this history into our pilgrimage.