The Power of Spirit: Victory Day at Standing Rock

The Army Corps of Engineers has denied the easement permit needed to complete the Dakota Access pipeline. The struggle is not over yet, but this is a major victory for Standing Rock. Might the large number of people, Indians and non-Indians alike, sending prayers for life on Mother Earth actually have had a role? I can only share my observations and experiences of the hours before the decision.

December 3:

9:45 pm: My airplane landed on time at the Bismarck airport in North Dakota. I went immediately to Enterprise Car, which was conveniently located by baggage claim. I had reserved it two weeks previously. The young man at the counter looked at me and my attire, or so it seems. The American flag was sewn upside down on my jacket and I wore a baseball cap with USMC (United States Marine Corps) on the frontand an eagle feather on the back. He then told me, “I’m so sorry, but we are out of cars.”

It was a two-hour drive to Standing Rock, and snow was on the ground. The airport was closing. I replied, “Would you please write down exactly what you told me along with the date, time, my reservation confirmation number, and then sign your name?” He looked puzzled. “This problem will wind up costing me quite a bit, and your company will be responsible.”

I pushed a writing table in front of him and suddenly, in a faltering voice, he said, “Wait, I think there is one car out there but it is dirty.” I told him I would take it. The Jeep Compass wasn’t dirty at all.

December 4:

7:30 am: I left the Bismarck hotel with, Jules, a Veteran for Peace colleague, and drove to the main camp. There were five times more people and cars and dwellings than when I was here a month ago. I decided to stay at the gym at Cannonball instead and set up camp after another vet gave me a zero temperature sleeping bag.

11:30 am: A couple of hundred vets out of the 2,000-plus who were part of Wesley Clark Jr.’s Veterans Standing for Standing Rock group were impatiently waiting for directions while setting up their cots. It seemed no one knew how all the vets were going to get organized yet. Many who had volunteered to participate in “arrestable” front-line actions were anxious about the required training. People informally gathered and some newcomers who had learned that the Indians did not use a strict hierarchy — and that Wesley was honoring this — spoke about the importance of peaceful words, behaviors and engagement at all times because it is ultimately love and peace that will prevail.

12:00 pm: A half-hour into the conversations and questions, I jumped in. After all, this is why Wesley wanted me there. I confirmed what was being said and elaborated on some details about how if no action at all occurred but people kept praying and sending prayerful intentions out with all the others who had been doing so for months, then their trip here would have been worthwhile. It was easy to tell how desperately the young veterans wanted to help in these spiritual ways, and they were very receptive to my words, which did not at all sound like they were coming from a Marine officer. I ended with a Lakota prayer.

1:30 pm: I called into Duncan Campbell for a scheduled radio interview but could not get reception. I drove around Cannonball until I got it and reached him about 15 minutes late. He interrupted a pre-recorded interview with Winona LaDuke and patched me in. I expected he wanted a report on what was happening with the veterans but instead, after introducing me, he spoke about how the world needs to recognize the need to “demilitarize” its habitual thinking. Then he asked me what I thought. Having just shared words about this with the vets, I was more than ready to reply and told him that the vets had been remarkably engaged in prayerful, respectful intentionality since they arrived the previous day, and that if nothing else this would make a difference somehow.

2:20 pm: Wesley and I met in Cannonball after his presentation to troops who had gathered there. We hugged and talked about how spirit was moving things along in a good way.

3:09 pm: Jules and I were driving to Sitting Bull College to look for a designated place for him to camp for the night when he received a text message on our Vets for Peace listserv. He jokingly said, “It is from your FGU [Fielding Graduate University] student, Brian. He says news just came in the Army Corps of Engineers has denied DAPL the easement and is calling for a full environmental impact report that requires public input.”

Our skepticism caused us to joke about Brian’s scholarship somehow being inaccurate, but Brian kept sending more from various news stations. By the time we got back to Cannonball, we were yelping with reserved joy. We both knew what Bobby Kennedy said about it being a sure thing such a study would shut down the pipeline. However, we wondered if DAPL would continue clandestinely and illegally with anticipation that the new president of the United States would come to its aid. Or if even if they honored the order, they would buy off the Army somehow or that “President Trump” would find a way to stifle or overturn a legitimate environmental impact report.

When we arrived, everyone was in a state of loving appreciation, but with a look of disbelief in their eyes. Did the Indians really win this time?