Just as the sun dogs in North Dakota’s frigid winter sky are a thing of wonder, so too are the Standing Rock camps along the Cannonball River. These camps are resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), protecting water and sacred burial grounds. This struggle has brought more awareness to indigenous oppression and centuries of mistreatment since the colonization of North America.
In less than a year, and specifically in the last 6 months, the camps have experienced immense amounts of change as thousands of people have come and gone, drastic winter weather conditions appear, more infrastructure is implemented, tension and force elevate from police and DAPL security, and large amounts of trauma have been experienced, both physically and emotionally, from police brutality.
Coming home from Standing Rock, my mind is swirling with thoughts as there were many experiences in my two short weeks at camp. I came at a time when the camp is smaller in number (between 1,500-3,000 people, down from the previous estimated 20,000) and more energy is needing to be put into living well through the harsh winter, painted with blisteringly cold winds. Some are familiar with these conditions, while others are new- committed to see the project through, even if that means winter living. My time at camp only gives a snapshot.
I spent most of my days (and some nights) in a yurt set up as an allopathic support space, equipped for many minor medical needs and emergency interventions prior to EMS transport. I worked with many kinds of practitioners, from ER doctors and family physicians to wilderness EMTs and street medics. The medic village also includes yurts for herbal medicine, body work, and emotional wellbeing.
I must admit that I was fairly overwhelmed by the chaos that is bound to accompany a camp made up of a ranging compilation of characters with various backgrounds and different reasons for coming, with no centralized organization. Though whenever I felt overwhelmed, I remembered what all has been accomplished, in only a few months, by an ever changing crew of people donating their time and supplies. It is really impressive. Still chaotic, but impressive…
Throughout the whole camp there is a collective understanding that people need to take care of each other, especially while living with less modern resources in extreme weather. A Lakota man told me, “It is the native way to think about the whole group and not just the self. That is how creator wants us to live.”
I was especially touched by the care given to elders. Everyone always ensures they have ample firewood, food, unfrozen drinking water, and medical needs met. The reward for elder care is the time spent with them listening to their stories and absorbing their wisdom. It is rare to see this dynamic in the “real” (but-not-so-real) world, where many of our elders’ stories are lost with no ears to listen. Many elders at the camp hold stories from previous resistance efforts and older life-ways that we are all desperately needing to reclaim. To be an elder in camp is an honor.
One elder would report to me how many times that day he mooned the DAPL helicopter (which surveils the camp despite it being a no-fly zone). “Got ’em twice today! One was a straight on shot!! It was cold, but worth it…” he’d say. I think this wise humor can be good medicine in a place where people are facing terrifying machines targeting them and tearing apart their land.
What I want to convey in this reflection is not just how destructive DAPL is, though that is true. But I also want to share a glimpse into the beauty of camp’s chaotic daily life, which holds many lessons for those of us out here in the “real” (but-not-so-real) world.
For more information about the medical team supporting the DAPL resistance, visit Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council
**Please note, I did not take these pictures, though I feel they accurately represent what I saw.