The drive to Standing Rock
I started out alone on a Friday into the darkness of an early December evening; heading due north out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, into Colorado on a snowy mountainous drive in my 1990 Mercedes E200 with near 300,000 miles. My war pony was packed with supplies.
I thought maybe I’d try camping the tent within a tent concept with warm blankets and candles in a cooking tin or a Coleman stove that might keep my camp comfortable.
I knew little of what to expect when I arrived in Standing Rock.
I wanted to be there December 5. The day the Water Protectors were told to vacate the premises by the Governor of North Dakota. Not knowing that December 5 was General Custer’s birthday. The irony or coincidence of those dates leaves you wondering how backwards human relations really are after all these years in North Dakota, and Custer County in Oklahoma for that matter.
Not much has changed in 175 years since Custer’s birth. I realized that the following day driving through Nebraska where I saw a hay barn on some 200 feet long with 20 dividers. The first divider was red, the next 18 were white and the last slice was blue. It was a visual reminder of how folks really feel in this part of the country.
Trumps election as the next U.S. President made me feel lonely that day driving north to show my support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Taking the backroads to the reservation through South Dakota; first Pine Ridge then Eagle Butte and the Cheyenne River Reservation and home to Arvol Looking Horse. From the south, driving through the reservations to get to North Dakota is the safest route. I was suspicious of people’s changing attitude toward the Standing Rock efforts to prevent the pipeline from going under the Missouri River.
I’m no stranger to the people of Standing Rock.
A few years back I was speaker for the graduating class of 2014 at Sitting Bull College located on the now famous Highway 1806 just a few miles away where 10,000 people are assembled in support and standing with Standing Rock.
I had played music a lot throughout North Dakota communities and reservations and thought to have a special relationship throughout the years with the United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) in Bismarck. The college is based on an old internment camp for the Japanese during the Second World War.
There are hundreds of Native Americans living in Bismarck who attend the college there; primarily because they offer Native American sensitive content in developing native people’s skills in many diverse fields. They also offer elementary and high school education for children while you get your degree at UTTC in a campus-like setting be it a haunted internment camp.
And like most cities with reservations nearby everything always seemed fine with relations in town until vigilantes along with the Morton County Sheriff’s department saw the Water Protectors as the enemy. Even though the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is facing 60 per cent unemployment and the city of Bismarck, N.D. which is roughly 40 miles away is facing under two per cent unemployment primarily due to the oil and gas industry. It’s apparent and easy to conclude the hatred and aggressiveness of the citizenry and police is based on sustaining their economic boom.
I remember fondly being asked to speak to their leadership and council at Standing Rock in Ft. Yates a few years back — while just visiting the tribal building one day passing through with the band looking for the burial spot of Sitting Bull and admiring the power and beauty of the Missouri River as it passes majestically right in front of their council chambers.
I always found the people of Standing Rock to be open book kind of Indians and was surprised by their love of my characterizations in all my Indian movies. I knew they would appreciate a visit from me at this time. I really came to pose for whoever wanted a picture with me or sign an autograph like a USO entertainer at Christmas time.
The 2,000 veterans were to arrive in force by the fourth of December and the weather was getting colder as night creeps in early this time of year. I decided on another warm night and stayed in Pine Ridge with five hours drive in the morning.
It was D-Day for the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota once again; December 5, 2016 — a beautiful but cold morning driving through South Dakota through the grasslands and rolling hills down and up over a rise I began feeling the prayers of Standing Rock.
I still had two hours to drive but could feel the people as I got closer. The sun shining with the roads still clear.