One reason I stayed at the Sacred Stone Camp for five days was to wait for the historic canoe voyage from Bismarck to the Cannonball River. 18 canoes were brought by tribes from as far away as Alaska and the Salish Sea, which is located in Washington State and is one of the most biologically diverse inland seas in all of North America. These paddlers all know the value of clean water and how important it is to their tribe's livelihoods and very existence.
The boats were brought to the camp before the event started, so that could all drive up to Bismarck and launch together on September 7 for the two day paddle. The Raven Canoe from Juneau in the image above was particularly impressive to see out of the water.
The Nisqually young lady above is still in high school, but she has already gone to Washington on behalf of her tribe to speak about the value of their ways and the issues young people face on the reservations. She was so articulate and well-spoken, and one of the most poised young people I have ever had the privilege to meet. The paddle dress she is wearing made great rhythmic clicking sounds when she walked or danced. The traditional handmade hat she has on is made of cedar. They are totally waterproof.
The boats are very heavy and the paddlers all have to work in unison. The Nisqually young lady I spoke with told me they teach paddling in her traditional high school. One lesson they are taught in the canoe pertains to life. A couple of people are told to stop paddling and then it becomes ridiculously hard to move the boat. Everyone has to pull their own weight. It is a team effort and the sense of unity it engenders is both practical and spiritual, which is why they decided to bring their boats in support of the Standing Rock Tribe.
There were large canoes and smaller boats and even some local people joined in. I loved watching the faces of all the people arriving at the finish. Many were smiling or raising their arms or even their flags. This journey was more important than for the water movement alone. It was a way to celebrate their cultures and feel pride in their identities, something that they don't often have the occasion to do given the frequent prejudice indigenous people are met with in our society. As I watched, I was cheering with them.
The boats went under the bridge over the Cannonball River and regrouped before paddling as a group towards the landing area. All day, people had been pouring into camp to witness this historic event.
They carried a big banner that said "Paddling to Protect Our Water," as well as signs with WATERISLIFE, the slogan of their movement to stop the DAPL pipeline and other pipelines across the country that traverse sensitive waterways. The DAPL pipeline was originally supposed to be routed near Bismarck, but the locals worried the cities water supply could become impaired, so they moved it to pass through tribal lands and under their water supply. Water really is life (or death) for the people of the Standing Rock tribe. Indigenous people are always affected first, since they live so closely with their environment, but all people and animals are affected by oil spills and the release of toxic chemicals.
The boats were guided in towards the landing place on the shore near where the spectators were standing. A welcoming ceremony was held and all of the captains of the boat had to ask for permission to land. The ritual showed respect from the visitors towards those they were visiting and vice versa. While I was listening, I thought of the white man coming to native territories. How many times were the tribespeople respectful, only to be tricked or told lies by those coming to steal their land.
The pride the boaters exhibited was contagious and everyone on the shore felt a sense of solidarity as well. Below are more images of the paddlers and the spectators. They document a very important and historic event and watching this, I knew without a doubt how much they care about water and how integral it is to their being.
The woman with the bandana later told everyone that she had never canoed before she began training for this event. She spoke of all the lessons she learned on the water and how much psychological strength being able to accomplish this gave her. I knew the truth of her words, since last year I kayaked the Apalachicola River with a group of paddlers to raise money and awareness for that river. Mother Nature is a powerful and wise teacher, especially when she takes the form of water.
Even the support boat driver asked permission to land. He also sang a song that was a prayer for water. It was so moving to hear.
Though you can see how proud these people are and their recognition of the historical importance of this voyage, I also noticed the man on the left is wearing a shirt that says "No Dead Natives" on the back. That indigenous people have reason to wear shirts with slogans like this, especially as they are the original inhabitants of this continent, made me sad and ashamed for the way our government has treated and continues to treat tribes across the country.
Many Native Americans served and continue to serve in our armed forces defending everyone in this country, yet we consider to treat the tribes as second class citizens and different from us. While I was at Sacred Stone Camp, I met several vets who weren't Native Americans who came to stand with and support the tribes. I was happy to see that many who have served in our armed forces recognize that Native Americans are our protectors and not the enemy.