Reflections from Standing Rock

by Leonard Shirley, Jr. MSW

I just got back from Standing Rock early this morning and it was quite a moving experience that I will remember fodapl_3-1r the rest of my life.

The solidarity that was felt amongst the Water Protectors was shared amongst many of us as we provided comfort and protection to each other. As a social worker, I helped with what I could at the Emotional Wellness tent which was located in the medic area. Two volunteers were manning this particular teepee and the availability was 24 hours / day.  Certainly, more can be done.  The presence of the US Veterans was quite moving; however, there were many cases of symptoms related to PTSD being triggered.

The experience reminded me in detail about historical trauma that indigenous people feel everywhere. The wounds from recent altercation with the military were felt by many people, including myself. Although I am not of Lakota origin, I felt strongly the history of the area in general and the presence of past traumas. Particularly resonant were the forced removal of the Lakota from the Black Hills and the government’s refusal to honor past treaties, the Wounded Knee Massacre (that occurred twice), the killing of Sitting Bull by “Indian” military police, and the attempts to eradicate the language and spiritual practices of our people. Although I felt safe in the camp, I also felt a sense of uneasiness and heightened anxiety due to the constant presence of the media, helicopters flying overhead, and the presence of a sheriff whose purpose was to remove us from the area.  I am no stranger to forced removal and forced relocation as many of our indigenous peodapl_1-1ples have felt this from various sources.

The pipeline is described by indigenous people as “the black snake” and this prophecy was foretold by our ancestors.  I was painfully reminded again of the ongoing history of treaty violations and the need to stand together and continue to voice our concerns in a peaceful manner.

Although the Dakota Access Pipeline was denied by the Army Corps of Engineers, I feel this is short-lived.  I cannot put faith in the government to honor their word due to past atrocities against indigenous peoples. This is shared by many close friends, colleagues, and volunteers.  With the imminent administration taking over in one month’s time, I continue to feel uneasy about the entire situation.  All I can do is strive to help, to support my fellow people through donations and healing with comforting words, and to pray that our shared goal of diverting the pipeline and maintaining the dignity of indigenous peoples everywhere will be realized.