Answering the Call at Standing Rock

Photo by Jennifer Varenchik

October 10, 2016 3:15 pm

In August, as I was home in Los Angeles, I stumbled across a video that someone had shared on social media. “Feeding the Fight” featured Nantinki “Tink” Young, the head cook for thousands of people gathered in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.

The tribe’s fight against an oil pipeline near their land, as well as the need to protect water and include Native voices about decisions that affect them, was attracting worldwide attention.

Jennifer Varenchik
Jennifer Varenchik

The video gave a glimpse of what life at the Oceti Sakowin Camp was like and why Native families from across the U.S. were arriving, unlike any event before in recent years, to support stopping the Dakota Access pipeline.

As I watched the video, tears streamed down my face. The young mom explained her daily routine and why volunteering was important to her.

She did what so many in Native communities wanted to do: Drop what you’re doing and go help protect the water. I felt the call. I’m a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. I wanted so badly to go but had no idea how it could happen.

As the weeks passed, thousands more showed up at Standing Rock. Then the video from “Democracy Now!” started to circulate.

Members of the Native Voice Network, which is made up of Native families and community organizations, stood in North Dakota with thousands of other people from around the world in the fight for water and protecting sacred belongings of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Photo courtesy of Native Voice Network

Journalist Amy Goodman covered how attack dogs were used against unarmed adults and children, as they ran into the fields to stop construction.

The injustice welled up in me. I had to go to lend my support.

Luckily, many of my friends in the Native Voice Network (NVN), which is made up of Native families and grassroots organizations, felt the same way. After a few conversations, NVN members decided to send delegations from their organizations to Standing Rock.

The American Indian Community Council (AICC) of Los Angeles was able to go. That was my cue to begin organizing. I was going to Standing Rock on behalf of AICC and NVN.

Los Angeles County has the largest urban Native American population in the U.S., and the local community established three drop-off locations for donated goods: United American Indian Involvement in downtown Los Angeles, Tribal Law and Policy Institute in West Hollywood and American Indian Changing Spirits in Long Beach.

So many donations came in on the last day that we needed to rent an additional vehicle. In total, six of us went in two vehicles. The trip took over 24 hours. We only stopped for gas and one sit-down meal.

People who arrived at Standing Rock in North Dakota to fight for water and Native rights signed a map in a show of unity. Photo by Jennifer Varenchik
People who arrived at Standing Rock in North Dakota to fight for water and Native rights signed a map in a show of unity. Photo by Jennifer Varenchik

When we finally reached the main entrance, I recognized the alley of Native flags from throughout the U.S. that I had seen on Facebook. Although we were tired, we felt a surge of energy inside the camp, where we saw friends and family members.

There was so much to do to stay connected – a concert, a youth council meeting, horse races and even volleyball games.

Volunteering appealed to me the most. I wanted to support this fight in any way possible. I knew I would not be on the front lines, battling mace and armed security. But I could serve in a different capacity.

As we were walking to get dinner, I heard a voice on the loud speaker: “We need six people right now to help serve dinner!” I may have broken out into a sprint, but I wanted to make sure I could help.

I started working around 6 p.m., and the line did not thin until 10:30 p.m. As the sun set, I heard another announcement.

We were no longer considered a camp. With over 7,000 people from all over the globe, we had grown into a community.

Before I started serving, I felt hungry and tired. But with every person I served, those feelings disappeared. I met people from as far away as Ireland, Alaska, Hawaii and New York. I also spoke with Standing Rock Sioux tribal members.

American Indian Community Center members are seen at Standing Rock in September, as they and thousands of other Native Americans stood in support of water. Photo source: Native Voice Network Facebook page
American Indian Community Center members are seen at Standing Rock in September, as they and thousands of other Native Americans stood in support of water. Photo courtesy of Native Voice Network

As the moon rose, the dinner line changed. We started serving people who had been on the front lines, making sure no one disturbed ancestral bones and sacred belongings.

I finally sat down around 11 p.m. and feasted on buffalo meat. I sat in awe of the kitchen. I was where I dreamed of being. It looked exactly like it did in the video.

I understand that what is happening is a concern for everyone. All humans, all life, need water to survive. Eighteen million people depend on the Missouri River, which runs through North Dakota, for daily water.

When, not if, the pipeline breaks, people cannot drink oil.

In another video I saw online, Naelyn Pike, a young Chiricahua Apache woman, observed: “Listen to our cries because Indigenous people are suffering to protect the land that you are living on.”

Many Indigenous cultures have prophecies about a time when all people, Black, White, Red and Yellow, come together to create a new world. Standing Rock marks the beginning of this time. Indigenous people have sounded the call and people across the globe are answering in person and watching on social media.

Jennifer Varenchik (Tohono O’odham) is a speaker, writer and director. Her Twitter handle is @nativemuse. 

7 Responses to "Answering the Call at Standing Rock"

  1. "Jim Ciocia  March 12, 2017 at 8:41 am

    We must all join the fight against this gross miscarriage of justice. As they say in the labor movement, "An injury to one is an injury to all."

  2. Priscilla Leibacher  January 7, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    I am so proud of the strength you have shown and continue to pray for your success. I wish I knew where to find information daily or weekly on what is happening. I am old or I would want to be there with you. Is there anyway to send money for food or medicine? pl

  3. Billie Mallory  December 20, 2016 at 3:54 am

    Much gratefulness for the few brave spirits who fight for us all (including those who do not even recognize or honor that sacrifice)! We stand stronger together!!

  4. Nancy Harris  December 18, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Why is it so hard to do what is right? War does not determine who's right, only who's left. This is what we all need all over the globe. No one is immune to it. Clean water, air and soil is not racist or political. As I've read over and over: You can't drink oil, and you can't eat money. We need to band together now and always for what's RIGHT. Wado....

  5. george hatchett  December 15, 2016 at 10:41 am

    It is time. For too long, we have been mistreated. This fight is for all of us.

  6. Nancy Crone  December 14, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    I wanted to go, too. I was on the Longest Walk and the Trail of Broken Treaties. I demonstrated. I served food. We had sweat lodge and prayed. I have an adult son, who has autism, one of the many side effects from fossil fuel pollution. Everyone lies to us, for hundreds of years. It was good to see many kinds of people in the camp, working together. This is what we have to do to save this Earth. Stop being bullies; drop the greed and be together without fighting. We can bridge this if we try. Where are these people going to live, without the trees, plants, animals, clean water and air? It will be like an asteroid. We must pray for all of us all together, all the time. Eastern Cherokee.

  7. Edward Carman  November 1, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    I am pleased to hear that Native Americans are fighting for the land that belongs to them.

    God bless you all.


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