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.
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.
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.
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.
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.