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In the Spirit of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse

Chicago poet Susana Sandoval has been fasting at Standing Rock ever since she spoke to my classes earlier this semester at the University of Arizona. Several years ago, she was arrested while fasting 17 days in front of the White House to call for a humane immigration reform.

This time, she is not counting, but it must be close to 30 days. When she left Tucson, she returned to Chicago, picked up her daughter and has been at Standing Rock ever since. Her stay there has been a spiritually transforming experience and the camp itself, she says, is a ceremony.

She gives me daily updates and tells me about all the original nations represented there from across the continent. From my perch, all I can do is write and burn copal for those who have chosen to use their bodies to oppose the oil pipeline. She has actually not written much lately, save for a draft of a poem. I prodded her, and thus here it is:


The Trail of Tears traveled

delivered in the realm of America divided

can we build upon faulty foundations?

Do we expect to turn a blind eye to the

sound of pipelines bursting

site forseen

where two legends create distrust among themselves

for the love of materialism

or is it on the front porch of a Baptist church

where children lay down to die

for martyred sisters and brothers

We cannot see without the other

we cannot be without the other

when the other is alive bleeding from

law and order contrived

can we live without the other in the mirror?

The one that completes us is the one that

deceives us

false hope and pride.

we are America, unclothed in a reality show

where clowns fly jets wear toupees,

throw temper tantrums and raise fists.

What do we have to lose?

our dignity and our pride

our wealth inside

provided that we cannot

divide ourselves from one another

It will be the life within us that creates the hope

of the reality that we exist.

we come in peace

we come to advance the

humanity of a real gun from a native consciousness.

Will the deliberate actions of law enforcement be the

deciding factor or

will we create a nation or will we be the revolution

that subsided because we have been paid off

by corporate interests

our cries subdued because we can’t breathe

and the blood-stained sidewalks are the memories crystallized

continue to be enthused by whippings and scalpings

where American dreams like under bulldozed sacred grounds.

our deadly silence resounding as Elders are pepper sprayed,

women are beaten, dogs bite children

we can dream a vision 2020

where worlds collide and we make America great again

passed a one-term president.

we are our future:

one country

one love

one nation

we are America

where freedoms of speech and assembly are respected

protected and reflected through our government and Independent Media.

May God bless America

In North Dakota, the governor today appears to be harsher than the inhospitable winter. He has given the water protectors until Dec. 5 to vacate the treaty lands of the Oceti Sakowin. But they are going nowhere. Amid international uproar, he backtracks. Then the Morton County sheriff announces that no one or nothing will be permitted to come into Standing Rock. He too backtracks. A force much greater than they, are protecting the water protectors.

Still fresh in everyone’s mind is the horrific violence of Nov. 20, when amid below-freezing temperature, water cannons and rubber bullets were unleashed against the protectors.

There is an absence of spirit on behalf of the governmental authorities, Sandoval tells me, directing me to Phyllis Young, an elder from Standing Rock and the Oceti Sakowin camp coordinator.

The battle over the pipeline is not simply about the water, but also the sacred sites, says Young, the same sites where her ancestors are buried and also sites that tell stories and give instructions to her peoples. That is why they fight.

In the next few days, some 2,000 veterans are arriving there, to stand between the camp and the militarized law enforcement forces. Amid the snow-blanketed camp, she is worried about the warriors, because many have diabetes and post-traumatic stress disorder. “They [those conditions] are elements of war,” she says.

“We never leave the warrior behind … there will be a ceremony for them when they arrive,” she says. She adds that her peoples are not fazed by the militarization. There are many warriors here, seen and unseen. She invokes the spirit of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse: “They are with us.”

Dr. Roberto Rodriguez is an associate professor in Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona.

UPDATE: DAPL permit denied by Army Corps; DAPL says it will proceed anyway.

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