Day of Mourning with the Water Protectors

Last Thursday was the day that I have always celebrated as Thanksgiving until this year. This year I recognized it as a National Day of Mourning for the violence that European settler colonizers have committed against Indigenous Americans for the last 5 centures. I spent this past Thursday at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock with 10 other folks that made up a PPF delegation. The day started off as they had for the several days since we had been there. We woke up to a light snow and prepared to help around the Oceti Sakowin camp building shelves, sorting donations, washing dishes, and making banners. Around ten in the morning, one of the elders invited everyone to turn and see the police, National Guard, and fire fighters who were gathering on a hill overlooking the camp--a hill that is a sacred burial ground.

Oceti Sakowin Camp, November 2016

There was a fear that the police were going to raid the camp, so all of the children and their mothers, the elderly, and any others who couldn't participate in a direct action were given instructions to evacuate across the river into completely undisputed reservation. The land on which the Oceti Sakowin camp sits is clearly reservation land according to the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. That treaty is still in effect, but is being ignored and permission given by Congress to the Army Corps of Engineers to use the land without the permission of the tribe. This is just one example in a legacy of land theft and occupation in the United States against Native Americans. So there is precedent and a legacy of police raiding the land and homes of Native people, and there was fear it was about to happen again on Thursday. 

Those of us who were not evacuated were quickly organized into groups that would go out of the camp to pray to protect the water and the land. The images from the preveious Sunday night of police throwing percussion grenades and water canons, of spraying Water Protectors with tear gas and pepper spray, were unspoken but present. Gathered together in the camp, we prayed as we shared ear plugs, goggles, and masks to protect against the chemical weapons (tear gas and mace) that the police have been using on Water Protectors for months. We continued to pray and sing as we walked together arm in arm out of the camp and down to the river, right at the foot of the hill where the police, National Guard, and fire fighters stood with machine guns, helmets, vests, armored cars, and other weapons we couldn't see.
We stayed for several hours. There was drumming and singing around fires. Some people crossed the river, praying, as police threatened to use water canons against them. Native elders asked the armed people, who they addressed as their "relatives up on the hill" to leave from off of the graves of their ancestors. They refused.
After several hours of prayer, the hundreds of Water Protectors gathered in a circle to pray--we prayed for the water, for the land, for the people living and not-yet-born who need the land and water to survive. We prayed for the armed people, more relatives. We prayed using the words wni maconi--water is life! We mourned the legacy of violence that accompanies the story of Thanksgiving, and we celebrated the resistance to violence and the life that courses through the river, the land, and the people who are most deeply connected to it.