Home From Standing Rock

I am just back from the Standing Rock protest in south central North Dakota. It was a pivotal time in the ongoing history of this poignant struggle. During the week of December 2-10, three important things happened:

  • thousands of military veterans arrived prepared to stand between police and water protectors;
  • the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for further drilling, effectively halting the project until further study can be completed;
  • and North Dakota dished out a blizzard with extreme sub-zero temperatures.

It is my intention to write several more blogs about this trip. I start here with a narrative of how was it to be “on the ground.” I went to be of help to the Standing Rock Sioux in their valiant, courageous, peaceful struggle to keep a pipeline carrying crude oil from crossing their sacred land, going under the Missouri River, and potentially destroying the water supply for 18 million people. As if to underscore the concern about a possible leak, just days ago a pipeline 150 miles from Standing Rock spilled over 170,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Little Missouri River: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/12/13/pipeline-150-miles-standing-rock-spills-over-170000-gallons-crude?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=email_this&utm_source=email


Our four-season tents shortly after setting them up.

Our four-season tents shortly after setting them up.

My dear friend, Anne Hayden, and I made the 1300-mile journey to the snowy, well-established camp by train and then rental car and arrived on Sunday December 4, 2016, the same day many veterans were streaming into the Oceti Sakowin camp. It was mid-afternoon on a sunny, 36 degrees F. (2 degrees C.) day that still felt like late fall.

We had just put up our tents when a long line of people began joining hands on the outer perimeter of camp. It took quite a while to organize thousands of us, but once we joined hands horseback riders and walkers came along behind us announcing that the Army Corps of Engineers had denied the permit of the pipeline company to drill under the Missouri River. (To understand the importance of this and read a clear background story, click here: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/12/04/dakota-access-pipeline-permit-denied) Cheers reverberated along the banks of the frozen Cannonball River and off the hillsides lined with ever-watchful police officers.

Osceti Sakowin Camp along the banks of the Cannonball River. Security troops located on surrounding hillsides.

Osceti Sakowin Camp along the banks of the Cannonball River. Security troops located on surrounding hillsides.

All Sunday, well past 8:00 p.m., cars poured into the camp as veterans from every corner of the United States arrived. Fireworks exploded in the dark, clear night.

Monday morning, December 5, was “media day.” There was to be a march of veterans north to the barricade on state highway 1806—the most direct road to Bismarck and emergency services. For the first time TV trucks and major news media were present in significant numbers. Our little campsite was set up next to that of a photographer from U.S. News and World Report who was thrilled that his editors had finally approved his coming. Anne and I rose early, walked along the outer perimeter of camp visiting with newly arrived veterans at the campfires outside their army style tents, and enjoyed the relative quiet of a cold North Dakota morning. We listened to announcements on the loud speaker at the sacred fire at camp’s entrance and watched veterans begin to line up on the road to make their statement of protection.

And then the snow and wind started. By noon a wet, driving snow made it difficult to see or move around. The blizzard quickly canceled all other plans and became the main event.


Looking down into camp from "Facebook Hill" about 11 a.m. as the storm began to build.

Looking down into camp from “Facebook Hill” about 11 a.m. as the storm began to build.

It was hard to know exactly what was happening, but we knew the main kitchen could surely use help so we showed up and chopped garlic for 2 hours while the storm raged outside the unheated cook tent. We do not know exactly what happened with the march by the veterans, but post this iconic web photo from that march.


A Getty Image from the Huffington Post

A Getty Image from the Huffington Post

A Mexican-style dinner was served in the main kitchen tent. There was a wood stove in the corner and 30-50 people crammed around wooden picnic tables—all of us dressed in winter boots, snow pants, heavy jackets, and stocking caps. I had a poignant conversation with a young native man just returning to Oceti Sakowin from a 2-week hiatus. He’d been attacked with water guns at freezing temperatures. “I knew I had to get rid of my anger or I would be no good to my people,” he said. “So, I went home and disengaged from everything.” This level of dedication to maintaining nonviolence was powerfully evident in the native people I met.

Monday evening before retiring into our respective 4-season backpacking tents, we knew it was important to warm up so we headed over to the Interfaith yurt for a conversation around a propane heater with a newfound friend. The wind was so intense (reported at about 60 km/hour) that several times during the night I felt my feet tucked into my two sleeping bags and bivy sack lift up as the wind sought passage underneath the tent. Overnight temperatures dropped to 0 degrees F. (-18 degrees C.).

I rose in the dark at 5:00 a.m. Tuesday morning with the inevitable need to visit the outhouse. It took nearly 30 minutes to don all my layers and exit the tent. It was a bit frightening to realize we were in near whiteout conditions. I could see the outhouse 50 feet away and headed there with my headlamp. Once back outside the porta-potty, I could make out the light of the geodesic main meeting dome and headed there on the icy-snow packed road. After some searching, I found the main kitchen near the dome and presented my services to a rather frantic cook. For the next 90 minutes I cracked over 400 nearly frozen eggs into a huge bowl. As more helpers showed up, I left to find relief for my cold fingers.

VOA news photo taken along main "flag road" into camp showing poor visibility

VOA news photo taken along main “flag road” into camp showing poor visibility


Back in the dome and reunited with Anne, I quickly became aware that many, many people were struggling with hypothermia and cold. At least a hundred folks were sitting on camp chairs wrapped in sleeping bags or huddled around the small wood stove in the corner of the 20-foot high dome. We offered our skills to the medics as experienced wilderness guides and were invited to join the all-camp search to make sure no one was trapped in a car or tent without a warm place to be.

After 2 hours of searching and finding one vet who had slipped on the ice and needed medical attention, we returned to our tents to get snow off them and accepted the invitation from a neighbor to sit in his bus around a space heater. We boiled water to reconstitute our dried soup. Then it was back to the mess tent where we washed dishes with melted snow water for 90 minutes. Unbeknownst to us the “outer” civilized world was struggling as much as we were. Interstate 94 had been closed; Bismarck’s hotel rooms were all sold out; stranded motorists were being housed in churches and schools.


KARE 11 photo showing cars heading south on highway 1806—slick conditions that sent many cars into the ditch

KARE 11 photo showing cars heading south on highway 1806—slick conditions that sent many cars into the ditch

With news of another blizzard arriving in 2-3 days and the obvious stress on the community due to the extreme weather conditions and a lack of incoming supplies, Anne and I decided to break camp and head to Bismarck on Wednesday morning. Tuesday night temperatures dropped below zero degrees F. and winds continued to howl out of the north. It took 3 of us to take our tents down: our “bus” friend, Paul, held our tents to keep them from flying away as the two of us pried stakes from frozen ground with the aid of a shovel and the claws of a hammer.


Photo of me just after taking our tents down (by Anne Hayden)

Photo of me just after taking our tents down (by Anne Hayden)


 What did I learn?

  • People are incredibly kind in emergencies. The vets had to transform their protest energy into emergency response—creating warm spaces for people, transporting them to Bismarck, searching the camp. Nearly everyone who walked by me during the blizzard asked if I was warm enough.
  • In any large gathering it is difficult to discern what is happening around you. Our experience was surely different than other people’s. For example, we did not even know that Tribal Chair David Archambault had called for the evacuation and closure of camp until we read it in the Bismarck Tribune two days later!
  • Our “job” was primarily to help white people in the storm. It was also our privilege to have some remarkable conversations with our native brothers and sisters. In future blogs I will reference some of these. What struck me most about these conversations was the depth of genuine humility I experienced.
  • None of us can go it alone. The Standing Rock Sioux opened their cause. People from many walks of life were inspired and came to help. That response complicated things AND ultimately numbers mattered so the pipeline has been at least temporarily halted.
  • Ceremony matters. The Standing Rock Sioux kept their sacred fire burning night and day for months, even during the storm. Dancers and drummers came out despite the blizzard. Gatherings began and ended with prayer. I have so much to learn about the depth of true prayer.

I am incredibly grateful to Anne Hayden for our impeccable journey. We carefully delivered all the gifts people sent with us, you know who you are. Please note the current announcement on the Oceti Sakowin website “We are not accepting new arrivals due to severe weather conditions! Please do not travel here at this time.”

Next blogs on my pilgrimage to Standing Rock: Conversations as a form of social activism, Do not lose touch with nature, Ceremony matters, and A political update.

37 replies
  1. Marie
    Marie says:

    Dear Ann
    I feel so moved as I read your words. So glad you were able to make such a contribution and that you return with messages for us all. I feel so inspired and also aware that these journeys change us all. In the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes ‘ do not lose heart. We were made for these times’.
    Deep gratitude for your safe return to Christina.

  2. Linette
    Linette says:

    They sound like gruelling conditions.
    I have been watching and reading about the protests closely from Australia and take heart from the order to stop.
    I hope the momentum is not lost.
    I am so glad to hear you are safe and sound again.
    All my love, Linette

  3. Roberta Kilstrom
    Roberta Kilstrom says:

    Thank you so much for this on-the-spot sharing of your experience at Standing Rock. What touched me most was your
    sharing of the young native man who was attacked w/ water guns and withdrew in order to let go of his anger. Also what you shared about kindness shown in emergencies and the power of ceremony and prayer. Things not reported in the news media.

    Thank you for going and being both a help and a witness.

  4. Meredith Jordan
    Meredith Jordan says:

    Ann, dear:

    Thank you for your extraordinary courage (your friend Anne, as well) in enduring this journey on behalf of so many of us who stand with the Standing Rock community. What a journey it was! You may know by bow, or perhaps not, that Jim Kellar was there with family, friends and supplies at the same time you were, so lots of prayers flowing toward both of you!

    Thank you!

    with love,

  5. Jeanne Guy
    Jeanne Guy says:

    Oh, Ann (and Anne) – how valiant, how loving, how remarkable and miraculous. Your journey of extreme kindness and help, and the subsequent telling of the story, will affect many, many lives and hearts.

    Thank you for being who you are. I look forward to reading each and every blog. Much love to you all.

  6. MarthacVennes
    MarthacVennes says:

    Dearest friend and teacher Ann…..Thank you to you and Anne for going to Standing Rock and how sharing that experience with us. As someone who lives “downstream” from. this specific pipeline and as someone hoping to reduce tracking, and increase our alternative energy use I am following this very closely. I wanted to go help however I could but realized I would be more helpful by staying home and doing what I can here . I look forward to your next blog. ❤

  7. Wendy Barrett
    Wendy Barrett says:

    Thank you for writing this and allowing us to journey with you through your words. We are closely following what is happening at standing rock knowing we have to fight here in Canada ourselves for the same cause.
    Your skill and bravery are beyond my words and I bow to you and Anne and all the people who stood ground as water protectors through such challenging conditions.
    We watched the videos online of the veterans asking forgiveness from the First Nation elders with tears in our hearts. There is hope.
    Ingrid and our family send deepest respect and love to you.

  8. Sharry Erzinger
    Sharry Erzinger says:

    Thank you for bringing us glimpses of the realityof this great development in a monumental struggle with a relatively positive outcome. I look forward to your future reflections.

  9. Pamela Sampel
    Pamela Sampel says:

    Thank you, dearest Ann, for carrying the torch and telling this important story. I believe these actions are part of manifest prayer. You do such important work on our behalf. Bless and thank you. I look forward to more words of wisdom and story down the road.

    Love, Pamela Jean

  10. Alice Drewek
    Alice Drewek says:

    Dear Ann,
    Thank you for your courageous spirit in supporting the Standing Rock Sioux by your physical presence. The Light and Love you radiate surely warmed the hearts and spirits of all the people you met. Know that I am most grateful that you chose to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with others. I hold all of you in my heart and in my prayers.
    Love, Alice

  11. Jeanne
    Jeanne says:

    Ann, So glad to get this account today as we were keeping vigil while you were there and knew that there was some harsh weather during your time. Welcome home and I really look forward to more stories and real facts. Thanks for sharing this so soon after your return. Hugs!

  12. LeAnn Blackert
    LeAnn Blackert says:

    My heart swells with pride in you and Anne for taking the time and effort to help out. I will look forward to more stories. Thank you for caring so deeply.

  13. Anke von Wiecken
    Anke von Wiecken says:

    Thank you for going there and Thank you so much for sharing your story – with all that depth and love.
    Love & light,

  14. Dianna MacLeod
    Dianna MacLeod says:

    I appreciate hearing about your experience for many reasons. The details you provide (breaking frozen eggs, chopping garlic) put me at the scene. I realized I have much to learn about the power of prayer and was reminded again of the power of perseverance. In these times of sound bites and packaged news, divisions and disunity, it is so important to understand the deep story…the beliefs and values that motivate people and the struggles they face to be true to those beliefs. And a shout out to your wilderness guide skills that, for at least one person, made a huge difference. Thank you; I look forward to hearing more.

  15. ann eyerman
    ann eyerman says:


    I was humbled by your words and overwhelmed by the passion and dedication of all those people. I don’t think I would have had the courage to do what you did. But I can continue to send my prayers and blessings to all.

  16. Mary Hollen
    Mary Hollen says:

    to You Who Made A Difference:

    You went where the conditions are so inhuman that few caring persons would dare to venture. The snakeskin-shod silk-suited minions of the Private Empire count on this – that no one will reveal the depredations on which they profit because it is so hard to go there and witness.

    And especially honorable: your report of the native who chose to take his anger elsewhere, knowing it would harm rather than help.

    Stunning reporting of the truth. Thank you.

  17. GG
    GG says:

    My Dear Ann,
    Blessings to you and your friend for courage and kindness. I feel like you went on behalf of so many of us who weren’t able to make such a trek. Your presence there surely made a difference. A once in a lifetime experience! I look forward to future blog posts. I bow to your open heart, my friend.

  18. Sharon Faulds
    Sharon Faulds says:

    Dear Ann,
    Thank you for your courage and love of this world. Thank you for the warrior in your heart. I too am humbled by your acts of kindness. Thank you to Ann Hayden for also being a warrior woman in these challenging times. Let us all learn the value of ceremony and deep prayer. Blessings from a cold windy night in Ontario.

  19. Jude Rathburn
    Jude Rathburn says:

    Thank you Ann for making this journey to support the water protectors and for sharing a piece of your story. I am also grateful for all of the ways you speak for the earth and help me (and others) learn from your experience and passion for the earth. Blessings to you and Anne.

  20. Joan
    Joan says:

    Dearest Ann,
    Like many who have already responded, I, too, am humbled by your words and your willingness to be of help. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us. I look forward to reading more reports. Hugs!

  21. Janey Talbot
    Janey Talbot says:

    Anne thank you for sharing your difficult and important story with those of us who want to understand, a precious gift to us at this time.

  22. Susan Kistin
    Susan Kistin says:

    Thank you so much for this very real, touching account of you service to Standing Rock. I am in tears. All my relations…

  23. Diane Tilstra
    Diane Tilstra says:

    Thank you for putting your staff into the earth to speak your truth in support of the Standing Rock effort. I know your heart is so deeply engrained in the Mother. You are my teacher. with love, Cougar

  24. Brenda Peddigrew
    Brenda Peddigrew says:

    Ann, shivers (and not from cold) moved through me while I read your post. Courage, Heart, Presence, Holiness: these were your message to me. You act and speak for many whose hearts are with you while their bodies can’t be, including mine.


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