Learning from Standing Rock
President-elect, Division 48
North Dakota: At the daily meetings, anyone who wishes to speak can do so, for any length of time, on any topic. Others listen carefully, patiently, and respectfully, in order to learn from those who do, and those who do not, initially, look like they have a lot to teach. For non-natives, noticing the patience and listening attentively is the first lesson: That there is a different way to engage — that unwavering focus with determination to meet a known goal is not the only — and not always the best — approach. That pushing someone to get to the point might lead you to miss the point entirely. The wisdom the speaker has to share might come in the first sentence or the last paragraph, or throughout the comments. You cannot know in advance. You must remain engaged. In the meetings I attended, some who spoke had traveled — some by foot — hundreds of miles to share their experiences and their hard-won wisdom—from other actions in other times.
Grandmothers led the communal prayers that began each meeting, and ended it, and their prayers of gratitude, of memory, of humble request, and of hope, were enhanced by drumming and singing, done by men — usually young men. Those prayers reminded us we were all in this together nowin — digenous people, immigrants — voluntary and forced — and the descendants of immigrants. All races and ethnicities. We all share this one, beautiful, earth. And every meeting left me in hope and awe, as I watched privileged young men and women — the descendants of colonizers — who had opted to learn, for now, from their indigenous relatives, rather than from their college professors. And young Native men and women who had committed themselves to stand up and lead others in non-violent actions to protect the water. Everyone there was ready to stand with all willing relatives—we are all relatives--putting our bodies and souls on the line to protect the water for future generations.
This experiment in democracy, sustainability, justice, egalitarianism and community, was not viewed favorably by the larger community. It was viewed with suspicion, hatred, and condemnation. And the response of the authorities in the nearby non-native communities, with the support of non-native community members, was unbridled, unjustified, absurd levels of violence, both direct and indirect. Violence toward the water protectors and toward the water itself.
Indeed, for hundreds of years, the democratic, egalitarian, spiritual, communal societies of indigenous western hemisphere natives have been viewed by non-natives with fear and hatred. They have consistently been treated with absurd levels of violence, because, for all this time, the settler/colonizers and the generations following the settler/colonizers did not — and probably could not — see the indigenous groups as human. If they had, it would have posed a challenge to the colonizers' values and way of life, with its central assumption that it is normal for humans to be driven by greed, competition, and individualism. With such values, respect is given not to those who share, but to those who own land, animals, and people.
For those who want to know more about, and to support, the ongoing actions of the water protector community, you will not learn much from the mainstream press. I suggest you look for the many Facebook groups about Standing Rock, and also to look to our Native colleagues through the organization Society of Indian Psychologists. Or you may contact me.