Standing Rock 2018

A twenty-hour drive and I am back home on a sunny and clear Sunday morning.  Such a drive allows much time for reflection.  The last few weeks of visiting reservations of this ancient land, having many conversations, and living with young adults on the Standing Rock reservation gives one much to ponder.  Just the same, I spent as much of that driving time listening to TED Talk’s and music than I did pondering the past.  So, on this sunny Sunday morning, as I write this last piece on the Standing Rock trip, I settle upon one image of these last weeks.

Four mares stand in a temporary corral. They each descend from a particular time in the life of the Hunkpapa Lakota people.  Specifically under the leadership of Sitting Bull.  The story told is about Sitting Bull and a number of folk going to Canada after the Battle of Little Bighorn for safety.  They live there for a number of years.  During that time US representatives visited five times to negotiate their return to the US.  After the fifth time Sitting Bull and the people agree to return—under specific conditions and agreements.  When they returned their horses were taken from them and they confined to place—not the conditions and place agreed to.  The four mares standing in the corral before me are decedents of the Sitting Bull horses taken on that day.

Until a few days prior to my standing outside the corral, the four mares had roamed free in an open land.  Then their life had now changed forever. Values like good or bad, free or confined are easy to use.  But they do little to speak truth of the life of these horses.  From this time onward they will no longer roam big open space. However, they may live in one of this world’s best human-horse relationships.  I this true as I listen to the words and watch the work of John Eagle, a Hunkpapa Lakota.  I may be wrong, I have not the language of horses, I do not know their words.  Yet, as four mares and Eagle move around one another there is something of relationship and respect.

When I return, my hope is to stand in the space of a temporary corral long gone and watch mares roam the landscape. That moment of return will matter for it speaks of and to this place—as would non-return.  Non-returns matter in any place, but this one in particular matters for yesterday’s peculiar story.  For in this season, two years ago, Standing Rock experienced the beginning—of what would last nearly a year—of visitors coming to protest the burial of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).  Those were days of promises—to not forget, of celebrities, of action, and promises—of return. Warm days of 15,000 people and freezing days of a few hundred people.  That was a time when many folks believed relational change toward indigenous landscapes had occurred.

Two years later and few have returned. No how’s-it-hangi’ngor what’s happen’in.  The powwows are small, as they were before DAPL, off reservation friends (developed during DAPL) have turned to acquittances, and the time of acquittances becoming the people who have no name is nearing.  After a twenty hour drive I wonder if and when I am that memory of no name.  I figure it is inevitable at some time, for life as it is last only so long.  But until then, will no name status come years before I am of soil and wind again? Perhaps the only answer is the cliché time will tell.

Yet to leave it at that would be wrong. For I could say—and often have in many times and places—I will find solace in four mares who descend from many and they maintain a relationship with the people of the landscape between Standing Rock and Canada.  That in those four lies the knowledge, the history, the story of movement and return.  And through them the story will not be forgotten.  Little doubt that thought holds truth, yet it is sorely inadequate.  For the movement onto this reservation was mine, during DAPL and now.  I asked for it, not the land, not the people, not the horses.  The obligation, the responsibly is no other than my own.  So, the question lies before me, if four mares can return home after 136 years can I return after one?

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