I really didn’t know what to expect when I jumped in the car with my Native American friend on route to the now world famous Standing Rock.
I had seen so much printed online, as well as videos of the violence involving police and the local Native people.
I received messages from home in support. My family was also worried, as all that everyone had seen was the confrontation on the frontline, brutal violence against the Native American people.
On the approach to the main camp entrance gates, my friend pointed out a hill that backed onto the front of the main camp, charred with the charcoaled remains of a grass fire - allegedly set alight by local police enforcements, in hope it would spread downhill and scare off the now approximately 2000 campers at the main camp. As always, The Old People, our Native Ancestors kept everyone safe.
Turning into the gate, I noticed right away, as if I had been drawn toward it, our First Nations Aboriginal flag flying proudly in the wind. It made the first conversation that set the mood for my entire time at Standing Rock. When I introduced myself as a First Nations Aboriginal from Australia, an Elder grabbed me and held me tight.
“Thank you for being here my brother. We thank you for your people's support, we are family,” he said.
After that initial conversation, I was told something I’ll never forget.
“The media are making out we are protestors. We aren't protesters, we are protectors - water is our life, we must protect our people against this destruction.”
It was that conversation that made me realise that everything the Native American people were doing, they were doing with peace and respect - all protecting a common value we share around the globe as First Nations people: Love and respect for Mother Earth.
The more I walked around and introduced myself as a visitor from Australia, the more I could feel the warmth of the entire camp. All of them were there for one reason. All were sharing food, equipment and clothing as needed, and all being respectful of camp rules.
Whilst on the frontline I saw toddlers, teenagers, parents and grandparents - many different generations sharing humility, kindness, appreciation, respect and the most passionate amount of love I have ever seen within community. On the other end, there were male police dressed in riot gear and sporting machine guns.
I grew a particular bond with a local Native man named Lucas Grasswater, a staunch and passionate leader who had been manning the camp for some 3 months. Lucas told me many had come and gone during his stay, but many had also returned due to the warm embrace the people had showed each other on the ground.
“Many people had driven home, only to turn around a few hours into the trip. They turned around because they needed to feel that connection a little more,” he said.
As the sun began to set and the crisp icy temperature of North Dakota set in, the rhythmic sounds of the Native American drums began to echo across the lands and loosen the soil like a heartbeat; the heartbeat of the earth.
Senica Nation Native woman Nicky Thompson described it best when talking about the many different Native First Nations from around the world coming together in unity.
“It is beautiful, just so humbling,” she said.
Hundreds of different Native American tribes and many non-indigenous visitors from around the world are here standing together, in one place, for one cause. It doesn't matter where we are from; we are all showing humility, respect, love and care for our First Nations values.
One of the most loving humbling experiences I have ever experienced.
Yindyamarra - Mni Wiconi
Respect (Wiradjuri) - Water Is Life (Lakota)