Lessons from My Time in Standing Rock

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The chaos of that day was vivid. In the morning, I remember strolling around Oceti Sakowin, the main camp of Standing Rock, and asked if anyone had been arrested at the new frontline camp. My friends had camped there the night before in an effort to help protect the space from the police, whom many rumored were prepared with riot gear and paddy wagons. 

The newly established camp had been set up to block the next part of the construction for the Dakota Access Pipeline and the people residing there were building the infrastructure to survive the incoming winter months. By the evening, elders were shouting over the microphones at Oceti Sakowin, “We need you on the frontlines! The police have arrived!”

Vans and trucks speed out of the main entrance of the camp, all packed with people in masks and scarves. Highway 1806 was lined with cars, cameras, and people. Grey smoke billowed in the distance as a car burned. The chaos could be felt. I rushed into the frontline camp and began helping wherever I could. A indigenous woman and I carried things out of her tent as police closed in with their batons. Dark tanks stood in the distance and snipers on hilltop.

The more that I saw, the more that my heart began to race. Bulldozers began to plow through sacred burial grounds before my very eyes. Men were dragged out of teepees in their underwear. People pulled their bruised and bleeding friends array from the barrage of tear gas and rubber bullets. I grabbed my own friend as we slipped through the crowd after police shot at a horse.

With distance from my month spent in Standing Rock, I still find myself waking up in the middle of the night and thinking of the thousands of people that devoted so much time and pain to establish one of the most powerful modern cases of resistance against corporate greed. I think of the main fire at Oceti Sakowin, where people would gather every night with soup or cornbread or rice cooked by volunteers in the kitchen. I think of the children running around during recess and of the sun setting in the background as I walked back to my tent. I think of the moments experienced there, devoured by terror at the hands of the state.

Standing Rock, like many things in life, was a lesson in pain and endurance. It was also a lesson in how to love and demand a new world in one scarred by violence. There were many times that I wished to turn away and turn away from the horror, but as an activist, writer, and lover of freedom, I could not. As a black person in America, I have faced my own ordeals because this country has refused to wash away the oppression of present social institutions.The indigenous tribes that gathered deserved more and still do after centuries of surviving colonialism.

But the question still remains - what do we do next to help the environment? The answer arrives when we build spaces, like Standing Rock, that aim to show another way, a better way to relate to each other and treat the Earth. The answer arrives when we begin to understand that all of our lives are on the line if we do not act now. The answer arrives when we choose to not turn away.




Ryant Taylor is a writer and activist from Cleveland, Ohio. He has participated in protests in France, Ferguson, and Standing Rock. He is the creator of Decolonize The Mind, a travel blog, and is currently freelance writing in the Philippines.