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War Zone, USA: Hardship and Healing for Indigenous Water Protectors

By Ariana Alvarez, UN intern for the Loretto Community & member of the NGO Mining Working Group

When you think of war zones, it is easy to think of something far off. Growing up in the Bay Area of California, I recognized that I would most likely never have to enter a war zone in my life. Yet, you could say I stepped into one in November of 2016. When I arrived to Standing Rock in North Dakota, as I entered Oceti Sakowin camp, a young man said to me, “you’re entering a war zone, but don’t worry, we’re not the ones with weapons.” His name was Dakota. Dakota’s comment completely shook me. How is it possible that right in the United States, native people – people who belonged to this land first – can feel so attacked to point of warfare? It seems impossible, right? Yet, the most crippling part is that this warfare isn’t new- it’s been happening for centuries to all of our native, indigenous, First Nations people. And somehow, we’ve all played a role.

The stories that stretch from Standing Rock’s legacy are stories of triumph, unity, spirituality, resistance, but also of trauma. During my stay at Oceti Sakowin (pictured below, source: Matika Wilbur for Indian Country Today), I witnessed police enforcement spray down Water Protectors with fire hoses during a prayer circle we held at Turtle Island (a sacred burial mound) on Thanksgiving Day. This was only a quick peek into the series of attacks that were put onto Water Protectors throughout the duration of people at camp.

What I feel most media outlets failed to highlight about the Standing Rock movement was how spirituality was at the core of it all. Prayer was held every morning and continued throughout the day; prayer for our water, Mother Earth, the Seven Generations to come, and more. Everyone’s water was being prayed for; even the water of those enforcing such pain and trauma onto the Water Protectors. That’s how selfless the movement was, and still is.

Because of all the trauma that many Water Protectors now carry with them, a beautiful demonstration of support and solidarity has been conceptualized in the form of Earth Mother Community Education Camp in Iowa…The camp identifies itself as a progressive “think tank,” with indigenous roots and practice at the core of it all. With sustainable technology and infrastructure, the camp will implement indigenous agricultural practices, and more, to promote a self-sufficient community and camp. The camp will provide resources and opportunities for professional and personal development through a community of indigenous teachers, community experts, and academic educators…The camp aims to carry the momentum of Standing Rock, but to also provide healing through community. The camp will have sweat lodges and other indigenous outlets for healing and spirituality growth. This is essential for the healing of all who are protecting our water, especially native and indigenous peoples. It is essential that we support outlets that support their well-being, for, they have been constantly knocked down for our comfort for far too long.