standing rock tipis

Why did you go? An experience of Standing Rock as a white queer person.

by Rae Strozzo

sky at Standing RockA dear friend in Berkeley sent me Facebook message one evening saying that she felt called to go stand with the water protectors at Standing Rock and did I want to go with her.  “No” was never really going to be the answer, but I definitely had to think about what I was agreeing to do. After several meetings and a week of prep – including research, prayer, meditation, meetings, and just trying to discern my role and reason for showing up there, I left on election night with a group of six friends to go to the Ocheti Sakowin Camp on the bank of the Cannonball River just outside of the Lakota Sioux Reservation at Standing Rock.

I have a deck of cards on my altar that a friend  in Georgia gave me thirteen or fourteen years ago. It has images of the Buddha from all over the world and from many lineages. I pulled a card from that deck for our trip. I pulled the only card that has no image. It has this word, sammasati, which means remember. This is a portion of the dharma that goes with this word:  “The last words of Gautam Buddha were sammasati-“remember.” In a single word, everything significant is contained. Sammasati. Remember what is your inner space. Just remember. . . Just for a few seconds sit down with closed eyes to remember, to make a note of where you have been, to what depth you have been able to reach:  what is the taste of silence, peace?  What is the taste of disappearing into the ultimate?  Look in. And whenever you have time, you know the path.  Just go again and again to the inner space so that your fear of disappearing is dropped, and you start remembering the forgotten language.  Sammasati. . .

There is an exercise in Buddhist meditation practice where two people sit together. One person simply asks the same question over and over and the other answers it each time it is asked.  The dyad is designed to pull the questioner into deep listening and compassion. The person answering is exploring more deeply the complexity of feeling and experiences of what is being asked. Standing Rock felt to me like the call of this questioner, and I was the one trying to answer.  I was asked over and over during the prep to go and during my time in Standing Rock – why are you going?  Why are you going? Why are you here? What is your intention? Why are you here? What are you doing here? The answers are an ever-evolving response.

Why are you going?
A friend asked me to go.Standing Rock NoDAPL
To help.  NOPE! To be in solidarity. To see my settler language and to try and decolonize my responses.
To lament.
To be with other queer people.
To show up.
Why are you going?
To learn.
To pray.
To meditate.
To ride in a van for sixty plus hours with people I love.
To NOT get arrested.
To make phone calls, send texts, to check Facebook.

Why are you here?
To hear the wind.
To follow the water.
To sit on the ground.
To smell like campfire smoke.
To pound in tent stakes.
To hold my breath.
To wait.
Why are you here?
To chop onions.
To paint banners.Standing Rock art tent
To connect to bosses, partners, friends, chosen family, moms
To meditate.
To be in ceremony.
Why are you here?
To talk to a Buddhist monk at the sacred fire.
To stand for the first half of the pipe ceremony with the women and for the second half with the men.
To hear the elders call for Two Spirit Nation to take their place at the water ceremony.
To smell sage.
To cry.
To have no words.
To watch the supermoon outshine the floodlights over the pipeline
Why are you here?
To not know.
To not understand.
To hold stories and songs in my heart that were a gift to hear and to know that they are NOT my gift to give.
Why are you here?
To learn that Two Spirit is not just a beautiful way of saying LBGTQ.
To NOT see burned out cars, barricades, or militarized police.
To see community.
To see peace  – not to bring it.
To join prayers – not to create them.
To live into story – not narrate it.
To learn from elders and follow their lead.

Zubian, a two spirit elder, said to me:  “ I have been transformed before. Others are here for that transformation.”  He was speaking of a young woman who had pulled him out of the way of a speeding truck meant to hit him and stop him from praying at a direct action. But it was clear he meant more than just her.

Why did you go?
To follow the water.
To sleep on the ground, listening to the calls of prayer, and drums, and drones, and helicopters, and wind, and flags.
Why did you go?
To shout Mni Wiconi and mean it.
Why did you go?
To protect.
To have hope.
To be surprised.
To remember.

Image credits: Rae Strozzo.