“Calling all Water Protectors! Arise and come to the river! Rise up and defend the water!”
The voice over the loudspeaker cuts through the chill darkness surrounding the tents and tepees. I stuff my cold feet, in double socks, into my boots and stumble out of my tent to visit the Spiffy Biff fifty yards away from the group of tents and vehicles where I’ve been camping.
In the North Dakota October predawn, Oceti Sakowin appears to be sleeping, but soon I begin to hear the soft sounds of tents unzipping and footwear scuffing the dried grass and mud as people shuffle across the unlit encampment to the Sacred Fire, the camp’s heart.
As I approach I hear someone with the microphone announcing the plan for the morning. There will be a water ceremony by the river, the male voice explains, followed by an action at the Dakota Access pipeline construction site. The pipeline construction is now approaching Highway 1806 and soon will be threatening the Missouri River.
I catch snippets of conversation about what gear to carry–wallet? water bottle? kerchief for tear gas protection?
Hands deep in my pockets and wishing I’d put on my winter jacket, I approach the crowd around the Spirit Fire and and stand listening to several Native leaders give a few details about what will happen. Following the sunrise water ceremony at the river, people will walk along the road to where the bulldozers have slashed a trench across the rolling fields and hills I drove through a few days ago to get here. Despite the thousands of Native Water Protectors and allies camped at Standing Rock, North Dakota, seeking to oppose them, Energy Transfer Partners, the company, is pressing on with building the pipeline, the dangerous Black Snake, towards the river. The Water Protectors are preparing another action today in the fight, already months long, to keep that from happening.
Around me people confer quietly, sip coffee, then go back to their own camps or move off down to the river for the ceremony. Over the loudspeaker, calls for participation in the action, in English and Native languages, alternate with prayers and chanting.
I am reminded of war movie scenes: early morning bugle calls, warriors emerging from tents, pulling on their boots by the light of campfires. Lining up and moving off toward battle with a sense of anticipation tinged with fear.
“This is the day we’ve been waiting for!”
This statement is repeated continually, echoing over the many acres of the sprawling encampment. “This is the most important day. We must stop the Black Snake before it destroys more of our sacred lands and reaches the road and the River.”
Of course, each day is important. Some begin with pre-dawn mobilization like this one. Many others start with people simply doing what’s needed to keep the community going: making fires, lighting wood stoves, pouring water and oats into giant pots. Gathering around, walking and driving back and forth, stopping to talk, taking messages, carrying supplies.