Disputed Highway 1806 Near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, Saturday, October 29th, 2016
150 men, women, and children set out on foot from Oceti Sakowin camp,
near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Reservation. In the lead, wearing a
headdress of stunning long white feathers tapering into black, is Lakota
Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Sioux Nation. The
colorful flags of hundreds of tribal nations proudly wave on tall
makeshift poles, lining either side of the self-described “water
protectors” path. Under grey and cloudy skies and a fresh cold spell,
the mood is somber.
march turns right out of Oceti Sakowin onto Highway 1806, flanked on
all sides by men from the camp acting as security guards. They don’t
have far to walk. Perhaps a quarter of a mile north atop a small bridge
above an even smaller tributary leading east to the Missouri River lie
the burned carcasses of two giant trucks and a car that had been torched
less than 36 hours earlier. The blaze marked the ignominious end to a
day that will surely be recorded as one of the most significant oil battles in the history of the United States.
marchers stop about 20 feet from the debris; the line of security
guards standing as a buffer between them, the barricade, and what lies
the opposite side of the wreckage is a large armed force of police,
National Guardsmen, and private security in the employ of Energy
Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. Their
vehicles, including multiple armored Humvees, form one line parallel to
the bridge and another that stretches up along the Highway to the
north. Humvees are also situated on every available hilltop. Further
north is the Dakota Access Pipeline, actively under construction on the same ground on which the October 27th standoff was fought.
the combined police force has been holding this location 24 hours a day
for two straight days, nothing has been done to remove the destroyed
vehicles, which serve (as they still do today) as a blockade keeping the
water protectors away from the pipeline.
of the water protectors gathered here have not slept since that night;
they have either been in jail or in search of incarcerated friends and
loved ones. Some have been injured physically, as well as mentally and
spiritually. Others are simply in a state of shock. Many, including the
camp security, are ill at ease, uncertain about the advisability of
being this near the bridge.
Nonetheless, the group has come here to pray.
took years to fight the Keystone XL oil pipeline,” intones Tom
Goldtooth, a Dine’ and Dakota from Minnesota, and the executive director
of the Indigenous Environmental Network. Success, he explains, came
because they knew “to keep prayer first.”
Imperceptibly at first, the mood slowly begins to shift. It takes a moment to realize the source.
arrive at first in a trickle of groups of twos and threes. Without a
word, women and girls join the circle. As their numbers swell, the mood
brightens. They are obliterating the grey sky and mood with an array of
brilliant color bursting forth from clothes, beads, shoes, and jewelry
in seemingly every hue. A crisp “jingle” accompanies their entrance, as
they move, and as the wind catches hold of their dresses; each garment
is adorned with rows of silver metal cones, called ziibaaska’iganan in Ojibew. As the cones strike one another, they emit an ethereal sound of hundreds of tiny chiming bells.
call had gone out just the day before for Jingle Dress Dancers to
gather here and offer their prayer and healing, Goldtooth explains. From
many states and tribal nations, they heeded the call.
she was done making her dress and ready for the upcoming ordeal, she
went out (she does not say where) to fast. Looking up, she says that the
same hills surrounding us today came to her in a dream that night. An
elderly silver-haired woman in a buckskin dress came down from the
hills. “She starts singing a song,” Callinghawk says. “I looked at her, I
said, ‘I’m not here for songs, I’m here with my dress!’ She looks at
me, she kind of smiles and she tells me in the Ojibew language, ‘You’ll
know when it’s time, you’ll take this song.’” Now, it seems is one of
saw pictures of the events of October 27th and knew she had to come to
Standing Rock. She knew the healing power of the dress. As she drove,
“the closer we got, I could feel my dress getting ready, I could feel
the strength,” she says. The healing power had begun.