Excerpt for Step One: Save the World - The Journey of a Water Protector by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Step One: Save the World

The Journey of a Water Protector

DJ Rankin

steponesavetheworld@gmail.com


Well, here I am. Sitting next to a tiny little fire, in a tiny little cave, on top of a not so tiny mountain, just outside of Cherokee, NC. Hidden away from society, reality and humanity, although I am feeling pretty close to astronomy right about now. Truth is, it's not even much of a cave, but I managed to make it quite homey. The mountain is littered with boulders, big, small, medium, extra medium, and even a spectacular rock climbing arena at the top. The "cave" is really just a couple of giant hunks of granite, positioned with a gap between them just large enough for a tiny little fire. So I guess it's really the fire's cave and I'm just a hanger on. The boulders overhang the flame by a few feet and get good and warm as they probably loosen their grip on the mountain, just a few feet from where I lay my head. Plenty of rocks everywhere, so I built up a retaining wall to hold an almost levelish bed of dirt. I kept building the wall up to protect from the rogue coyote whose tracks I've seen nearby, and from the lone wild turkey that I'm pretty sure is in charge of this mountain. I gathered some fallen trees and muscadine vines and lashed together a rhododendron thatched roof. This place is pretty sweet, so don't feel too bad for me, plus it's got an exquisite sunrise viewing area on the roof. Should have a photo uploaded to Air B&B by tomorrow.

As luxurious at it all may sound, one might wonder what has driven me up this hill, away from friends, family and anyone else with an opposable thumb. I'm not ready to talk about that. I'm just not. Where can I even begin? What I saw? What I experienced? Sure, might be a good start, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Or the edge of the frozen river. It's not what I saw, it's what I learned. I learned about the truth of the past, the lies of the present, and the destruction of the future. Not quite the lighthearted conversation I used to be known for. I'm messed up. Broken. Don't get me wrong, I learned so much about love and compassion and humility and kindness and even how to pray. I pray more from the heart in one day than I had in my entire life leading up to this, and now's when we need it more than ever, but praying up here alone in this cave isn't going to be enough to save the world. We all have to use what we've learned and what we've proven possible, to show everyone that there is a better way to live. If we can't figure it out together, someone else will gladly manage it for us, and from what I've seen, it's not going to be near as pretty as this little mountain chateau where I currently reside.

Step One:


So, I first heard about Standing Rock at the end of October, when I was visiting a college roommate in Boulder. He was the RA of a little hippie college, beautiful women, salsa class, legal weed, climbed a boulder in Boulder and smoked it. This was the life. Then he invited me to a Standing Rock action meeting where they skyped with a girl who was at the protest camps in North Dakota. How had I not heard about this before? I had been traveling for a while and not on the facebook much, or keeping up with the news at all, but this was big. Turns out that even if I had been glued to the tv all summer, I would have still been just as in the dark. The lack of mainstream media coverage and the slant they took when they eventually had no choice, completely depleted whatever faith in american news outlets I had left. Sure, fox news is going to frame it incorrectly, that only reaffirms that they're doing the right thing out there, but everyone else too? Then, when you realize that they're all owned by the same corrupt corporations that they report on, well, the rose starts to fade out of your glasses pretty quick. But I digress.

If you've just happened upon this book in a discount bin and also don't know anything about Standing Rock, I implore you to do a little research and see for yourself the same things I saw when I started digging into the google machine. This book is far from a comprehensive historical record of Standing Rock, this is just the journey of one water protector, and you probably won't believe half the stuff I'm gonna tell you anyway, so check it out for yourself. But just in case you're reading this after the post apocalyptic internet crash of twenty-something, I'll synopsisize it real quick for you.

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) is in the oil business. The dirty crude oil business. Currently, the oil pipeline business and they were putting a pipe right through the Sioux reservation. Through sacred burial land of the Lakota Sioux people. Through land that the US government agreed to let them retain in the Treaty of Fort Laramie, and that was only after we’d forced them out of the rest of their vast hunting and gathering grounds. A treaty that we broke over and over as we stole more sacred sites and resources that they depended on for their way of life, which led to the Lakota Sioux defeat of Custer's invading army. The only war that the US ever claimed defeat in and we've never gotten over it apparently. A treaty giving them the right to live in a good way, after we'd robbed them of every other piece of land that could possibly be exploited and desecrated for financial gain. Including their most sacred Black Hills, where we installed a massive monument displaying four of the faces of the very ones who raped their land and oppressed their people the most... just in case they forgot, I guess.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, or dapl, was originally routed through Bismarck, the city just north of the reservation. A single city council meeting put that to an end. Why run it through a metropolitan area full of white people when there was a perfectly good indian burial ground just a few miles down river? Now granted, the native population on the rez is a lot lower than that of the city, hmm... why again is the native population so low?

So anyway, protest camps had formed nearby, all the way back in the spring, for an indigenous led movement to stop dapl from stealing their land. It began as a primarily native encampment, reuniting over 300 tribes from across the continent and beyond in an unprecedented show of unity, from a race that most people don't even know still exists. The youth of the tribes got online in a way that was inconceivable during those other times that our government wanted something that the indians still had left. Now people were awake to the evils of corporate greed and its destruction of our Mother Earth, people were standing up and at its peak, the camp was fifteen thousand full of indigenous, environmentalists, veterans, hippies and people from all over. They weren't mere protesters, a word cast in a discrediting negative light by our dear old mainstream media, they were the Water Protectors. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that the last section of pipeline to finish drilling and installing was a three-foot wide segment running directly under the Missouri River? The primary water source for not just the Lakota reservation, it's the biggest river in the entire country. Not to worry though, I'm sure someone will be able to filter, bottle and sell it all back to us. At least somebody's win/win winning as we’re left to pay the cost of free trade. Mni Wiconi. Water is life.

So you get it, oil bad, water good, yadda yadda yadda. Ok, so where was I? Oh yeah, I got back home to Asheville, NC, thankfully a pretty progressive city and my hippie roommate had been keeping close tabs on the situation. She filled me in on what she knew and I dug into the interweb for more. Every video I saw, every article I read, every interview I watched, made this feeling, this need, this calling inside of me just know that I had to be there. What I would find out later is that thousands of others simultaneously got the same unexplainable call inside of them as well. It was nearly thanksgiving by this point and it was decided, I'd spend the "holiday" with my family (And we don't even have to get into the synchronicity of the current oppression of indians while the rest of america celebrates this day of massacre with a capitalism parade, do we?) and then I'd arrange a ride for the twenty-four hour journey to ND. Luckily for me, Asheville has a strong activist community and several FB pages dedicated to Standing Rock, including a rideshare page, so that part was easy.

Then bloody sunday hit. Protectors were at the bridge where the police barricade was set up and the night's protests escalated to the point that the fully armored police units attacked the unarmed protectors with the usual mace and tear gas, no big, and then they blasted the crowd with a water cannon in the subfreezing Dakota night. An ice cannon. And oh jeez, almost forgot this one, a young woman’s arm was also blown apart by a concussion grenade. In the police's defense, they were working closely with TigerSwan, a private mercenary and intelligence firm hired by dapl to operate outside of the law, so the cops had to go big if they were ever going to get noticed during tryouts. "Get off of the bridge. For your own safety." Wow. I had to be there.

We did thanksgiving and I filled my mom in on what was going on out there. Not so surprisingly, she hadn't heard of it either in her small rural town. She got it though, unlike some other protectors' families and some members of mine. She could see that something inside was pulling me there, no matter what the risk or sacrifice. I'd never done anything like this before. No protests. No anti-oil FB posts. Sure, I could agree that solar was better than oil, global warming is real, but that's about as deep into it as I got. I was a music guy, producing bands and shooting videos, which meant that I had a big professional camera and editing rig. So, obviously my role was to film the atrocities taking place against citizens of our planet and share them with the world, but I was down to do whatever. Split firewood, build structures, why I'd even cook if that's what they wanted.

So I arranged a ride with a few unknown Ashvillians as I tried to plan and pack for the coldest cold that I'd ever experienced. I had a hundred dollars, so I got wool socks, long johns, handwarmers and a few other survival items. I was only going for a week, ten days tops, I had to be back by the fourteenth for sure. I called in a few favors from a few friends and got some good boots, gloves, ski gear and anything else that I could gather. You should have seen me layering up the night before I left, testing out the mishmash of gear that I had accumulated and still feeling underdressed for the occasion.

And the next morning it was on. I grabbed my pack, camera bag and imac desktop computer. Who even does that? And imac in a blizzard? But if I didn't bring it, then I couldn't edit until I got home and by then it might be too late. The four of us loaded up and hit the road. What a good time, we hit it off instantly, of course we did roll one before we rolled out. The current independent news gossip about Standing Rock (The Young Turks, Democracy Now, The Intercept) was roadblocks issuing $1,000 fines for bringing supplies into the camp, we decided that probably included green supplies, just to be safe. Plus this was strictly a peaceful prayer camp, no guns, alcohol or drugs. We need to respect the Lakota tradition while we are guests in their nation.

Our driver, Barry, was older than the rest of us and was a radio dj, an activist, an artist, a father and had a whole life worth of stories to keep us entertained for hours. He had been a part of the Occupy movement in Asheville, the second longest running Occupy camp in the entire US. He'd also helped rig oil pipelines back in the day. Hey, a job's a job. The other two passengers weren't strangers to each other, they were a couple, about my age, who ran an organic farm near ashevegas. We all shared very similar views on most everything. Politics obviously, religion, food, music, psychedelics, sorry, where was I, spaced out for a minute? Oh yeah, what a trip. We didn't drive straight through though, it was cornfield after cornfield after cornfield and we eventually made it to a hotel in Mobridge, a South Dakota town an hour south of the camps. Figured that we should get a good nights sleep and probably better to roll into camp at ten in the morning, rather than ten at night.

Up and at 'em. Excited, nervous, anxious, ready, not ready, but mainly just pumped to finally arrive at this place that our hearts had been pulling us to for days and weeks. The four of us headed out and the snow got worse the closer we got to camp, but Barry was a pro. The first time we slid on the ice, he recovered with such mastery that it quelled any doubts that we might have had. We arrived a few days after the first blizzard, enough time that the camp had properly recovered and was in full-on GO mode. We were going to stay in Rosebud camp because Barry's contacts told him that most of asheville was already there, and we were all such good friends that we were staying near each other for sure.

There were three camps in the movement. Sacred Stone was set up first and was far up on the hill, on "private property", so supposedly it was the least likely to be raided. Oceti Sakowin was the "main" camp and was on the north side of the Cannonball river, directly south of the pipeline's construction. Oceti risked the most chance of arrest because it was on Army Corps of Engineers' land, at least according to them anyway. There was a big white glowing dome where there were daily meetings and orientations, as well as drumming and other activities at night. We were camped in three locations, but we were all one family and welcome anywhere at any time, even the Sacred Stoners.

We pulled into the main Rosebud entrance, just south of the Cannonball river, and we were greeted by a big and tall dreadybear with an even bigger smile on his face. He pointed us towards a safe place to park in the recent maze of snow drifts and welcomed us to camp. We made it. We were home. We didn't quite know it yet and I'm not exactly sure the moment that I first felt it, but this was home and everyone agreed, all of us that stayed at least. Something else to that point, something we didn't realize or at least discuss until the winter had a chance to test our limits, was that everyone felt that they had been preparing their whole lives for this experience. There were particular moments towards the end when I felt it more, but it was there even in the first week. Small little experiences that seemed insignificant at the time, now made perfect sense and I started to feel that everything had happened for a reason.

Sure, I already felt that some, but it also just felt like an easy way out of dealing with an unfavorable situation. Like a heartache in particular, but looking back now, I specifically needed every single break-up along the way to put me right here, right now. And it's still happening. Little things that pop up and I conveniently have just the right experience to handle it with ease. Still waiting on the last couple of skillsets to come into play, snowboarding mainly, guessing I'll be using that in some type of ice age arctic resistance movement coming soon to a theater near you.

So we pull into Rosebud, park, and we're immediately greeted by a tall blond hippie who seemed to know her way around pretty well. Summer walked us down to where most of asheville was camped at, on the west side of camp, closer to the road that we came in on, Hwy 1806. On the walk, Derrick joined the crew, he had only gotten there a day or two prior and was brimming full of life, energy and passion. He had been a traveling Bernie campaigner for the whole primary and had apparently gained enough notoriety that some campers recognized him and hooked him up with a propane heater and other supplies. Just another past experience that helped him out with the present. They showed us the Asheville yurt, a community space and always a warm sanctuary to take refuge. Camp was comprised of a few different types of structures, the aforementioned yurt, tipis, tarpees (we'll get to them later), huge army tents and a few wooden buildings. A yurt, for those unfamiliar, is a circular canvas covered structure with poles, lattice and full-size doors forming the walls, a big wooden ring in the middle of the ceiling and 2x4 rafters reaching from the ring to the wall to form the roof. A woodstove in the middle kept the place so toasty, and this particular yurt had a kitchen on one side which nightly had some tasty soup or another, generally a later meal than that at the main mess hall.

Summer told us about the orientation at the dome and pointed us towards the mess hall, but first and foremost, we needed to set up camp. Derrick showed us where he was at, behind the yurt in a little strip of trees, not too many of those in the frozen Dakota plains apparently. The recent storm had caused a lot of people to abandon camps with flimsy summer tents that had collapsed, so before Summer left us, she said that it was cool for us to scavenge whatever supplies we needed for our own camps. Considering that I also only had a flimsy summer tent myself, her advice was much appreciated and put to good use over the next few days as I got my camp dialed in. There was a fallen tent right beside Derrick's that I was going to "borrow" a tarp from, when all of a sudden it became very apparent, this other tent was in the best spot. A little nook in the trees with windbreaks on two sides already, so I pulled the pile of tent out and began to set up shop. Tarp on the ground. Tent on the tarp. Blanket on top of the tent. Rope tying the blanket to a tree above to help support the weight of three feet of snow. Fly for the tent tied behind it to create an additional windbreak. Built a snow wall on one side. Another tarp tied vertically, wrapped around the remaining side and across the front, then clipped with carabiners to a tarp stretching from Derrick's tent. Welcome to the neighborhood.

I can't quite remember what we had for dinner that night, but it was probably something like pasta with red sauce, a big pot of some vegetable and these hard little frozen dinner rolls which made an appearance on most of those early nights. I do remember that it was packed. There was no door at the time, just the flaps of a big army tent and once inside it was sardines. Us, not the meal. Woodstove on the left surrounded by chilled out campers and a supply table on the right covered with mylar emergency blankets, toothbrushes, rope, batteries and a massive basket of handwarmers. (Good thing I spent my last few supply dollars on my own stash.) Instant heat handwarmers that I'm sure are made of only the most eco-friendly of chemicals and probably biodegrade back into water once they're done warming the globe. Don't get me wrong, I used a lot of them early on, handwarmers, toewarmers, superbodywarmers, gotta keep a super body warm somehow. At some point though, my resistance to the cold and my disdain for artificial heat (that for all I know causes even worse environmental impacts than the pipe we're here to stop) caught up with each other and I hardly touched them again.

A bunch of dining tables filled the hall with food being served in the very back, the tent was abuzz. There was a certain magic in that place, especially while all the tourists were still in town, I'm allowed to say that because at the time I was still one of them. You could sit down at any seat and immediately get into a conversation that went deeper than any you'd ever had with your best of friends at home. Every single one of these people felt like long lost family members and were all so passionate about whatever it was they were into. And so smart. Studied. Already aware of the thousands of ways that civilization and government and business and the man have been selling us all out to line the pockets of the already lined, for pretty much ever. I had no idea. One early conversation that I remember the most was with a woman that I never saw again, couldn't even tell you her name. Remembering names proves to be tricky when you meet a hundred people in a day and they all have fur hats and face masks.

She told me about NAFTA and what it was really about. One of it's primary objectives was to keep mexico from becoming a major player in the rigged game of global capitalism. Mexico's economy was booming and they were on par to join the big boys by the next year according to some kind of measure or another, they were supplying food to pretty much everyone. So here comes NAFTA, and now US megacorporations are free to trade throughout north america. Sounds peachy. Of course, the agreement says that wherever a crop grows most efficiently is where it has to be grown. Ok, still makes sense I guess. Except that Monsanto has figured out how to artificially grow mexico’s national staple crop, corn, even better than it can naturally grow in its own birthplace. Plus, with our government subsidies for our corn farmers, we’ve done nothing but drive down the global price of their biggest cash crop. So mexico can no longer profit from corn, it was kinda their thing. We also crashed their thriving dairy market and they are now the largest importer of our powdered milk. Even with all of our fancy sciencing, we still can't grow sugar better than they can, so I bet we buy it from them, right? Oh no, we actually have a lock on that too, we just invade countries that grow it and now we own it, it's pretty neat really. And for bonus points, we sued mexico when they put a tax on importing our high fructose corn syrup. Oh, they're gonna buy corn from us one way or another.

It's not even about the money for them really though, they're just trying to slow down their childhood obesity epidemic, second in the world only to yours truly and all because of the fake food invasion of free trade. So now with two million agriculture jobs lost, nafta hooked them up with manufacturing work in unregulated factories at cutthroat wages. We said stick to what you're good at, we'll do the corn, you do the cheap unskilled labor to help support our always falling prices. Oh... no... you didn't think you could come into america and apply for the job that we stole from you, did you? Poor fella, no, we don't like mexicans. So now the once thriving farmers are broke and mexico's status on an international trade level is lost, seems it was the US corporations who pocketed all the cash. And this was all by a president supposedly on our team. But hey, at least we secured all those most important american jobs. That's why this pipe's important too, right? Gotta have work mining for natural resources, it's the only job they know, gotta put food on the table somehow. What are they gonna do, go work at a solar panel factory? Um... that kind of work is for mexicans.

Not every conversation was revealing government conspiracies to keep us down, many were completely awe inspiring. Hearing people's stories, what had brought them here, the incredible things they were doing in the world. Every one of them. I don't think it was at dinner, maybe later in the evening, Derrick found me and wanted to introduce me to someone. Jeremy was a filmmaker from the southeast and we hit it off, talking about projects, gear and other boring industry jargon that only we get to geek out on. He had also only recently arrived and had done a little digging on what was required to get a press pass. Apparently, early on it was easy, they needed all the press they could get, but now with an influx of media, it was tightening up a bit. Bigger news outlets had started to take notice because in a few days, over two thousand veterans were supposed to arrive and stand in front of the water protectors. Certainly the militarized police force we were up against wouldn't use their criminal tactics against the veterans of the same great country that they also served.

So to get a press pass, the main thing we needed was a letter of assignment from a producer. No freelancers allowed. Which was of course what both of us were. We determined that it could be pretty vague, didn't need to be the great CNN or anything, so we both set out contacting any producer that either of us had ever worked for. Phones were tricky at camp. Had to go up to the top of Facebook Hill, a big hill on the west side of Oceti. Some phones kinda worked in Rosebud, mine was not one of them. I trekked over to Oceti, stood out in the icy wind and alternated hands between texting and handwarming. They did have a bicycle powered charging system. Sometimes. That's possibly the solution to saving the world, bicycle powered everything. Bicycle powered lights. Bicycle powered kitchen. Bicycle powered tools. And maybe just maybe, even bicycle powered bicycles.

That first night was just about over, I stopped by the asheville yurt and there was going to be a neighborhood meeting in ten minutes. Perfect. There were almost twenty of us crammed in there, circled around the woodstove, and we all faced the most peaceful voice we had ever heard. Carmenia was a Lakota grandma, a grandmother, a Lakota elder, a spiritual counselor. Respect. She spoke softly and had her audience hanging on every word. This was a meeting about all sorts of camp stuff, but apparently there had been some recent drama among this neck of the camp, so she came to help get us back into a prayerful way of carrying ourselves, truly working towards the greater good. So then she pulled out her chanupa. Her sacred prayer pipe. We burned sage as she spoke to us about the ceremony of smoking it, assured us that it wasn't any of that funny stuff, and passed around my first puff off of a real live indian's ceremonial pipe. On my very first night at camp. Ok, so this is what it's going to be like. Cool.

The next day, Jeremy came through, he wrote the letter himself and got a production buddy to put it on a company letterhead and we were in. After we finally got it to download at least. We still had to wait in line for five hours with frozen toes to get the pass, but sometimes you have to sacrifice in the name of art. All kinds of media types, some knew all sorts of information about oil companies and protests and ecological concerns and you could see why they were there. Other seemed to have not even read a single one of the articles that I dug out with my first internet search. You could also tell who was camping and who was staying at the nearby casino/hotel. That's the difference between media covering the water protectors and water protectors filming the movement that they are a part of. Not here on assignment for a paycheck, but here to show the world why we have to stand up.

Media passes in hand, we set out filming. He had a background in nature videos and wanted to highlight the river itself. I was just a slacker music guy before, so now I was completely open to film whatever came my way, including frontline actions. That is if there even were any more once the vets came and saved the day. We filmed mainly b-roll stuff, tipi filled skylines and the long line of headlights coming down 1806, as the camp reached maximum capacity in the anticipation of something monumental happening over the coming days. Glad I came when I did, looks like I almost missed it altogether.

For a couple days, I spent a few hours each morning working on my tent and snow walls. I had two zero-degree bags that I had borrowed, if you cracked a bunch of handwarmers and threw them in it, then eventually you could bear to get bare. Once in the cocoon, it was easy peasy, too hot at times really. That first venture outside of the bags in the morning did have a little bite to it though. I can only laugh at it when I look back now, that was nothing. And remember that my computer, hard drive and camera are also by my side enduring the same cold with neither bag nor warmer.

I'd go to different orientations, including frontline training where we learned basic medical procedures for mace, tear gas and hypothermia. The legal team presented us with what not to say if arrested (basically, don't say anything) and gave us a phone number to write on our arms for us to call to get bailed out. We learned different techniques for holding the line as a group and keeping our members from being snatched by the other side. Other than that, I mainly just walked around with Derrick, checking out different areas of camp and filming here and there.

Camp was incredible. So many different subcamps, neighborhoods, smiling faces ready to help with anything and everything. They drove from far around just to support, many loaded down with supplies to donate. People were pouring out love and energy all around. Magic. Within just a few minutes you'd here someone across the river shout "Mni Wiconi" and then it would erupt all over camp. Water is life. The water of the planet is the most important element to all of life, it's kind of a thing, we should probably keep it. Of course, a bunch of hippies that can't even pronounce english, pretty much butchered it for a long time. For the record, it sounds like “mini wichonee. I'm down with the water, love it, but that was about as much as I did really. No firewood. No dishes. I would help however I could if I happened upon someone who needed it, but I didn't join a work crew. I was media. I held the most elusive press pass. I was not yet a water protector.

Finally, it was the day for the vets to arrive. The day we were all waiting for. Our big chance to get that shot that would change the world. The world that I didn't even have a clue how bad needed changing yet. Jeremy and I, plus our newly recruited assistant Derrick, were ready to make history. Or film it at least. I even pulled out the steadicam because today was the day. The vets rolled in as promised, some even on horseback, and they gathered for their own orientation to camp. Meanwhile, we set up for our shots, our press passes got us access to the road and they were about to march to the bridge and show dapl who was boss. In 3... 2... 1... Here we go. The flashy parade to storm the bridge for all of the mainstream media was underway. I got out front and filmed the whole thing while I walked backwards through ice patch and snow pile, what a hero, this guy. We stopped short of the bridge at a rope barrier put in place by Oceti security, under advisement from the elders. This was as far as anyone was permitted, the elders of the "Seven Councils Fire" (translates to Oceti Sakowin) didn't want anyone on the bridge. The seven councils for the seven tribes that came from the seven stars of Pleiades. Or the seven daughters of Atlas. Or the seven days of creation. We are all made of stars.

Turns out that at that very moment, Obama finally decided to join the party, now that all the cool kids were doing it and everything. He stepped in and had the army corps deny the easement to drill under the river, at least pending proper ecological review. ETP should have had this review in the first place, but they treated the ginormous pipeline like a bunch of smaller localized projects and bought up individual parcels of land or got smaller permits where necessary. No federal regulations, just local permits from a state government who is completely dependent on the petroleum industry and whose oil vein corruption runs deep. Not deep enough to not destroy the whole planet though. But hooray hooray, Obama saves the day. The same Obama that when begged to step in earlier decided that he would "wait and see how things played out." The same Obama that in 2014 visited Standing Rock, went to a powwow celebration and met with the locals to assure them that he was their president too. The first black leader of the free world was actually going to treat the red people like humans. Of course that same trip was scheduled so that he could scope out where the pipeline would go, yep, he was in on it since before the beginning. But luckily, now that every major media outlet and a metric ton of american vets have arrived, it seems our savior has stepped in to save the world. "Veterans, you can all go home to your underfunded VAs now. Campers, it's all over. Plus there's a really bad storm coming in, you should all go home soon, nothing to see here."

Turns out they didn't see the need to stop digging for some reason. I personally filmed them excavating two days later. Rumor has it that they decided to pay the $50,000 per day that they would be fined if they continued, a drop in the bucket truck compared to the millions they were already spending, and far less than they would lose if their equipment sat idle for that very same day. Go USA go!

Jeremy and I did a couple of interviews with vets and decided to call it a day, we had just documented the end of global tyranny after all. Back at camp we were itching to get high, smoke some green, pack a bowl, roll a spliff, scrape a resin ball, anything. Ok, so we weren't actually itching, that's an entirely different drug altogether, but once we found out that it was socially acceptable as long you were respectful, we were craving it pretty hard. We piled into Derrick's tent, which was pretty sweet, big thick bed, lots of insulation, mr buddy propane heater and ten or so handwarmers. Laptop in hand (Oh yeah, I had two computers out in this mess.), we planned to watch a movie while we executed a genius pot harvesting operation.

Derrick had a bookbag with all sorts of crumbs in the back pocket. Dust, fluff, lint, sand, morsels of beef jerky (he used to work at the factory), what may or may not have been rabbit hairballs and every once in a while, an actual scrap of that sticky icky iggy. Once the forensic team was through, we had enough for a nice spliff, half tobacco/half herb and we proceeded to partake in the teriyaki flavored treat that with our lowered tolerances, actually worked. Ahhh... As for the tobacco, I had quit smoking a year before and only in the last couple of weeks had I smoked an occasional rollup. Heading to camp where I thought weed was non-existent, and then upon learning that in native american culture, a small gift of tobacco is customary and is used for praying, I figured that there was no use trying not to smoke and bought a pack of American Spirit rolling tobacco. I'll probably quit soonish, but currently it's just me and my pouch up here in the cave and I wouldn't dare throw it out in the cold all alone. What am I, a jerky smoker?

And segue to the other itch that the three of us were feeling, girls. Again, not an actual itch, gross. I had kicked off the summer with a breakup and was trying desperately not to meet anyone while I was working on the biggest creative project of my career. Couldn't have anybody weighing me down right as I was taking off. Then I came to Standing Rock with zero intention on meeting someone, I would be lucky just to survive, but after a few days of mess hall conversations and such a group of amazing people, I was pretty sure that I could find "the one" out here. At home, you might meet someone you vibe with every few months if you're lucky, but here, they were around every corner. Even in a round tipi. Never before had I encountered such a concentration of women who were my type, whatever that means. Derrick and I had met a couple of ladies that we clicked with a couple of nights before, he had even gone to stay with them one night in Oceti, so we invited them to a campfire that we had planned in our deluxe apartment complex. This was the first fire that I attempted to build, succeeded, but not after a few false starts. Turns out that frozen wet wood doesn't make the best kindling.

Fire finally aflame and the three musketeers were the lone attendees. How romantic. I did manage to score half a spliff when I went next door to bum a rolling paper, and then after the magic power of THC began to take hold, look who decided to stop by the neighborhood, the mythical women of lore. Jeremy had never met them and was beginning to think it was all a setup to get him cozy and high next to our dwindling flicker. We can cuddle if you want to. Once the fire no longer kept the feeling in our toes and after Jeremy had retired, we all moved into Derrick's cushy tent. Cozy, warm, soft... the tent, not the women. Well...

After we chillaxed, chatted, played with dreads and even named a few, we called it a night in a big cuddle puddle and the body heat was rocking. Don't worry, it all stayed PG. At least until the morning when I found myself alone with Ms. Dready, slid into first before I got called out on the way to second, oh well, back to the batting cages I guess. Still, it felt nice to touch a woman after some time off, even if she was leaving later that day, and even if I'd probably never see her again, and even if I did see her again, later that day making out with some other dude before she took off. Still felt nice. It was just enough for me to get back on the wagon, back on the not-chasing-women-and-focus-on-yourself train. There were definitely plenty of camp hookups, or snags as they became known. You could even get condoms and pregnancy tests at the main medical tent and I know of at least one #nodapl baby conceived in Rosebud, but it's not cold enough for that kind of talk yet.

Today was Jeremy's last day and we got a tip that there was something going down at the bridge. Red team go. The storm was ridiculous, but we managed to navigate our way up the slippery 1806. About the time we got to Oceti's main entrance, two protectors were returning from the bridge and told us that there was nothing going on there. Cool with me, I was freezing, couldn't open my eyes for the onslaught ice projectiles and it was probably time for dinner soon. Protecting all this water is hard work. The wind picked up and with our heavy equipment it was looking a little sketchy to try to push through. I knew that the legal team had moved, so I guessed that maybe their old army tent on top of facebook hill was sitting empty. Good guess. There were four protectors already seeking shelter and we were welcomed into the snowstorm sanctuary. My phone somewhat worked up here, so I checked in with a few people before it died. I started talking to Tiena, a native of the phillipines, where it turns out the US government is actually not that fair and square either. Stick to what you're good at I guess.

I set up and interviewed her while Jeremy was handling a phone call, might as well do something productive today. Then, as I wrapped up with her, a native elder came in seeking refuge after being at the frontline for a prayer action. What? There was an action? He showed us video of some indians in full ceremonial garb, dancing and singing as they prayed on the bridge in a torrential snowstorm. We could have been there. We should have been there. But then we wouldn't be here. So I guess it was all good. We interviewed this guy, super interesting, he had all sorts of words of wisdom and tales of oppression to share. He explained just how rigged the system is against not only those that have experienced it as openly as he has, but even against the participants that think it is the end-all-be-all of everything that is. The storm got crazy during the interview, you can hear the tent about to fly away, but eventually it eased up and we were able to continue the journey home.

Jeremy left the next day. As well as the crew that I rode out here with. I wasn't ready to leave. The work I came to do wasn't done. With all of the other media here, I hadn't captured anything special, nothing that wasn't staged and certainly not anything that was going to help save the world. Now, with all the press leaving, having successfully reported on the success of the veterans and Obama's victorious success, I kinda saw a need to stay behind and document what was really going on. I knew that once the story was actually broken through to the mainstream, it would of course be soon forgotten. "Oh, Standing Rock? Wasn't that the thing from last month? Oh that's way over with, you should just watch this new Kardashian spinoff instead." So I let my ride abandon me, but this was still in a time when there was a large influx of people, including a large asheville crew, finding a ride wouldn't be a problem. Anytime I told someone I was from asheville, the response was something like "Geez, is the whole town here? Half the people I've met are from Asheville." You could credit the progressiveness of the mountain town, but it's probably just the sheer amount of hippies and lack of jobs that made it possible. When I moved back to asheville a couple years ago, I was continuously warned that it was impossible to find a job there. "Great, I hate jobs."

With most of my crew gone, and little did I know that Derrick was sneaking off to a protest camp in texas later today, I set out alone to Oceti to see what I could see. Oceti had two gates, north gate was the entrance and the southern exit. North gate was where all the action was, plus it was the best vantage point for the continued excavation that I mentioned earlier. I chatted up the two guys working security, both vets about my age and had been at camp for just a couple of weeks. They clued me onto the digging on the hill and mentioned that there was a better spot to film from, I just had to wait around on they guy to drive me there... Cool, I can chill for a bit, I obviously hadn't learned about indian time yet.

I could zoom in pretty far, so I went ahead and filmed from north gate, the main entrance, or Echo1 as I would learn to call it. Echo1 was a little wooden shed with a fire pit outside. It was a smoldering pit full of a pitiful fire, so with me being fresh up on tending pitiful fires, I assumed the role of firetender. Turns out that firetender is a pretty important position with tons of perks, inside information and a quick promotion schedule to the top. Security is a sweet gig, for the first couple of hours at least. Every third or fourth car coming in had some kind of present for us. Smokes, candy, pizza and one time we got all three at once. One day when I was there, a car asked if I needed anything and I mentioned that my boots were starting to fall apart and weren't quite winterproof anymore. Less than an hour later, I got a delivery of some brand new awesome boots and wool socks. The boots stayed dry and warmish until my very last day at camp, props to Black Lives Matter on that one.

So anyway, here I am keeping the fire going and there was some type of commotion happening in camp. An agitator was disrespecting a woman and a tipi. Don't know if he was just clueless, drunk or a dapl infiltrator. I realize that may sound like a bit of paranoia, but they were a real thing. Next thing I know, the guys working security take off and leave me in charge. I've seen this happen since then, you're just chillin somewhere, normally at security, and by default you get hired to cover a shift. "Hey, can you watch the post for a sec, I just gotta run to the bathroom..."

Security's easy, as long as everything is secure. Just stop cars as they come in, make sure that they're not drunk, remind them that it is a drug, alcohol and weapon free camp, also remind them that it's cold outside, make sure that they have a warm place to go and send them on their way. Eventually, the real deal returned and my temporary reign was over, a snickers and a coke richer, I thought I did pretty good for my first go at it. I don't even drink that much soda out in the real world, but out here, when it came around it was such a treat, an offer I couldn't refuse. You just had to drink it quick, it was already starting to freeze when they handed it to you. We're talking cold here. I ended up in charge again that night, although I never made it to walkie talkie holding status. A car whizzed past the post and towards the bridge, not exactly the most kosher tactic. The one official man on duty took off to handle the situation, so I'm left with no walkie to hear any update or call for backup, who knows whats going down, guess I better put another log on.

Next, a BIA car drives towards the bridge. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is the reigning authority on the reservation. The rez is a sovereign nation. At least in theory. So the morton county police, dapl security and eventually the national guard had no authority. Supposedly. But they technically didn't have authority over the scared burial sites either. And they constantly threatened to raid the camps and arrest us all. For protesting. For exercising our american constitutional rights. In another country where they couldn't tell us what to do anyway. I guess that's some sort of double negative though, we don't get constitutional rights if we team up with the foreigners to protect their families. Those pesky foreign native americans. It's whatever though, the BIA was started by the US War Department anyway, but we can pretend they're on our side for now.

By this point, I took position up on the road so that I could move the cones and barriers as our security and BIA returned from the scene. BIA truck pulls past, I'm manning the post, so obviously I'm someone official and they deem fit to share some deets. The car in question drove full speed ahead and slammed into the concrete barriers at the bridge. Guess they had been a little stiffer than the plastic cones they blew through down here. The driver fled the scene on foot and the car was beyond their line of jurisdiction. Have a nice day.

First day on the job was pretty exciting so far, but a long ways from over. I was only eight hours into a twenty-four hour shift. Now of course, I wasn't officially on duty, I wasn't even from this camp (not that it mattered much), but if I'm wanting to get the money shot then obviously this is the place to be. The official security shift change happened and I had planned to take off, but they had a young lady named Dizzy Wolf working the overnight shift by herself and it didn't feel right to leave, even if just to keep the fire roaring for her. I know what you're thinking, but it wasn't like that. She was too young for me, plus she wasn't my type. (whatever that means) We talked through the long cold hours of the night, well mainly she talked and I played with the fire. We smoked cigarettes like they were going out of style. (Wait a sec, you mean they are going out of style? Well smoke 'em if you got 'em I guess.) And once it was apparent that I would survive my first overnighter, I set up the camera to catch a time lapse of the sunrise over camp. It was magnificent. The silhouettes of all the tipis as the camp came to life under a wide open horizon. Of course, I elected to leave the dapl lights out of frame for this one.

The dapl lights lined the hill on the other side of camp, running from the bridge to the drill pad. They were these super bright, giant gajillion candlepower spotlighty monstrosities that made you really start to understand the concept of light pollution. Maybe they were trying to lure out Mothra to help their cause. In the dapl fog that seemed to occur on most nights, there were huge beams of light extending upwards, like alien tractor beams that some newbie had pointed the wrong way. He was probably just the firetender or something. The lights, one would assume, were probably there to provide light for the workers, but they were all over the place. It seemed like new ones every night. They were positioned to illuminate any route that a rogue crew of protectors might use if they decided that they wanted to be on the offensive special teams unit. Plus, they lit up all of camp so that dapl surveillance could keep tabs on us, while also psychologically warfaring us and our lack of sleep patterns.

So that part certainly sounded like a piece of blabber from a theorist of conspiracies, but take into account the dapl helicopter that constantly flew over camp, super low and over a sovereign nation which should probably be a no fly zone. Or later when the unmarked plane circled over camp at night with no lights whatsoever. Or any number of things that I saw that would make the viewer at home say "Nope, must be a lie. That wouldn't happen in my country. The greatest country in the world." Of course TigerSwan, who has been connected to the BlackWater mercenary company of international war crime scandal, has come out and admitted unlawfully spying with listening devices, facebook hacking, facial recognition, listening to cell phones, employing camp infiltrators and helicopter video surveillance of camp. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so where was I? The lights. So you definitely got used to them, in fact, they were quite convenient. With all of the white snow everywhere, you hardly even had to use a flashlight to get around at night. That part was no joke, they actually made it easier to get around, thanks dapl.

So I caught the sunrise shot, hung around for a couple more hours so that I could officially hit the twenty-four hour mark and ensure that breakfast would be available in the Rosebud mess hall, then I finally caught a little shut eye. Also discovered this fun fact, it's warmer during the day. I'm pretty quick, I know. And if you stay in an unheated tent, then it's also warmer in there during the day. Not a schedule I kept all the time, but staying up all night next to a roaring fire and sleeping during the sunshine hours had its advantages. I did a few more evenings at Echo1, but no overnights and nothing as exciting as that first shift. One of the heads of security, Mario, stopped by the first night and was a little weary of me, some white guy with a camera that he'd never seen before, but Dizzy Bear vouched for me and I was in. Another seemingly important security figure saw me at the post, assumed I was with Mario and tried to put me on the new recruit schedule. "You're Mario's boy right?"

"Nah, I'm just the firetender, I gotta head back to Rosebud soon."

"Oh, ok. Well, can you watch the post for a second while I run an quick errand? I'll be right back."

It’s easy to lose track of time at camp, and after your first overnight, days start to blur and weeks are soon to follow. I still had a pretty good grasp of when I was, the day of the week started to fade, but I was still going home semi-soon. I had no clock to punch into though, no deadlines, no boss to yell at me (at least not within a thousand miles) and nowhere to be except exactly where I was at any given moment. When I was hungry, I ate. When I was tired, I slept…eventually. When I had to go, I went.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-24 show above.)