Birth of the Standing Rock movement, as told by Bucky Harjo |

Birth of the Standing Rock movement, as told by Bucky Harjo

Reno-Sparks Indian Colony member helps spread 'Water is Life' message at Dakota Access Pipeline

Bucky Harjo | Special to First Nation's Focus
The scene at the Dakota Access Pipeline this past winter.
Courtesy Bucky Harjo
Editor's note: This first-person story was first published in the inaugural edition of First Nation's Focus in February 2017.

RENO, Nev. — This past August of 2016, a protest began, with the birth of a movement that would spread across the world, bringing Indigenous Nations from North America, to protect the water. It is the largest gathering of Indian People since the “Little Big Horn.” A movement to stop a pipeline, to bring awareness of Treaty Rights, Sovereign Rights, Human Rights, Environmental Rights.

For our tribes here in Northern Nevada, a few of us texted each other as we were hearing news on Facebook as mainstream media were not reporting anything of what was happening in Indian Country surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline. We needed to rally and spread word to our communities and to unite with our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota relatives in North Dakota.

So, within minutes of agreeing that we will plan an event on Aug. 25, and had many Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe tribes represented from Reno, Carson City, Gardnerville, Yerington, Lovelock, Pyramid Lake, Wadsworth, Fallon, Fernley and there were even people from out of state as there was a convention going on in Reno and brought out even more and we had families from Standing Rock attend. We had a large turnout, and so it began.

A few days later, I get a call from Myron Dewey from Schurz, who has a small bag and tent ready to go. So along with Myron and a brother from Southern California, Twenny, after spending a few days gathering donations and meeting with people along the way. We were on the road, Aug. 30, and arrived early in the morning of Sept. 1.

It was dark and we could hear the flags of the nations flapping in the early morning wind as we were greeted at the main entrance and we were welcomed and drove down the road and parked just off to our left to set up camp. Without asking, about six brothers came to assist with setting up our tents and we were told to sleep in and get a good night’s rest.

I had slept in a few hours and got up to greet the morning and walked up to the main fire and then up to the hill that overlooked the camp, which became known as Facebook Hill, to pray and observe the sun rise over the Missouri River.

There, I met MJ, whom I would get to know quite well in the months ahead. He is from Cheyenne River. He was showing me his collection of sunrise photos.

I cannot recall everything that happened on this day as there was so much, I just know what I was seeing was all so real, like a dream. There were many historical moments at Standing Rock. There were so many people, many places, many moments, I can only describe in this way:

“I had the greatest dream ever! Saw this great encampment, nations from all over, indigenous peoples stood together, prayed and sang in the most beautiful way. Saw the ancestors dance and smile from the Milky Way Trail. Saw people of all walks of life unite in a way that has never happened before. I saw canoes coming down the great river, horses all over the hills and the Buffalo Nation running all around, eagles of all kinds flying in all directions. I saw people who were blinded and confused, they wore badges and didn’t understand our prayer. They wanted to stop the prayer, they wanted to hurt us, but our unity, our songs and prayers were too strong. There was a snake in the prairie, it wanted to poison the water and make people sick, make life sick, we prayed and sang.

“More people came from all around. From summer when the prairie is alive with life green grasses and flowers, warm water flowing, love was and is strong. But yet these people with badges went to many lengths to destroy our prayer. Some lay down their badges, some went home, as the nights got cooler those men tried to hurt us. They used dogs, but the dogs turned on them. They used violence trying to draw us in so that we become violent, but we remained in prayer. They swept the land in a mighty force, arresting many but not all, our prayers even stronger in a battle over prayer.

“As winter approached a clash took place on a bridge in 1806, they set fire and shooting tear gas and concussion grenades that touched off the fire, they had a cannon that shot water over hundreds if not thousands of people. Water that we are protecting, dousing us on a cold winter night. Shooting non-lethal weapons at our women injuring many. All through the night this battle went on, it did not break our prayer. They grew tired and weak, then stood amused as the water turned to ice and Warriors sledding down the embankment. War cries turned to laughter in the early morning hours.

“They wanted to forcibly evict us in coming days they were desperate to silence our prayer, then one night the women approached the bridge. They had a powerful prayer, and we saw a change beginning. The women’s tear and prayers were so powerful, many people cried. We went to Turtle Island to pray on ‘nothanksgivingday’ to mourn the loss of those murdered when the pilgrims came. Also to pray for those who are buried on the island.

“They came fully armed but no match for our family there were thousands of us who came to stand and pray. It was a beautiful day. There were many prayers many songs a bridge was built so the people could cross. In this dream it was about water, how sacred the water is to all life. How the water brought us all together. They never came to evict they only wanted to frighten but in prayer we are strong.

“A blizzard came and slowed down life made everyone think about life, few understood what this blizzard was saying. There were songs and prayers in this storm. We got even stronger. This dream was so real so beautiful so powerful, that many of us shared this dream. Even the soldiers wanted to see this dream and to protect this dream and prayer. The encampment grew even larger. Another storm even more powerful swept the prairie. There was even a victory in this dream our prayer was felt all over the world. The snake is slowly becoming lifeless. People went home to share this dream this prayer to teach about the power of water.”

At first there was just a few of us but, by November, there were many of us from Northern Nevada, including people from Reno, Carson, Gardnerville, Yerington, Schurz, Elko, Battle Mountain, Winnemucca, McDermitt, Owyhee, Fallon, Fernley, Pyramid Lake, Wadsworth, Moapa, Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, both Native and non Native.

Thanks to the many of you who have supported us in many ways, food and donations, gas, equipment, and plenty of prayers.

MNI WICONI. Water is Life.

Bucky Harjo (Paiute Shoshone) is a member of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, an award-winning photographer and activist based out of Reno.


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