I am of some native descent, and have been very active for the last 25 years in the spirituality .. including being involved in ceremony on the Rosebud Reservation some years back multiple times. While not an enrolled tribal member .. it has been very close to my heart.. and helped me in extremely difficult areas of life (mending a split family, alcoholism, etc.) Being around the people brought this one (Standing Rock) a little close to home.
The other side of my deciding point to go out there, was in September a letter was given to myself from a fellow union brother (Teamsters… which i have been in for over 22 years, third generation) that was asking for pressure to be put on the law enforcement of North Dakota due to there being Teamsters on the job site. I took exception to this on a personal level… and felt i should at least try to go to support “the People”. I had even done a video of a rebuff towards James Hoffa Jr. in response to his letter to Governor Darylmaple (i can provide, letter copy and video link for further scrutiny if desired). That same week, the incident west of 1806 occurred with the dog attacks (September 3rd) and between the letter and the video footage watching unarmed protectors being hassled by improperly used dogs… i did my research, put in for vacation time, and planned my trip. I was very very fortunate that an old friend of mine is “Hunka” with the members of the YellowFat family (Wasnizi), and she gave me an in to a direct campsite with people who are of the Oceti Sakowin, Hunkpapa, Standing Rock community proper. On Monday the 19th i think, i changed the oil in the car, gassed her up and headed west in the afternoon (my job as a overnight truck driver has me more comfortable driving through the night). I drove straight out, stopping to fuel and stretch out occasionally… arriving in Bismarck/Mandan late morning. Heading south on 1806, i cleared the National Guard checkpoint with no problems. This was a quiet lull in the activities, as President Obama had asked everyone to stand down post dog attacks being made public via alternative media sources. When i got there, i met my hosts … set up quickly ( i opted to sleep in my car to save hassle and resources for more permanent residents, i was using up my last weeks vacation). My hosts showed me around the camp, upon “hanging out for a few minutes.. the call was put in to help “separate donations!” by a volunteer. I immediately headed over and started to help sort and segregate clothing donations between winter and summer wear, and damp and dry articles (it had rained previous night.. they wanted to get everything dry before storage). They were already prepping to winter in, and it was obvious by us packing up summer articles and boxing up winter gear for easy access. After we diminished the piles (there where absolute tons of clothes), i walked back down to my camp area.. caught up with the people there. Then, after getting direction, proceeded the walk up to the “Frontline” on 1806. Now, at this time it was extremely quiet. DAPL was on hold, and there were just a few bodies up there holding down the frontline camp (i can provide pics). I was offered coffee, which i eagerly accepted (remember, it was Tuesday at like 3 in the afternoon, i had been up since 11 am Monday. A pickup truck showed up with a “call to action” … they were heading down to the Bismarck jail to set up, sing and make a showing in support of those in the jail waiting or release. The man i was talking to looked concerned about numbers on “Frontline” diminishing, and the younger guys taking off so i volunteered to stay and at least be present with several others. I must have been up there awhile, but it felt like a very short time, and some younger guys and women started to arrive up at the frontline camp. I texted the man who seemed to be more in charge that he’ had “some young bucks up here now … so i am going to make the trek back to camp. Been a long day.” He gave me his blessing, and i headed back down. After grabbing a quick bite, and stargazing with my hosts (North Dakota stars .. just plain wow!) i finally retired after a very amazing 36 hour day.
Day 2, Wednesday… upon awaking, i walked back up to frontline camp again, enjoyed some coffee and conversation around the fire with some protectors that were camping right on 1806 at frontline. Heard first hand accounts of the incident involving the dog attacks. etc. Like i said earlier, it was a quiet time at Oceti Sakowin that week. I had no indication that it would have gotten even more out of hand in following weeks and months with DAPL pushing through. After being up there better part of morning, i went back down to our campsite,,, checked in with my hosts, then proceeded to the Rosebud camp hoping to find old friends and “hunka”. Some of this will be kinda personal, but i feel it is important… because i was put to work in an entirely different way there. After inquiring about “Uncle Gilly” who had stayed with me back in the mis 90s for a time, and had taught me much. I was introduced to his Grandson and Granddaughter who were there. Gilly was due in the next week, but upon that .. i was promptly invited back in several hours for an “inipi” ceremony (Sweat lodge). I went back to Oceti, checked in with my hosts, and just took the hour or so to hang out for a few. Going back over to Rosebud, the sweatlodge leader put me on initial fire keeping duties and prep work. I do not know how much of this i am allowed to discuss.. because ceremony is to be a very humble thing… but it was in essence being put to work for the people. We finally went in to inipi right about dusk, and it was an amazing ceremony. After words, being well past dark… i made the trek back to Oceti camp again, across the cannonball. Get back, my hosts took me up to the mess tent and made sure i had been feed. I forgot to eat due to all the excitement. They genuinely just made me feel like family, and made sure i was taken care of. I will never forget that, even though it was just a natural thing. I could barely finish everything, and lil sister LaToya brought up homemade buffalo stew from our camp she had made… i don’t care how full i was… i made room. Lakota hospitality … love the people so much. I slept that night hard, woke up with sunup,,, walked up to get a coffee, walked back to the car … fell asleep again. I think everything just caught up to me. Which, the rest was good, since i was going to start back after sundown. I spent a little time talking to a few i had met, and just kinda getting feel for camp before i needed to go back. I knew it was going to be difficult to leave… and it was tearing me up some. Then, the call came in that several trucks were coming in, loaded with food and supplies from the council…. i went out to help unload all the trucks and trailers till we were done. At that point, i started to make my rounds and say my goodbyes. Including a stop in Rosebud again. Delighted to run across Uncles cousin Briley, i think we remembered each other. Felt like my own brother was wishing me a good journey … it’s those things that stand out to me. The interactions where nothing is vocalized, but there is a genuine family feeling about it. I miss the people badly. It took alot of adjustment to be back. And,i am still missing the people. Things area real out there… like a sundance. But, with many many more people. If i didn’t have the obligations that i have (wife, kids etc) it would be easy to stay out there… but, trying to put in time for the cause is for the Family anyway. My biggest regret is that i was not out there when the risks where greater, but i had no way of knowing. Otherwise, i would have planned differently. I am planing on returning when i pickup vacation time again, in February or March.
–[12/2016] Michael Ulery “My Trip to Standing Rock”