The Standing Rock Series

End of the Beginning

February 22nd, 2017 "The Last Stand"

This was the final day of Oceti just before they sent the military in to disperse camp... We had gathered at the other bridge where the invisible line for the reservation is now next to where Rosebud camp was...

 It was a hard day for all of us... We had stood our ground and knew we were all about to part ways in the face injustice. The Winter had dwindled our numbers to a low throughout December, Trump had gotten into office come January, and for those that stayed until the end, we were thankful.

I had been here around this time for almost 3 months. After camp was dispersed, I went to other camps and watched those set up for failure as well unfortunately. Since then, I would say many of us have been trying to find healing in our hearts for the place that became home to us.

More than anything, we wanted them to stop the pipeline. It is unfortunate that we dealt with racism, authoritarians, and the injustices of violence perpetuated disgracefully on our right to peaceful assembly, yet that did not change the resolve in our hearts. With every step, we stood stronger to speak to their hearts.

To describe the experiences leading to this moment in those 3 months is another chapter of its own, one I plan to write more on soon. There were many amazing things happened, and likewise pitfalls when Winter hit.

November 20th had been one of the worse events I would say. One girl had almost her arm, many suffered harsh injuries to say the least. Whether it was grief from the trauma of seeing so many hurt, or being hurt themselves, our hearts went out to them. At the end of the day, we had celebrated many actions and always did our best to support one another.

I recall one girl screaming in the herbal yurt for roughly 3 days, crying hysterically against the injustice. In that time, we had hope that help was coming in full force and that perhaps, by chance, it would finally be shutdown. This did not occur.

Instead, towards the end of November going into December, we faced a massive flood of people at camp where our numbers reached up to 20,000 with cars literally backed up for 3 days up to 20-30 miles (the approximation had reached past Sitting Bull College from camp to give relative distance of understanding). In that time, we also had veterans that were to show up as well. Everything was looking very promising, our hope that it would finally come to an end, a prayer answered.

It was all supposed to end on December 5th, we were going to go home after one final assembly to reach the drill pad and shut down the continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline AKA DAPL. Instead the people were duped by the Army Corp of Engineers to celebrate a false victory under the pretense of the denial of the easement they needed to continue construction on December 4th, in which they continued anyways once our numbers died back down with the oncoming Winter.

 It was a ploy, a temporary suspension to dissuade the people. Many of us were disheartened by the celebration around camp because we knew it was not over. I laid in bed most of the day just staring in the distance as I listened to the cheers. While it was good to see people celebrate, it was not for the right reasons.

On December 5th we instead assembled by the bridge where people performed their ceremonies, some spoke their words, but many of us were waiting to cross the bridge and felt misled. The main questions being "what the hell just happened?" "Why are we walking away?" "It's not over."

In less than a few days, they had sabotaged a few key components in the movement. One, the populous. Two, the tribe then backed out. Three, the abolishment of the sacred fire. Four, a series of infiltrators that aided in destabilizing the people further, even going as far as raping to stir fear amongst the women.

Our security was less effective in the Winter by then.

After that, the numbers quickly died with the snowstorm where many were allocated to the casino to stay in the pavilion when temperatures reached as low as -30 f to -60 roughly for a few nights. In which they then started to allow others to help and aid in transportation. This turned out to be a ploy for our enemies as well where many were harmed on their way home or robbed, some were never seen again. Some even disappeared trying to make it to camp prior to this, including an elderly lady whose name I cannot recall now. All my notes were stolen when camp ended.

Once the majority left, I would guess we were back down to a few thousand, that dropped even faster than expected, but it was also understood that many had never faced conditions like this before, including me. By January tensions were high and our numbers much lower with a lot of decentralization after the veterans came through. It is speculated that a group of mercenaries were sent in with the veterans to sabotage our technical abilities, in which they succeeded on some fronts, including OP Black, a communications area from what I recall that helped people throughout camp so that DAPL couldn't jam our signals as effectively as they did.

Another thing to note in which I forgot to earlier, is the constant surveillance via plane or helicopter throughout the day and night, you could always hear them flying over. At one point they had snipers on the hill as well. Lastly, an important note, they had even hired Blackwater to take care of us, along with what was known as TigerSwan, mercenaries for hire that did the dirty work for others off the books.

In January tensions were at a high with people restless and ready for action. Many worked tirelessly throughout the day coordinating donations in what we had, others focused on aiding or healing, wood was a big resource needed in that time for the stoves. The nights were very cold where we generally kept 3 layers on minimum, even while inside.

Around this time people started doing spec ops again on the other side, some of it for sheer entertainment, some for decoys, some for missions. They played back and did the same. It became a game of cat and mouse.

Eventually though, things hit a point again on January 16th and people were called back to the bridge as the night approached, something I didn't fully understand why at the time in sense of strategy, but understood with the sense of restlessness. An action had occurred earlier where people had crossed the ice and went to the drill pad, then walked over to turtle hill, then the bridge. I may have my days slightly mixed, but I believe this is the one because I didn't have my black eye yet when I stood on turtle hill (another edit I will have to make later).

That day I had been ordered to stay in the warming tent to be ready to handle people as a medic in decontamination in case they got sprayed by mace, hit by tear gas, or hosed by cold water. We only had a small handful come through during that time, and things were getting more urgent. I could feel that calling in me that told me I had to be there, to stop the hurt before something really bad happened again.

Almost in perfect synchronicity, I said it to myself, "I can't wait anymore," so I went to the power station across the way real quick, chatted with my friend, where another showed up saying "someone's gotta get out there now!" I rushed back to the warming tent, a good friend of mine popped in around the same time and gave me a gas mask. After that, I was suited to go, no more waiting. Right as I stepped out, my medic friend popped up with a vehicle and said to get in, then off we went. Just like that. Clockwork. You would swear it was destiny.

As I approached the line I could see that the police and mercenaries had already almost crossed the bridge but the line was pushing them back. The police started to fall back as they saw our numbers swelling and dispersed tear gas to keep the majority at bay. I stood alone on a snow hill watching them go, anticipating to get shot at any moment, but they were focused on getting back on their side of the bridge behind their blockade, a series of concrete blocks and razorwire. I took a tiny whiff of the tear gas, I hadn't missed it, but it also pissed me off that they treated us like this.

Once the smoke cleared, the line rushed up to the half point where my friend had given me a megaphone where I tried to tell people "stay in prayer," meaning keep a good mind and remember what we're here for. In which I had one man yell back "I am in fuckin' prayer." I didn't take it personal, I could see his only thought was getting them to go back behind the line, in which they did.

It was once we got to their side of the line that things got messy. We stepped too far in and I feel it was a lure to go after our leaders, including Mowgli, a young gung-ho individual who stood pretty solid. We had been standing on the blockade trying to speak to them when from someone else's account a log was apparently thrown. I don't believe it only because I didn't see it, but I also knew that they had sent infiltrators in before to try as a ploy to rationalize violence against us.

The same thing had happened at North Camp on October 27th when a Mr. Thompson brought in a loaded AR-15 dressed up like he was a water protector only to find upon discovery that he was a worker for DAPL. He was acquitted on all charged based on self-defense when he stated he had infiltrated us only to keep an eye on the equipment. 

In the moment that "allegedly" a log or piece of wood was thrown they rushed the barrier and began open firing on us to push us back. Just moments before what had been singing and prayer while others tried to speak to them became immediate chaos as people scrambled for the halfway hill snow mound. It was then they got Mowgli. He had been to the right of me. I had gotten past the first row of concrete barriers when I saw someone slip next to me out of the corner of my eye. As I turned to go help him, a man near where Mowgli had been arrested fired upon me. I had just enough time to tuck my head down as I saw him take aim, kind of like what you would see in boxing.

Luckily enough, I caught myself one hand while holding my eye with the other yelling the immediately "F***!" I was pissed because I wasn't quick enough. The kid that I had went to help ended up helping me up pretty much saying "We gotta get the hell out of here man, get moving!" We had just cleared the concrete barriers where I let medics immediately inspect me, notifying them I knew I didn't have a concussion. I had taken a few harder hits in my life that hurt like a son of a bitch before, but that one was like a concentrated knuckle. After checking my pupils and determining I was okay aside from the obvious injury, my herbalist friend went to go arrange transportation for me to get back to camp.

At that moment, a fire burned inside where I said no more, but it was a fire of compassion. I turned around then and started marching back to the blockade, eye swollen shut, blood still covering my eyebrow. None of that mattered in the moment. Friends were trying to talk me out of it, I tuned them all out with only one thing in mind, I have to speak up.

As I approached the front I saw a man with a mirror, tapping him on the shoulder I said "I'm gonna need that," without a word they nodded in understanding. I then stood back in the center on the barrier with the mirror facing them, looking to each officer in the eye to see. I spotted the angry ones, the sad ones, the guilty ones, and all I can say is that this moment became something more.

A man to the right of me was yelling at them at first, and as I stood there I felt my energy go calm, then his did. His words started to echo more in sentiment to mine, I felt his energy shift in synchronicity leading up to what I was about to say.

As he finished, a silence resonated and I knew that was my time. So I spoke to address them as brothers and sisters, to let them know that we all share this Earth, and that all that we wish for, is for it to continue. That many people throughout this life have made sacrifices to be here, some more than others and that we all share this world together. If life is to continue, then we must remember the way in what it means to honor. We must remember to respect each other. We must bridge that understanding so that a good way can be established. So that love can thrive. So that harmony can be restored. 

I met some people that were homeless before then and found home at Oceti, I saw drug addicts get clean after years of substance abuse, I saw people on fire with purpose. There were some that had it all before then. A house, car, all of that good material stuff. They laid it all on the line to take this stand for our Earth.

I don't regret a single day there, my only regret is that the spirit of hate has continued since then and has spread like wildfire. With each day, the racists are becoming more prominent in force with a white supremacist ideology that threatens the very foundation of 1st world countries. It has created a much bigger threat in the sense of civil unrest, and very soon it will reach a head. I just pray people come to their senses before then...

In closing I would for now I would like to add the Lakota "Water Protector" song that was created there.

Unci Maka Yu ha ni ha po
Mni Wiconi Wankan Yelo
DAPL Lila Sica Yelo
Oyate Ble e Ci yapo

My translation is a little rusty from being out of practice over the months, but to simplify it is a prayer for our grandmother Earth, the sacred waters, and that we wish that the people remember the good within themselves to stand against the evil that DAPL is committing. 

I witnessed many beautiful ceremonies there, prayed to the sacred fire many times, and witnessed a lot of dreams I had had earlier in life come to life before my eyes. I am truly grateful to have been a part of that journey. For those that read this I pray you stand as well, our Earth needs you.

In our ways, it is important to think 7 generations ahead for the continuance of life. For the future, for our children, grandchildren, and all of life that is to be. In this way we pray...A'ho.

January 16th, 2017 

November 20th, 2016 

Harry Benedict
Harry Benedict

My name is Harry Joseph Benedict; named after my grandfather (Tota). I was born and raised in Akwesasne for most of my life, a reservation that resides in 3 territories (Ont, NY, Que). I enjoy the arts. Currently in college for Business.

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The Standing Rock Series