Profound Ceremony: Day One at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

By Richard Jehn, Journey Chronicler

Our arrival into Standing Rock Sioux land brought the tribal police, something that made me a bit uneasy at first because of the “protest” actions that have incited police action in the area since the beginning of August. It turned out that we had a police escort from near the northern boundary of the reservation right into Fort Yates and to the Tribal Administration building. Dr. Kurt Russo, Totem Pole Journey 2016 Coordinator, Fred Lane, TPJ Videographer, and I rode slowly into Fort Yates with Rita Coolidge’s emotional rendition of “Amazing Grace” playing on the CD player. Tears flowed from all of us as we arrived; I acknowledge one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

As we brought our convoy to a stop, Tribal staff and residents of the town flowed out into the street to see the totem pole. Within ten minutes, I had names and contact information for six people who were interested in learning more about the Lummi Totem Journeys. I met LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Director of the Standing Rock Sioux Historic Preservation Office and owner of the land where the Sacred Stone camp is located just south of the Cannonball River. I later learned that Standing Rock Sioux leadership acknowledges Sacred Stone camp and refers to the much larger camp just north of the river as Strong Heart, with acknowledgement of a more activist component of the camp as Red Warrior (more about this later).

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Tribal leaders pose at the “Standing Rock” in Fort Yates, ND just west of the Missouri River

Just before noon, the Standing Rock Sioux Council came to order and received presentations from the Seneca Nation, Coast Salish Tribes, and the Yakama Nation. The matrilineal Seneca Nation of Pennsylvania described their experience with the Army Corps of Engineers. A dam was built in 1960 on the Allegheny River that flooded 10,000 acres of Seneca land, burying homes and valuable land under water. Their Chairman said, “We will not let this happen again. We are the ‘never again’ generation.”

The twenty or so members of the Yakama Nation, led by JoDe Goudy made their powerful presentation in full regalia, with children accompanying, and the highlight of the ceremony was the youngest member of their delegation, Wassus, wrapping a blanket around a Standing Rock Sioux infant.

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Wassus (center), gift giver from the Yakama Nation, with her older sister and brother and her grandparents

Coast Salish Tribes then made their presentations, among them the Lummi, the Swinomish, the Nisqually, the Puyallup, the Lower Elwha Klallam, the Suquamish Tribe, and the Hoh Tribe. The Swinomish remarked in their presentation to the Council that the notorious police blockade six miles south of Mandan on ND highway 1806 was lifted to allow them to pass. Notable from Nisqually, Billy Frank’s grandson was present and had powerful words of support for the position the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has taken.

Each and every Tribe present expressed unconditional support for the SRST opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Every Tribe promised to leave a flag to reflect their support. As Brian Cladoosby said, “We’ve been at war since 1492. We show the world that we are united, that we speak as one.”

David Archambault II, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, then expressed his deep appreciation of all the support from the gathered Tribes, saying that the indigenous peoples of the United States and Canada need to “always keep our heads up, be proud!”

After the Council meeting presentations ended, Totem Journey 2016 and 20 or so additional cars from Fort Yates convoyed with several Tribal police cars and Rangers escorting for the 25-mile drive up to Strong Heart camp at Cannonball. The Yakama and Coast Salish Tribes all piled out to walk into the camp with flags flying and full regalia in the case of the Yakama. Intense and emotional moments arose as these gestures of support were comprehended by the people of the camp.

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Yakama Nation and Coast Salish Tribes (left) walk in support to Strong Heart Camp for prayer and ceremony and are greeted by by Strong Heart Camp residents (right)

Doug James parked the totem pole in a prominent place near the fires and ceremony circle of the Strong Heart camp as we expressed our greetings and deep thanks for all the camp residents were doing to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, and respect and honor Mother Earth. We spent a couple of hours in ceremony, prayer, song, and joyous dancing around the fires as people admired the totem and asked of its travels, history, intended destination, and other details. This can be termed nothing other than a most intense day of emotion and power.

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2016 Lummi Totem Pole Journey arrives at Strong Heart Camp, Stand Rock Sioux tribal territory

Notable quotes from the speakers during the afternoon festivities came from Chairman Brian Cladoosby of the Swinish Indian Tribal Community, and Chairman Tim Ballew of Lummi Indian Business Council:

“WeBe … WeBe … We be here when they got here; we be here when they gone.”
~Brian Cladoosby

“It’s days like that [referring to May 9, 2016 when the Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit for the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Lummi Nation, Washington] and days like this [August 30, 2016, standing in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the Strong Heart camp] that make it worthwhile to be indigenous.”
~Tim Ballew