Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe – Totem Blessings and Powwow Fun at Eagle Butte

By Richard Jehn, Journey Chronicler

It was an informative and (occasionally) dusty ride from Bismarck, North Dakota to Eagle Butte, South Dakota. The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation northern border begins only25 or miles south of Bismarck, straddles the North and South Dakota border, and is immediately adjacent to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation south of it in South Dakota. We headed southward toward Eagle Butte, but somewhere along the line got a little mixed up, driving on a dusty gravel road for about 10 miles of the trip.


Journey crew members Kurt Russo and Fred Lane are in the van in the distance, followed by Elders Jewell and Doug James in the truck carrying the totem pole driving down South Dakota Highway 7.

We also passed the location of a small protest on ND highway 6 south of Mandan against the Dakota Access Pipeline that occurred on August 30, with 5 people arrested. Work was continuing as we passed it on September 1.


Construction continues on the Dakota Access Pipeline west of North Dakota Highway 6, south of Mandan

This subsequently became a much larger action on September 3rd when the Dakota Access Pipeline company without warning began work on a long weekend near ND highway 1806, the original site of protests and police action just a couple of hundred yards north of the Sacred Stone and Strong Heart camps. The workers brought along a private security force armed with mace or pepper spray and attack dogs. Several camp residents were injured, but they did prevail and drive out the work crews and stop the bulldozers. To learn more, Democracy Now! was onsite while all of this happened and posted a video here. Update: and subsequently, Amy Goodman was charged with criminal trespass and a warrant has been issued for her arrest (see article here).

I also was privileged to ride in the flatbed truck with Doug James and we listened to a Native American radio broadcast that described in detail the dynamics of the camps at Cannonball, North Dakota. The Sacred Stone camp is just south of the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers and originally formed in early April 2016 before any construction activity began. It was a prayer camp and intended to form a core of peaceful opposition to the intentions of the Dakota Access Pipeline company. As people began to gather when construction ramped up at the end of July, a larger overflow camp was formed just north of the Cannonball River and across the river from the Sacred Stone camp. It was originally named Red Warrior, but the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe wanted to ensure no connotations of radical activism became associated with the camp and it became known as Strong Heart camp; however, the Tribe also recognizes that more activist elements remain in the area, and their smaller encampment is still being termed the Red Warrior camp.

Back to our trip though, we arrived fairly early in Eagle Butte and had time to spend answering questions about the totem pole, which we parked on the Powwow grounds. The rides for the Powwow were already in action and a few food trucks were open, so we had a little time to relax.

At one point, I was fortunate to be in a vehicle that made a trip to the local store. Jewell needed fuses for the truck hauling the totem. This sight met me when I got out of the car.


Remarkable mural on the side of a truck trailer in Eagle Butte, South Dakota

The main event for the totem pole took place at mid-day on September 2 at the Powwow grounds. We moved the truck into a circular open-air event venue and people trickled in as we prepared. When the event began, only about 20 or 30 had gathered, but the rides and food trucks were in full swing and people may have had other things on their minds. It was nice to hear Rueben George’s daughter, Kaiya, speak briefly in gratitude and support of our journey. Cedar Parker also delivered a rousing address to the small circle of people which had formed, followed by words from Rueben, and then Jewell and Doug sang their song, followed with a few words about our purpose. At the end of the ceremony, everyone greeted each other in blessing and thanks for all that we are doing to ensure a healthy environment.


Master Carver Jewell James speaks to a group in Eagle Butte about the 2016 Totem Pole Journey and its mission


Bestowing blessings on the Totem Pole in Eagle Butte

Later that night, we again gathered around the pole out in the open grounds so we could answer questions and connect with people. We got a chance to watch some of the dancing before the full dance competition that was scheduled for Saturday, the day we’d be driving all the way up to Winnipeg, final destination for the totem pole.


Kurt Russo wearing the “NO DAPL Standing with Standing Rock” t-shirt while watching the dancing in the arena at Eagle Butte

I was privileged to have a long conversation with Scott With Horn about our journey, about his activities locally, and our common interests. We parted with great respect for each other and a promise to keep in contact.


Scott With Horn prepared for the dance competition on September 3rd in Eagle Butte


Determination, Defiance, and Peace: Day 2 at the Standing Rock Sioux Nation

By Richard Jehn, Journey Chronicler

We did not arrive at the Strong Heart camp until early afternoon on August 31st. We spent a few hours just interacting with camp residents. We talked about the Lummi Totem Pole Journey 2016; the history of what Jewell James has done in the past with his totem journeys to New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. in the wake of the tragic September 11, 2001 attacks; the design and elements of the pole that was in the Strong Heart camp near the prayer circle; and we heard and told lots and lots of personal stories.


Flags of a few tribal Nations fly over the Totem Pole and Strong Heart Camp

I took photos of all the flags, many of which had been added since we were at the camp on August 30, including the Lummi Nation flag.


The entrance into Strong Heart Camp is flanked by flags of many Nations showing their support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe action to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline


The Lummi Nation flag is flanked on the left by the Abenaki St. Francis Band (Vermont) flag and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (Washington) flag on the right

Totem Journey 2016 is an experience of unification, of “One Heart, One Mind.” It is an experience of education, bringing information to people who may not be aware. It is an experience of love and power. And it is mostly joyful in the camp. I learned about how young children learn to drum, by imitating their parents, listening to the songs, watching and joining into the activity, sometimes just with a fly swatter for a mallet.


Gerald Charging Eagle (left) and Tyson (right) teach their children to drum

I must include one remarkable quote from a man whose name I did not get and who was talking about the spirit of the camp and its people: “The contentment of the heart is what we speak.”

Later in the afternoon, the camp organized an event so the Totem Journey delegation (which includes Jewell Praying Wolf James, Master Carver of the Lummi Nation House of Tears Carvers, Doug James, Jewell’s brother, Fred Lane, videographer of the Totem Journey, Phil Lane, Hereditary Chief of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations, Cedar Parker, Tsleil-Waututh Nation of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Rueben George, also of Tsleil-Waututh Nation and son of Dan George) could make formal presentations about the journey, enabling Jewell to tell the story of the pole.


Lummi Elders and Totem Pole Journey leaders Jewell and Doug James begin the presentation of the Totem Pole at Strong Heart camp with a song

Deborah Parker, Cedar Parker’s mother and Tulalip Tribe member, also spoke and told a story of something her son said to her earlier in the day: “’The Creator wants us to feel the Earth, and that’s why we’re here.’ And that’s a beautiful teaching from my six-year-old son. He knows why we’re here. He can feel why we are here, his little feet touch the Earth and he knows why we are here! He knows why we took the journey here, and he’s not missing school because this IS his school, right here. And you, my dear relatives, he’s watching each and every one of you and how you care for the land.”

The words from Phil Lane, Rueben George, and Jewell James were especially powerful in this sacred location, and they spoke so forcefully that other camp residents from down below the prayer circle came up to hear what they were saying. They spoke eloquently of our overuse of fossil fuels, the damage it is doing to the planet, to the animals, and to the people.

Totem Journey 2016 is on a mission to connect with people, to tell the story of the pole, to talk about everything we know of the use and abuse of corporate power, particularly as it is reflected in the fossil fuel corporations, and to be present in solidarity with the people we meet who all want the same thing: a living, breathing Mother Earth for our grandchildren and their grandchildren, and for all future generations.