Being an Ally Amidst Cultural Genocide

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My time at Standing Rock

by Daniel Jubelirer

14362651_10209238228984807_1797736471524980165_oEndless spirals of gratitude, pain, fresh insight and action ripple through the camp daily.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has welcomed people from hundreds of indigenous communities across the world to come stand with them in protecting the water and opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Native leaders from Standing Rock have called on allies for non-native communities to come and put resources to use in support as well.Thousands upon thousands have joined the camp where people are actively organizing, praying and taking action to reject the pipeline and defend sacred sites and protect clean, life-giving water.  Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, who started the Sacred Stone Camp on her land, has welcomed and embraced people at the fire from many walks of life.

It is night, and I’m sitting in the grass, one in a crowd of thousands of people at the maincamp on the Cannonball River within the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. As we await this night’s speakers, the crowd tenses with energy, a mixture of being alert, nervous and tired.  Smells of sage, fry bread and horse manure waft across our huge circle as leaders take the mic, one after another, to speak.

Chase Iron Eyes, a native activist and attorney running for congress, speaks up for the need for disciplined nonviolent action. “Peace is the only way this pipeline will be stopped,” he says, standing with his wife and three young children. “These rivers are the lifeblood of Mother Earth.  Peace is not passive. Peace is active.” He passes the mic to his twelve-year-old daughter, who has just been elected student body president of her middle school. She thanks us all for being there and fiercely declares that the fight will continue. The pipeline will not be built.The waters must be protected. Her words ring with such authenticity and passion that my skin crawls.

There are so many people, cultures and ideas present. It is chaos, it is beautiful, it is emergent. Over 150 tribal nations have gathered to stop the pipeline. Nothing like this has happened in our lifetime.

I learned sitting in this circle that the Dakota Access pipeline workers intentionally bulldozed a large area of sacred sites and burial grounds on Saturday.

Let that sink in.  If a corporation demolished a church, synagogue, or mosque, it would be considered an act of terrorism. This is no different. This is an aspect of the ongoing cultural genocide against native peoples which continues to take place in the United States today.

I am from a colonized and colonizing culture, and my mind is trained to think in terms of measurable, specific strategy. “Is there a strategy?” I wonder. “Where am I most needed? “Who is in charge?”  It is hard to tell. Every five minutes, the situation is changing. More and more people keep arriving, more trucks of supplies keep coming from everywhere: Canada, Montana, Texas, Chicago, Seattle, my home in Boulder, and beyond.  The grief and pain of what we witnessed here today is hard to speak about. My mind doesn’t feel clear, and I don’t know what to do. We are all here to protect the water and to stand together. That is all I know.

We are all here to stop the Dakota access pipeline and to say that indigenous cosmology and connection to the land is still here, that native rights and lives matter, and that together we are more powerful than the systems at play causing immense destruction. This moment is beautiful and unpredictable, like birth. We don’t know what will happen but we are hopeful and heartbroken.

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At Standing Rock, I feel both a piercing aloneness and a potent sense of belonging. These are my people, and these are not my people. These people are putting their lives on the line to protect the water, our climate, and life itself. I take inspiration from the courage here, and feel a kinship with everyone I meet for our shared purpose.

And, these are not my people. I grew up in modern America, and here on tribal land, on the reservation, we are not in the United States. We are on the territory of a sovereign nation with a culture, history, language and energy that is new to me. There are protocols and cultural ways of being here to which I am an outsider looking in. I feel thrown into waves of connection and aloneness, sharp and wild waves…a natural and welcome discomfort. Being an ally isn’t meant to be comfortable. Within the fire of the discomfort, I feel my resolve, strength and power sharpen. I see clearly that I must decolonize my own being and ways of seeing in order to participate fully in movements for justice and transformation and healing with my whole being, heart, head and soul.


daniejheadshot-1Daniel Jubelirer is a lover of the Work That Reconnects. With East Coast
roots in North Carolina, and West Coast fruits in the Bay Area of California, he is currently a Peace Studies student at Naropa University in Colorado. As a community organizer, youth educator, artist, facilitator and activist he follows a passion for linking  personal, interpersonal, and systemic change in the building of  a radically just and beautiful world. This fall he is attending the #COP22 Climate talks with the SustainUS delegation.  

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