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Searching for Occupy: We All Live Downstream
As I am about to post this blog piece, I just got a call from a man named Garvard Good Plume at Pine Ridge telling me that Wounded Knee is being auctioned off RIGHT NOW. I feel sick. Meanwhile, here's what I wrote earlier today....
I am sitting in a cafe in Rapid City, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation, early for my interview with Charmaine White Face. I watched the riveting, heartbreaking and informative film "Red Cry" for the second time last night to prepare for this interview. I also studied the very specific and helpful directives about how non-indigenous people can support indigenous people at www.lakotagrandmothers.org.
I'm a little nervous and I have to admit that I always feel somewhat awkward and unsure when I meet Indigenous people for the first time - not wanting to tread where I am out of bounds, but not really knowing where boundaries lie. As my friend Jules said on the phone last night, this is a new relationship between Natives and non-Natives. Indeed. I am acutely aware of how our understanding of one another is often pretty fuzzy around the edges, and sometimes pure mush at the center. Still, something deep inside me keeps telling me that this IS the relationship I need to pursue if anything I do is to have meaning. This is the relationship our nation needs to heal if we are ever to recover some semblance of dignity and sanity and means of preserving the earth.
While I am waiting to discover a new relationship to people of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation, I can't help reflecting on my time in Oklahoma amongst the Ponca and my subsequent and enlightening conversations with Casey Camp. And, my relationship with my Dine friends from the Navajo Nation continues to deepen and grow since our first meeting in St. Louis, then on the Black Mesa Reservation.
Two days ago, my Dine friends and I met again in Gillette, Wyoming where we attended Peabody Coal's annual shareholders' meeting and addressed Peabody CEO Greg Boyce about the atrocities committed by his company. While most of us who came from afar were shuttled off to an 'overflow' room, the three Dine present and several mine workers whose pensions have been lost when Peabody abandoned the Patriot mine, got into the main room. Written questions from the overflow room were allowed, but questions pertaining to anything other than previously planned agenda items were not allowed. When questions were asked or read, however, the responses from CEO Boyce were purely perfunctory, prepared and preposterously and pompously evasive. The only question that got a response that could possibly result in follow-up by Peabody was posed by Don Yellowman of the Navajo Nation regarding archeological artifacts dug up at Black Mesa that Peabody has been holding for some 40-50 years. There was an indication that they might be returned - although the bargaining price remains unstated. To my own question about restoring the land to its pre-strip-mined condition, there was no response... or, actually there was... a total lie suggesting that Peabody had kept its promise to restore the land to 'better than it was originally found'. Not hardly, I'm afraid. In the overflow room, we all laughed to keep from crying.
Meanwhile, as the charade inside the shareholders' meeting was going on, Fern MacDonald of M.O.R.E. (Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment) had climbed over the rooftop to attach a huge homemade banner that read: Peabody Attacks: Pensions, Dine Land, Climate. The banner drop came off seamlessly and was perfectly in place just as the meeting let out and attendees exited the building. Fern was then promptly arrested, of course. Following her arrest, two environmentalist from a group who came up from Denver were arrested for taking a photo of their banner: "Peabody Abandons Miners". All spent the night in jail and were arraigned the next day on charges of criminal trespass.
After the protest, John Benally, an elder whose mother spent many nights in jail and whose family continues to resist displacement from their native home at Black Mesa, spoke to me at length about their customs and needs, and how and why I, someone without a drop of Indian blood, am someone who can help them to fight not only for the survival and sovereignty of the Red Nations, but the salvation of Mother Earth. Then, Don Yellowman and I began working on a plan and a strategy for restoring the Navajo lands and people with the help of non-Indigenous volunteers and contributors.
I am humbled and honored to be speaking with these people who understand so much more than I will ever know about how to care for our Mother Earth. What I do know is that out of respect for my own ancestors and the many people in my own community, this will continue to be my quest... To restore honor where, at present, there is none.