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Kitchen volunteers served food first to elders as a sign of respect, then to those of us waiting in line.
The fire at the center of camp was not for chit-chatting around like a bonfire—it was a sacred prayer fire for offering tobacco.
“They’re afraid of our prayers,” one woman told me matter-of-factly, explaining why the state police and DAPL private security forces were not disrupting the camp that week.
When we arrived into camp at nightfall, we found that a woman had already set up a tent for us.
She welcomed us, saying, “I knew people would come tonight who needed a place to stay.” We were camped on the frontlines of destruction, and yet were in decolonizing territory, a place undergoing deep healing from centuries of capitalism and colonization.
When European explorers and colonizers first came to the region, they also saw the rivers’ spherical stones shaped by the churning waters where they met the Missouri River. The hydropower dam flooded ancestral burial grounds and medicinal plant harvesting areas.
The people say many elders died of heartbreak when they saw the flooded lands.