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Notes from Standing Rock

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Linda Black Elk is a tribal coordinator of the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council.  She’s also a Lecturer in Ethnobotany at Sitting Bull College. A full time teacher and mother of young children, she somehow finds time to distribute hundreds of boxes of herbal remedies to the camp. She’s a news source for hundreds of people following events at Standing Rock. 

We planned to do an interview for Reality Sandwich, but her time is so precious and her writing so eloquent, so instead, with her permission, I arranged some of her posts into prose poems. 


The following words and photos are by Linda Black Elk

A Love Letter to the Plants that have Died in the Path of the Dakota Access Pipeline

Purple coneflower, western yarrow, hawthorn, wild hops, beebalm, scarlet globemallow, wild plum, chokecherry, sandcherry, boxelder maple, cottonwood, wild grape, lavender hyssop, wild rose, textile onion, licorice root, and so many others…they have saved my precious children, my husband, my friends, my students, and myself from so many hours of illness and hunger. When I walk the prairie, I see all of them, bright and blazing among the grasses in all colors of the rainbow. I sing when I approach them. I pray. I walk in reverence. I know these plants can see me and sense me. Some of them boost leukocytes, some of them block histamines, some of them taste delicious, and still some of them soften skin…I’m just so thankful for all they have done for the people I love.

I remember finding sandcherries, and an elder told me to be careful to approach them from down wind… otherwise they’ll turn bitter. There’s also the time when my eldest son had the flu and I gave him some purple coneflower and wild rose hip tea… he was healed in a couple of days. And I won’t ever forget the elder who drank hawthorn tea and was able to go off of his blood pressure medication. Or that time all of my students were suffering from allergy symptoms, so I gave them licorice root tea and 20 minutes later, all of their symptoms were gone.

All of these amazing foods and medicines, which have healed and nourished the people for millennia, have been collected within the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline. At the height of colonization, lots of people stopped using plant medicines, and many stopped harvesting wild foods, but over the last few decades, these plants have, once again, become vital to the Lakota way of life. The pipeline’s threat to water, sacred sites, and treaty rights is real, but so is the threat to the Lakota culture through these plants. Make no mistake – this is genocide.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t protect them. I’m sorry that greed and bulldozers got in the way. I know that they’re irreplaceable; their genetics are one-of-a-kind, and their chemistry is so unique. I didn’t do enough to protect them, and for that I’m so sorry. I remember these plants, these friends, every day… and I will work so hard to protect the ones who come afterwards. I promise. Wopila tanka.

Everyone is Welcome Here

I’ve been up most of the night thinking about camp, the pipeline, the future of fossil fuels, and of our precious Mother Earth. We are changing the world, and it is beautiful.  We are in the process of building a permanent, totally green, Integrated Medicine Facility at camp. It will be housed in a traditional long house, among some other structures and permanently staffed by herbalists, medics, and doctors from a variety of backgrounds …working together to heal people, regardless of where they are from.

See…we welcome everyone and we honor your history. Everyone. For a while, I was getting messages from the Patriot folks saying: “Don’t let the Black Lives Matter crew ruin your camp!” And I got messages from from a Christian saying: ” Don’t let the Palestinians in, they’ll ruin your camp!” And I even got messages from a lady who said “Don’t let the Two Spirits set up a camp, they’ll ruin everything!” Well, you know what I told those Patriots, that Christian and that lady?

“Everyone is welcome here, even you.”

Everyone Belongs

The fact is, even though I know prejudice, racism, and genocide exist in our society, I know that things can get better. WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT and WE HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THAT RACISM AND PREJUDICE EXIST. We have to recognize the part we play in all of that and stop trying to disguise our own prejudice by pretending that white privilege doesn’t exist or that the mere mention of racism is just “playing the race card,” or that people of European descent don’t know what prejudice and genocide look like. (Jews at the hands of Nazis, the Irish and Scottish at the hands of the British, the Roma/Gypsies at the hands of Germans, the Armenians at the hand of the Turks…) We are allowed to talk about these things. We are allowed to be angry. We are allowed to declare that black men are getting unjustly shot down in our streets, that Native Americans are victims of environmental racism more than any other group, and that poor white people have cancer rates up to 300% higher than middle and upper class white folks.

We are all in this together, and we can only heal if we come together in prayer, respect, and understanding. EVERYONE NEEDS WATER. Stop trying to exclude people with whom you disagree. Stop trying to tell me that I need to stop talking about race and inequality. Stop trying to tell me that some people don’t belong in camp. Everyone belongs.

Note: As long as you can handle sustained winds of 50mph and long periods of temperatures that drop to -45F…you belong here this winter.


I Want to be Clear

The amazing people of the Red Warrior Camp have been conducting a series of non-violent direct actions along the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline. They’re putting their lives on the line for us. Every time I see an article from media in North Dakota, it contains complete fallacies bordering on fairy tales, in which North Dakota plays the Big Bad Wolf dressed up as everyone’s grandmother. North Dakota is the racist prostitute of the oil companies … the 1940s-style “Mississippi of the North.”

So, when you read things like ” The Morton County Sheriff say that knives and at least one gun were present,” DO NOT GLOSS OVER THE PART THAT SAYS, “Police were not on the scene, but according to Dakota Access security…”

Why don’t they ever say things like, “According to numerous water protectors, no weapons were present and the entire action was peaceful”??

One more thing…does wearing a bandana over your face to protect yourself from retaliation on the part of Morton County, the State of ND, and Dakota Access/Energy Transfer Partners make you look like a thug? No. And if you want to judge these folks for protecting themselves and their families, simply because they are wearing a scarf over their face, then why don’t you put your uncovered face on the front line and stop judging the people who are protecting Mother Earth for future generations?


Bumblebees are Going to be Put on the Endangered Species List

We only have a few years left before populations of ocean life plummet. Medicinal plants, promising for the cure of numerous diseases, are quickly being mowed, chopped, cut and pushed out of their native habitats and out of existence. The fossil fuels industry will take us past the two degrees of global warming that all nations pledged to avoid in Paris 2015.

Hillary isn’t going to fix this and Trump is an idiot who thinks that climate change is a liberal conspiracy. It is up to us. WE have to fix it. My children and your children are depending on our generation to repair just a tiny bit of the f*cked up mess we have inherited and contributed to. We’re running out of time.

So, forgive me if I refuse to engage your drama. I’m trying to stop a pipeline, protect clean water, honor treaty rights, cut down on my fossil fuels footprint, and live a good life.

Chili Pepper < Pepper Spray

I happened to stop by the Sioux County Extension office yesterday to see the bright- eyed Sue Isbell tending her amazing hoop house gardens. I walked into the first tunnel and it took my breath away: 7′ tall tomato plants that were absolutely LOADED with plump tomatoes at varying stages of ripeness…shining like red and green jewels. On the other side were thick cucumber vines with the freshest, crunchiest cucumbers imaginable. The other gardens were filled with peppers, squashes, melons, swiss chard, celery, and all manner of deliciousness.

In her garden, I mistakenly popped a shiny, wrinkly, ruby-red pepper right into my mouth. Ok, ok that was stupid! But I thought it was some sort of habanero, which I can handle.
It. Was. Not.

No…this was some kind of pepper straight from hell. A pepper so hot that my recent experience with pepper spray at the hands of Dakota Access PALES in comparison (mind you…I didn’t take the spray directly to the face like some folks did). But oh my goodness, this was so hot that I couldn’t breathe and I had to just open my mouth and let the partially masticated chili fall to the ground. The places on my hand where the pepper’s juices touched are still a little hot…36 hours later! Sue…I don’t know what variety those peppers are, but wow…I’m going to save the seeds and grow them next year!

Other than my mishap with the chili pepper, I was in heaven. I made a small cash donation and took home a load of the freshest vegetables around, which will be use to make stewed tomatoes, salsa, pepper jelly, cucumber kimchi, and a hearty Swiss chard and polenta bake with loads of Parmesan cheese. I’ll freeze it and then re-bake it on cold winter evenings when some fresh greens are desperately needed.

Sue Isbell (or as we call her, Sioux County Sue) has a huge heart and has been donating loads of her produce to the Sacred Stone Camps.  She is always helping the community by tilling gardens, setting up hoop houses, providing heirloom seeds, and testing gardening techniques in our difficult climate. Sue also runs the local 4-H program, which is one of the first 4-H programs to be really successful on a reservation. She even had the 4-H pledge translated into the Lakota language! Best of all, if you go to her gardens and greenhouses, you’ll see a breathtaking example of what happens when you teach young people to grow their own food. Through Sue’s example, local youth are learning about food sovereignty, seed saving, and trying “new” foods. I’m so thankful for her presence and for her friendship.


Please Pray for the Protectors!

Visitors were literally standing off the road to pray. This, apparently, really irritated law enforcement.

Cops are now up north…staging with armored vehicles and militarized weaponry. Helicopter is on site.

PLEASE LET THE WORLD KNOW! Please do not let the media black us out!


It is Incredibly Windy in Camp Today 

Gusts up to 55mph. I had a conversation with a nice lady from California who was astounded at the power of the Wind:

Her: These are practically hurricane-force winds!

Me: Aww, well, this is just a little wind. This is the Creator’s way of letting us know what is to come. Imagine winds much stronger than this, with horizontally-moving snow that hits your face with such force that they feel like tiny razor blades, and temperatures that fall to -50F.

Her: *glaring* Please don’t smile when you talk about it….it’s creepy.

Me: *smiling*


This is the third in a series of interviews with Standing Rock Protectors. You can see the other installments below.

Standing Rock Protectors Interview: Cosme Duarte
Standing Rock Protectors: Gina Marie
The Women of Standing Rock: An Interview with Shannon Kring


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