The Great Bison Spirit and the Dakota Access Pipeline
I have gone on vision quest after vision quest, meditated, and fasted for days looking for solutions to help my tribe, and my brothers and sisters protecting the water, earth, and air at Standing Rock by protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The DAPL is a pipeline which was supposed to run north of Bismarck until it was deemed too dangerous for their water supply. As a result, it was moved just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on sacred grounds. These grounds are the tribe’s equivalent of the Arlington Cemetery. I have visited both of these sacred sites and will tell you they are one in the same. Not only that, but these are unceded lands taken from the tribe in violation of 1851 treaties which declare them to be Sioux land.
I became involved in this movement after a quick bit of research, revealing the detrimental side effects that pipelines have on the environment. Several studies conducted by John’s Hopkins University and Cornell University outline the immediate and long term health hazards to human beings involved with pipelines, and living near their inevitable, unpredictable leaks. The issue around the nation is that pipeline leaks go unnoticed until it is too late, spilling millions of gallons of harmful oil into the environment. People who find themselves unlucky enough to live near a leaking site suffer from a myriad of respiratory disorders (including cancer); and, profound eye, nose, throat, ear and skin irritation, not to mention the life-altering effect such leaks have on pregnant women and unborn infants (I could write an essay on the negative health hazards of pipeline leaks, but luckily they are already out there. I encourage you, my friends, to seek them out and read them).
The catastrophic damages caused by such leaks destroy complete ecosystems, watersheds, fresh water wells, and the rivers that provide drinking water to our nation. The Dakota Access Pipeline will specifically contaminate the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Because the state of North Dakota is not legally liable to disclose pipeline leaks to the public, the estimated 18 million Americans who get their water from these two iconic rivers are directly in harm’s way. The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers water the Grain Belt of the United States, which provides food for our entire nation and other nations alike, also putting the rest of America at risk.
I went to the steep, snow-capped, isolated mountain ranges held sacred by my tribe to seek guidance in my quest to help. In my meditative visions and in my dreams as I slept, I kept seeing a bison bull. He told me that when the people hurt, we must look to the bison, as they have kept us alive for thousands of years. The Great Bison Spirit told me how his mission in life is complete and it is time for him to transition to The Other Side. I asked how this involved me and how this information would help anything. He told me that no hunter chooses the animal he takes; rather, the animal chooses the hunter. He then told me that he had chosen me for this task and the depth of this burden would hit me in the weeks following the hunt. He said to hunt him wearing a traditional breach cloth and using traditional techniques.
After months of diligent planning and training, the fateful day finally arrived. I grabbed my gear and set out to find the specific bison bull from my visions, the one distinguished by a large black beard and a very unique split horn.
During the hunt I wore an old fur hat and a large brown poncho, making me look somewhat like a bison calf. I covered all of my gear and clothing in local sage scent. Once the herd was spotted at the base of the mountains, I began my stalk. I bent over and walked slowly into the herd of the titanic “Thunder Gods,” trying to mimic their movements. I slowed my heart rate down and matched my breathing with that of the bison as best I could. I made it into the middle of the herd of approximately 200 bison when the lead bull noticed me. He stuck his tail into the air in anger. Bison become very unpredictable when upset. With the ability to run up to 40 mph, faster than most horses I have ever ridden, there is no escaping them. Left with no other option, I knelt down in a submissive position as I backed away, deeper into the herd; ever hopeful that my plan would work. The herd began noticing me as I moved in between them, picking up on my human scent and tendencies, and began getting visibly upset. This is not an ideal location for any human to be.
I thought about all the people who get gored and even killed by bison every year by getting too close. However, there was no way out into a safer position for I had to get close enough to identify the specific bull with the split in his horn. I closed my eyes and prayed that The Great Bison Spirit who summoned me would make himself visible. Out of nowhere I saw a bull charging straight towards the middle of the herd, right where I was standing. He got within about seven yards of me before coming to a stop. He stood tall and strong. The dirt kicked up from his movements began to settle slowly.
He had a large black beard, and massive horns…one of which had a large split in it. It was him, the bison bull from my visions! I followed him, weaving in and out of the 1,000-2,000 pound animals, as he said his goodbyes to his family members in the herd. I felt the sage brush up against my legs, and the soft dirt absorb any noise created by my bare feet as I tried to maneuver through the titans undetected.
When he was ready to go, he looked at me and then looked away, giving me a perfect shot at seven yards. It rang true… I prayed with him as his spirit immediately left, to The Other Side, with my head over his heart. It is at this moment that you can hear the spirit of an animal speak to you most clearly. He told me to walk to the top of the hill adjacent to us. As I did, my friends recorded footage of a golden eagle (my spirit animal) “swooping down out of nowhere, and landing on a fence post behind [me]!” I stood there, at the crest of the hill just looking at the giant Rocky Mountains directly in front of me for several moments in solitude. The cold, crisp October air was full of sage, grass, and distant pine.
I began walking back to the herd. I remembered what the elder who smudged me and blessed my transition tools had said to me just hours prior: “when you send a bison off, back home, you become one of the herd. You become one of them. You will always walk with them for the rest of your life, and they will always walk with you.”
Upon arriving back to the scene, a two year old bull approached me. He looked me in the eyes. That moment felt like an eternity. I had no idea of his intentions. So, I knelt down and stuck my hand out. What happened next utterly astonished me. The elder was correct in every essence of that word. All of the agitated bison were now entirely at ease with me, even after I had taken my fur and poncho off, blatantly looking like a human! I was now able to walk among them and with them in complete harmony, just inches away from some!
EVERY SINGLE part of the bison was used from the hooves to the horns. Some of the bison went to my tribe, and the rest went to the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. I wrote this very abbreviated description because yesterday at the Water Protector camp, thousands of wild bison appeared seemingly out of nowhere. The Mother Earth Spirit is speaking to us. It is up to us to listen. You too must listen to the animals. You too must listen to the wind. You too must learn to be guided by the birds. You too can seek and have visions. You must simply open up your heart and your soul. We, as a species, must reconnect with the Earth. The Earth must stop being treated as a commodity, and needs to be treated like the living, breathing organism that gives us life. Together, we can and WILL end the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Call the White House (202) 456-1111. Call the North Dakota Governor’s office (701) 328-2200. Call the Army Corps of Engineers [(202) 761-0001] and let them hear you! Tell them you want the Dakota Access Pipeline to be stopped NOW!