“USA Broke Every Treaty,” Native American elder calls out to the world

Suk Hee Yoon – Correspondent, The AsiaN

I spent eight days at Oceti Sakowin, the main camp against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The camp was freezing at night, hot and windy by day. There were shared prayers, communion, and volunteer work.

The most striking thing about the Lakota people’s stand against the pipeline was its spirituality. They were constantly praying—for the water, the land, the hearts of the Police and the National Guard, other indigenous peoples of the world, clean air, and peaceful fire.

This was a camp of no drugs, no alcohol, and no guns. There was lots of music, singing, and dancing, but all of it in a “prayerful way.” Men, women and two-sprits danced equally round the drums, we all had our chance at the open mic, and we did it all sober.

To a generation of music festivals, this was something completely new. It was devoid of corporatism in ways few modern spaces are. Nothing was for sale, and everything was for sharing. Consequently, I ran out of my four packs of tobacco in the first three days, and asked around for the next five.

Guy Dull Knife was one of the elders at the camp. He woke up at four every morning to pray, to wake up his relatives, and to wake up the rest of the camp. Then he went on rounds of meetings, leading and ending each meetings with a prayer. I was introduced to him by one of his female relatives and was granted a special interview. We spoke in front of his car at the camp.

[Yoonski Stands With Guy Dull Knife For a Picture - Sukhee Yoon]

[Yoonski Stands With Guy Dull Knife For a Picture – Sukhee Yoon]

Could you tell me your name and who you are for the tribe and the camp?

My name is Guy Dull Knife. I am a Vietnam combat veteran and a spiritual advisor for the American Indian Movement and the Camp. I am from the Ogallala Xioux Tribe, Pine Ridge, South Dakota. I am an artist. I was going to try and retire when all this happened, so I am here. Just trying to do everything I can do to keep people going. That is my job. We have a lot of work to do in the future. We Native Americans have to stick together. With the new President, we don’t know what’s going to happen this time. We have a long fight ahead of us.

We don’t know what’s going to happen to the reservations that we come from. There are seven council fires here. All seven Lakota Xioux tribes are all gathered here to fight against this Black Snake…, this oil pipeline they are building. And now this election.

[Frost on a School Bus as the Sun Rises Over the Camp - Muriel Kennedy]

[Frost on a School Bus as the Sun Rises Over the Camp – Muriel Kennedy]

What have been some of the biggest challenges in your life?

Well, I was drafted into the military. When I got out, my people were at war. It’s been an ongoing fight since the 70s. Fighting for treaty rights, fighting for water, and fighting for one thing after another. This new President that’s been elected. From what I understand, he is really racist. I guess I can’t retire. I have to keep going, keep fighting. But we have to really think of something.

As elders, we have to think of something to ensure that all the reservations in the United States can survive. From what I hear, the new president wants to move forward with the pipeline, and terminate all the reservations. And the people back home, they are not ready yet. They can’t go under the state. We have rights, this is our land. They stole it from us. They forced us to sign treaties. We never surrendered. We signed treaties with them. But they broke every single one. Except one. They said they will take our land…, and they did.

We have to all, somehow, survive this. It’s going to be a long fight ahead. My greatest fear is that people will get hurt. That is my main concern. If it comes down to it we might have to. We might have to take on the big giant.

[Water Protectors Raise Their Arms in Solidarity - Muriel Kennedy]

[Water Protectors Raise Their Arms in Solidarity – Muriel Kennedy]

Us Lakotas, we are survivors. They have been trying to kill all of us for a long time. But we are still here. I think we can survive this one again. Of course, there are a lot of challenges to overcome for us to  continue calling ourselves Lakota. Those reservations are concentration camps for us. They gave each of us a number. But we survived. We somehow survived all the hardships and we are still here. I think if we stand together in unity, we can do it again. But if we separate, it’s not going to be good. I am always encouraging my people to be united. Unity is our weapon. We still have our pipe. Through unity and prayer we could survive this.

What are some of the biggest challenges and hopes you see for this camp and for the Lakota people?

I was hoping that the woman, Hillary Clinton, would be elected. At least then, maybe, we would have had a chance. But this new president, he hates all other races. So now we don’t know what the future holds. We have to fight hard to maintain our identities. I hope that somehow our prayers will go to his heart. That he thinks about what he wants to do to Native Americans. I don’t know the future, but we must have hope. We will fight back. I know that. Even if we have to pick up arms, we will fight back.

[Burnt Bridge Between the Camp and the Construction Site - Muriel Kennedy]

[Burnt Bridge Between the Camp and the Construction Site – Muriel Kennedy]

I heard some talk about a Native American Sovereignty movement or independence movement. Is this being discussed?

There is a lot of talk about that, and what we should do… but right now, it’s only the first day since the election. So I don’t know. It’s hard to tell what the future will bring. But I know we will survive. Because we always did. There was a president who tried to kill all of us. There was a president who killed all the Buffalo, to try and starve us out. But we survived it all. They killed millions of us. But we are still here. We are survivors. I think we could pull through this one too.

[DAPL Construction Workers Moving to Site at 5 AM - Muriel Kennedy]

[DAPL Construction Workers Moving to Site at 5 AM – Muriel Kennedy]

What makes the Lakota people so unified and so resilient?

We have our peace pipe, that was brought to us by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. She brought the pipe to us because we were suffering. We stand behind that pipe, and that’s why we survived this long. Ever since the invasion of the Europeans, they never let up. They used chemical weapons on us, they used smallpox blankets on us. They took everything from us, and they are still fighting us. I don’t understand that. I don’t. They knocked us down, but they won’t leave us alone. They keep kicking us. They never let up. We are slowly losing our reservations, our way of life. They put us in boarding schools. If we speak our language they punish us. They say our religion is no good, our language is no good. We fought for the United States in WW1, WW2 with our languages–the code talkers. There are over a hundred languages, in the United States alone, and our languages helped the US win their wars, and yet they are still fighting us.

What gives you the most hope for the future?

Right now, for the next four years, my biggest hope is to stay intact. I hope our reservations stay intact. It was a surprise to me when I heard the news that he was chosen this morning. He is really racist. I don’t know how he won, but he won. I don’t know what is in our future, but if we stay together, stay unified, we can survive.

[Militarized Police Watching From Across the Barricade - Muriel Kennedy]

[Militarized Police Watching From Across the Barricade – Muriel Kennedy]

What can you say to our readers, who might not know so much about Native American cultures and history?

We look alike, we are very similar people. We have the same connections to nature. We are all one people. Somehow we got separated. It’s my belief that we are all one river. Please tell them who we are, tell them what our beliefs are, and tell them we are fighting for our freedom. Our people have been used, jailed, and drafted. They look at us as if we are lower than animals. They keep coming and coming. We never surrendered. They broke every treaty and put us in concentration camps, but we are still here. Please, tell them our stories. After our brief conversation, he went back to the round meetings, each of which he would officiate with a prayer at the beginning and the end. The sound of beating drums is at their most prayerful right now.

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