GLBTQ at Standing Rock – Two-Spirit Nation
By Hollis Taylor
As we pulled into camp the darkness of the North Dakota horizon rose with electric light. As we came over the hill with the camp in front of us we could see the lights from the military shining down on a camp that has now outgrown their shine. The camp seemed to cover the dip in the hill. Looking into camp more lights begin to enlighten the flags, tipis, and other shelters and structures. Our van was checked for alcohol or drugs as we entered. As we landed in a space to park for the night you could smell the burning flares in the air. The vibration was family like but with an intense angst in the air. Understandable as you begin to understand the culture.
We found a parking spot and began to explore the camp. As we began to walk it became clear that the air was highly polluted. The fumes of the trucks, some new, some not so much – along with a smell in the air I won’t be able to place until the next morning when a crop duster flies overhead. We joined in on the prayer at the main circle. There were plenty of signs all over explaining that this was a peaceful protest. The mood was solemn like it feels when someone is dying. I felt like we were all diverse people of all kinds but we all had one love in common, the earth. Bright Hawk, my partner and photographer for DiversiTree.org, made a musical offering in her classic community facilitation way. She lifted spirits with her positive songs and the uplifting music of the steel hand-pan. Those around the fire felt lifted and more open to positive messages when she finished her Thank You song. An elder shared a story around the fire about the sacred peace pipe, chinupa. We turned in early in hopes to start our day early with orientation. There were signs announcing the orientation in the morning. We wanted to respect the land we were visiting, so following their recommendations seemed suitable for the situation.
In orientation it became clear that as a “white person” I was there in service to the tribe.The more I explored this idea the more I understood it. As I listened to the feeling that the tribes continuously experience colonization, I questioned even my own white privileged behaviors, after all my skin is white. Just because I don’t judge based on skin color doesn’t mean other people don’t. Its hard to ignore how the early settlers just pushed the indigenous people aside as if their lives and cultures didn’t matter. The people that inhabited this land were peaceful people. My heart has called to their culture my entire life. As a very crowded orientation takes place it is clear that this entire camp is indigenous centered and for this I was grateful. I have a good understanding that human diversity is what makes us thrive as a culture. I also understand making the scales of justice balance sometimes means drawing lines. Sometimes when some of us get “erased” like the native indigenous people have its necessary to define and celebrate cultural diversities. The US government has not been fair to the indigenous people–ever, not now and not in the past. At Standing Rock, the indigenous people are standing tall. All 12,000 people on this American holiday deep into November cold. North Dakota, one of the coldest places in the USA has an overflowing influx of environmentalists, humanitarians, and indigenous tribes in an unprecedented gathering of the tribes. All of these people come together calling themselves the “Water Protectors” – I am deeply grateful for their service.
All indigenous people get first offerings for everything in this camp. I call it the balancing of the scales. Understanding where they are coming from, a culture that has been oppressed, ignored and taken advantage of over and over again. Even after years of aggression from the white people they have held this peaceful protest in peace. They spend their days praying and working together as ONE Nation. There is an action every day, all actions are peaceful. Peaceful action, something that has proven to get full results again and again. They deserve respect. They deserve equality. They deserve love, compassion, and peace. We all do. The indigenous people here are experiencing the support of compassionate white people in the way of donations, medical services, and other various services. They serve as peaceful warriors for the waters, they never stopped having to stand up. Now these amazing warriors were working with many white people to protect the water. I found the reminder of white privilege to be refreshing because sometimes in privilege we forget what its like to have less. Although I grew up without much privilege, I grew up very poor in a dysfunctional home, I am still aware that the color of my skin provides certain privilege. This time the scales were flipped. Although I could take anything I really needed as they wouldn’t turn me away but I knew my stay was limited, just 3 days. I had access to the things I needed outside the camp and these services were for the water protectors and less privileged people.
The evening was filled with opportunities to witness the music that is alive and strong in their culture. I attended both the Sitting Bull’s High School concert and also the concert at the casino the following night. Both nights were full of great spoken word about how indigenous people view the world, some of them expressing anger-frustration-oppression and all of them inspiring peaceful protests. The desire to stand tall like warriors became a theme throughout the two nights. I loved celebrating them and hosted many of them on our Instagram. The music ranged from amateur to professional, was completely indigenous centered, and inspiring.
The empathy that poured out of me that weekend was profound. One part became clear for my own journey. I have received Two-spirit training and carry a chinupa, a sacred peace pipe in many indigenous cultures, but my skin is still white. I don’t have ties to my ancestors and am aware of very little about my ancestors but would certainly say my heart is with the indigenous people of this land. I have always been sensitive to preserving their culture and I deeply identify with many of their spiritual practices and values. That’s why my teacher thought of it as important to teach me all he could when we were together. I have been dancing with the idea of the label “two-spirit”. This is a label used within the indigenous cultures to celebrate gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other queer people. I hesitate though to take on the label because I feel like I don’t have the right skin color. I am sure the indigenous tribes would mostly welcome me but I hesitate because of my awareness of their past suffering. Two-Spirits are amazing spiritual shamans that follow the traditional indigenous path. Although I honor my chinupa and many of the same practices, I have other practices I have mixed in. So for me, I am a Divine Androgyne. I identify outside the binary and I pray regularly to be lead by the divine. Deeply influenced by indigenous cultures. I live a life as close to my value system as possible. I learn about other spiritual practices with enthusiastic curiosity and search within myself for my own inner knowing. I practice what feels the best for my soul as a Divine Androgyne. Two-Spirits are my brothers, my kin, and they certainly are held at high regards for me. We are all on the same team and I want them to keep their identity and I will use my white privileges to bring many of the same values to the lost young white androgyne looking for a path. Thank you Standing Rock for this wisdom, this lesson, this knowing deep inside that I cannot continue the colonization of their culture. I can celebrate them and they can celebrate me, just as I am.
I was fortunate enough to have a bit of time with a Two-Spirit that had parts in many of the water blessings, other spiritual prayers as well as the Two-Spirit Nation that now holds safe space at the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock now and when I was there. I am constantly looking for contributors and Two-Spirits willing to be interviewed. Please contact me if your interested in being part of DiversiTree.org