Unless you’ve been living under a standing rock (!), you’ve heard of the controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline happening in North Dakota. For a quick review, the Army Corps granted permits for this pipeline to go through sacred Native American territory that would violate previous promises of protection from the federal government as well as endanger clean water sources. According to standwithstandingrock.net:
“The lawsuit alleges that the Army Corps violated multiple federal statutes, including the Clean Water Act, National Historic Protection Act, and National Environmental Policy Act, when it issued the permits. The Army Corps has failed to follow the law—both regarding the risk of oil spills and the protection of their sacred places. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is also a part of the lawsuit against the Army Corps.”
People from all over the country have joined in this protest, either monetarily, in spirit on social media, or through the ultimate commitment – in person.
Two local #Dreamporters, Mary Thoma and Lex Talamo, traveled from Shreveport to Standing Rock recently to see the protests for themselves. Thoma felt called to join the cause, and Talamo accompanied her to cover it for The Shreveport Times.
They have since returned, and Thoma is continuing the fight by hosting an event at Marilynn’s place on Thursday, December 1st, at 7pm. We were able to track down the hustling-faster-than-the-speed-of-government-intervention Mary herself for a quick(ish) Q&A about tomorrow’s event, as well as her experience thus far.
Heliopolis: So many of us are “involved” with what’s going on at Standing Rock, but mostly as peripheral observers and social media protesters. You actually got in the car and WENT! What drew you so strongly to this cause?
Thoma: I told my daughters…I’m the accidental activist. I felt a nudge in my soul that I might need to go, to be there [and] to see for myself. To stand with them. [But] I thought, “What am I gonna do there? I mean, seriously, I’m an actor and an acting coach with an essential oils business. What am I supposed to DO?” I can only say it felt dangerous on some level…to ignore the soul call. The answer was JUST GO. There was an important meeting happening between tribal elders and DAPL execs on Wednesday, and I knew I needed to be there. [Lex Talamo] wanted to cover the event for the newspaper, as well. We weren’t packed. We had no supplies. At 9:45 pm the night before, she ran for camp supplies, and I started packing every warm item of clothing I could find. We pulled out of Shreveport at 9 am and drove 21 hours straight to North Dakota. Yes, it can be done!
Heliopolis: That is both crazy and impressive. What was your experience like in North Dakota? Was it better, worse, or exactly what you imagined?
Thoma: The truth is, I’ve been struggling since coming home from SR. It was a sacred experience that honestly, I fear somehow spoiling by communicating. While the time there was so beautiful and deeply meaningful to me, it was also painful and frightening. Something has shifted deep within me, and many scales have fallen from my eyes. It’s like I live in a new America – it’s the same America, apparently, but seeing it clearly and feeling it in the center of my being has been….well, challenging. And with the almost hour-by-hour changes at camp and the increase of violence since I left, I can hardly process it all. I am terrified that people are going to die.
Heliopolis: What was it like when you arrived?
Thoma: My first day they wrote the legal support number on my arm in black marker. I learned what to do and say and what to expect. I‘d heard about the civil rights violations of other women who had been arrested and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to being treated so inhumanely, but I was prepared. I removed my wedding ring and put it along with my phone in my car. Many people do not get their personal items back after arrest. Next, I heard a call to get to the river immediately to Turtle Island, that everyone was needed. I flagged a car going by with two burly native brothers in from Chicago. They stopped, and I jumped in their van and sat perched on boxes of donations . A minute later we jumped out of the van and found ourselves fifty yards from the now famous exchange at Turtle island.
At THAT time, it was the second most violent day at SR. There were people everywhere. Men and women. Native and Allies. Water Protectors were on one side of the river bank and some in the freezing water, with hands in the air. Militarized law enforcement dressed in riot gear across the water on the other side with hands on their guns with rubber bullets, canisters of mace/pepper spray. It was surreal. Hands in the air. Hands ON GUNS. This was my America. People, not moving, not threatening, vulnerable, peaceful, standing still who are being maced, shot with rubber bullets — for doing what?
There were a few angry youth across the other side of the river yelling “YOU are trespassing on sacred land. Honor the treaties!” to the law enforcement. That was the extent of the AGGRESSION I saw from the Water Protectors that day. It was calm and it was bedlam. It was the best of our humanity and some of the worst. I shot a short FB Livestream so people at home could SEE what was happening but then soon lost signal again. These were my first 6 hours at camp. It felt like weeks.
Heliopolis: At the risk of sounding totally douchey and trite, did you have any favorite moments?
Thoma: The best times were mornings, when the camp wakes up and gathers. We drink campfire coffee and we gather in circle for ceremony. Gathering under the stars, around the sacred fire that has burned since the beginning of the movement. Hearing people share their hearts, their prayers, their personal journeys. Singing songs in Lakota. Participating in ceremony, that they opened up to all of us, not just natives. The inclusivity, the gentleness and generosity, the community of peace. It is the deep wish of the elders and youth that this movement be done in prayer and peace. It is easy to be angry. It is difficult to stay peaceful. I learned so much from their generosity.
Heliopolis: Why should people in Shreveport care?
Thoma: When any one group is at risk, we are all at risk. So, there are many many reasons to care about this and people enter this movement though different windows but soon find it is one and the same. Environmental racism, indigenous rights, human rights. They all intersect. But at the bottom of it all, none of us will be here without clean water and a living planet.
You can help Mary, event co-host Frances Kelly, and others in support of Standing Rock by attending the event at Marilynn’s place on Thursday, December 1st. Event details at the link below. They are collecting donations in the form of money as well as long skirts for the women at the camp. A percentage of all food and drink sales will also be donated.
Clash at Turtle Island: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/21/502865857/police-protesters-clash-near-dakota-access-pipeline-route
Learn more: https://www.standwithstandingrock.net