background image

Through One Reporter’s Eyes: The Sights, Sounds and Experiences at Oceti Sakowin Camp

Au-Authm Action News reporter Sheila Begay stands at the top of "Facebook hill," overlooking the Oceti Sakowin Camp, Cannonball River and the Missouri River.

I can still hear the fire crackling and see the flags swaying at the Oceti Sakowin camp. I can still taste the dirt that clung to my Chapstick. I can still smell the burning cedar that sits by the fire in an old coffee can.

It’s been about a month since my visit to North Dakota and the sacred Oceti Sakowin Camp, a few miles north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. There are no words that can justify my experience. All I know is that I felt a rush of emotions and an overwhelming feeling of pride that I’ve never felt before.

As a young Native American woman, I remember holding back tears and thinking, “We’re not supposed to be here.”

Driving south towards the camp, your mind recollects so many thoughts—broken treaties, colonization, genocide—and we, as original inhabitants of this land, are continuously told to “get over it.” It is on the road to camp that you begin a spiritual war with yourself. Soon after visiting camp, you learn that this is a war that can only be won with love, compassion and prayer. A war our ancestors died fighting.

Salmon and fresh cedar provided to Sheila from Bellingham, Wash. Sheila assists by making dough and frybread for dinner
After being questioned at the checkpoint by the National Guard, you soon approach the front-line camp. Flags and signs are tacked onto the barbed-wire fences as you drive past. We slowed down as our eyes tried to glance quickly over each sign. One clearly reads, “You are on Indian Land.”

Driving over the prairie hill, you unexpectedly see tipis, tents, trucks, horses and flags, lots of flags. You feel the emotion. Already it feels at home. Walking down the road lined with over 300 flags is emotionally overwhelming. Tribes I’ve never even heard of are in solidarity with the Standing Rock. We, as Native America, have joined hands and are finally united again, all for the sake of our Mother Earth.

You can hear children playing and laughing. You can smell the love coming from the kitchen as the women and men cook for the hundreds of campers. You hear various leaders and elders speak, whether it’s to remind us of who we are and where we come from or to provide inspiration to find ourselves in harmony once more.

Listening to Chief Arvol Looking Horse took me back to my parents and grandparents and how they talked to me growing up. They fed me the greatest parts of them and I didn’t even know it. They taught me prayer, ceremony and pride as a Diné woman. My grandmother’s voice lingers in my mind as she spoke of the Long Walk and how our people overcame. Precious details I lost while growing up in two different worlds. It was not until now, standing among water protectors, that I understood what they were talking about. This fight is more than just fighting to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing the Missouri River; we are fighting for our spirits as Native Americans and for our children to enjoy the necessities that Mother Earth offers.

Some wiped away tears, some held their fists up high, and some stood with their eyes closed in prayer. The emotion was real. I watched non-Natives and Natives join hands in prayer and dance. I heard prayers and songs in so many beautiful and unique languages. Everything about the camp gave me hope. This is only a start; we are finally making our voices heard.

Every generation has its heroes and leaders. These beautiful, courageous warriors are mine. They reminded me that we are unique; we have culture, traditions, songs, traditional storytelling and a language. No longer would I be ashamed of who I was and where I came from. I will learn to speak with my elders in our language. I will wear my braids with pride. I walked in lost and walked out with a clear vision of who I am as a Diné woman.