Where we all long to be; awake and doing the right thing (my experience at Standing Rock)

Standing Rock is far more potent than any of us can imagine.

It is important to me that I tell about my time at Standing Rock with respect and honor.

Here is the first part, telling of my getting to Oceti Sakowin and one action I took there.  I will talk about how you can help.

It is being done for us all.  The way it is being done is crucial.  I believe this is how we want to go about any other actions.  I ask Pantsuit Nation, Environmental Organizations, and  all the many actions we are being called in this time to rise to – let us learn from our Indigenous family, let us walk our authentic paths as we make our stand.  Let us train in how not to instigate violence, how to instigate peace, just as they are training at Standing Rock.


Water is more valuable than money

Golden prairie grasses fly by the car for two days and for miles and miles.  Horses, cows, and the bluest river winding in the distance.  My cousin and I have been enjoying the road trip thus far, visiting, philosophizing and planning how to be of service.  We are getting closer.  I look down at my iphone trying to figure out directions to the camp, the signal blinks on and off.  Suddenly, we pass a large federal truck at the 1806 junction and become uncomfortably aware of the police presence.  We note there is something odd about the cell signal.  We crest a hill and our breath catches, we feel an instant apprehension.  There they are, an imposing militarized Police Force along the highway, wearing helmets and some kind of weaponry.  We see the turn we need to make, a right turn at the outpost building, just past the Road Closed Ahead sign and the heavy police presence—what a strategic position they had, sitting atop that hill by the highway. The communications tower rising 40 feet above the armored police vehicles.   The contrast from miles of open beauty to this sudden aggressive vision is startling.  We cannot see their faces, only their mouths and they are not smiling.   I shout to my cousin, “Turn around!!”.

Gina flips a U-turn and we pull over in a field and just re-grounded ourselves.  We discuss our prior commitment to peaceful awareness and not provoking violence.  But violence has been introduced in the fact of this military force which does not feel protective, it feels dangerous.  We both agree to check in with our own knowing.  I have learned to tap into my own wisdom when things get questionable, this is what steers me toward right action.  We decide to drive past them and while it feels a bit courageous, we are not doing anything wrong.

I have journeyed from Alaska and my dearest cousin, Gina from South Dakota.  It is not easy to get here, there is no close large airport.  Gina generously picked me up in Denver and we drove 10+ hours across 3 states to get here.  This allowed us a treasured time to reconnect, review our thoughts on coming  and ground ourselves to be of the most help.  Gina brought sage from her home and we prepared bundles to burn and honor.  Gina also brought bulk supplies of beans, flour and oil to donate to camp.

We have come for many reasons and maybe only one real reason.  I came because I respect water, I respect people, and I respect land which includes all beings.  Living in my glorious Alaska with the bounty of pure water everywhere has given me gratitude. I came because I hauled my own water for years at the home I built with my own hands.  Because I treasured every bucket of water I carried up the hill to drink, cook, clean with, knowing its silky transparent simpleness was all I needed to thrive.  Okay, I actually cursed some of those heavy 5 gallon buckets, especially when they sloshed on me at 20 degrees below zero.  But then I got that bucket into the house and I felt pretty darn appreciative.  I came because I dive into icy Alaska lakes all summer and swim with loon and otter.  Water is magic to me, bathing, hauling, drinking, swimming and savoring its mercurial wetness as it drips off my body.

I have come because I know that taking action works.  It works.  I have been writing letters with Amnesty International for over 30 years and I have seen Nelson Mandella freed and so many others,  and I believe.  Because I have seen my friends and neighbors band together and save our Susitna River from being dammed.  Because I yearn to be authentic in my living and my authenticity is tied to being of service to Land and People.  Because I have learned when I hear my heart sing I jump because I know I must, although the singing usually leads me to something uncomfortable.  I have learned that if I do not do the thing that sings to my heart, later, my heart hurts.  My heart sings to take a stand.  I came because these are the most important things to me: water – people – land.

Standing Rock is a camp of prayer, of nonviolence.  The people consider themselves Protectors, not Protesters. The Dakota Access pipeline is set to be constructed near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, crossing under the Missouri River which is the only source of water to the reservation. The pipeline is planned to transport approximately 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The Dakota Access Pipeline poses a significant risk to the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and threatens to destroy their burial grounds and sacred sites.

Mni Wiconi Water is Life. 

The Sioux water protectors at Standing Rock have motivated thousands of tribal members and non-Native people around the world to take a stand with them.  There are between 3,000 and 5,000 people in camp on any given week.  The camp is well organized.  It is weapon, alcohol and substance free.  There is a school, there are medics and a media force, a legal tent staffed with licensed attorneys, water and recycling and more.

So, this happens:  I get on the plane and I watch the mountains and glaciers and precious water receding below and I remember I hate leaving my beloved Alaska.  I see armed police and I remember I hate confrontation.  I know I may get arrested and I remember my extreme fear of being caged or locked in.  I am claustrophobic, riding elevators is problematic, my vision goes dark at the edges and I cannot breathe and I want to wail like a small animal.  And I know that taking action for something so important makes my heart sing past any fear.

I have prepared for coming to Standing Rock by setting an intention to learn in order to be of service.  I am a life coach who believes we each carry our own wisdom and knowledge of our right path.  I work on this relationship with myself and my earth constantly and it gives me much joy.  I know I will be tapping into my own power in order to follow my  right path in this endeavor when the winds whip up and choices are to be made.  (I share tips for standing in your wisdom in my other blogs.  Click here if you are interested).  I have learned that I will be of the most help to others when I act in a manner authentic to myself.

We arrive at Standing Rock Indian Reservation and drive down a small dirt road to the Sacred Stone Camp and Oceti Sakowin Camp spread along that sparkling blue where the Cannonball River meets the Missouri.  We take a deep breath, this is where we belong.  A sea of teepees, tents, people maybe 5,000, spreads before us, beautiful along the plains of the Missouri River.  I have stepped back in time.

Then I remember, I hate crowds.  I may be the last person to be of any help in this situation.  But help I must.  For people, for all of us.  Because it is all of our water.

I call upon Bear as we survey the camp.  This is a thing I do, and Bear is one of my allies.  Bear tells me, “Just walk the land and you will know what to do.”.  Yeah, easy for you to say- I mutter to Bear.  So, I go down into the masses with Gina and set up our camp space and we welcome it all.

People are gracious and smiling and resolved.  There is an air of peace in taking this action.  The sun sets and the full moon rises tangerine over the prairie and everyone stops to watch, the whole camp it seems turns to the East.  We hear soft howls and I excitedly look around for the wolves and then realize it is us, the camp has become wolf – quietly howling at the moon together in respect. I feel at home.


There is no music or loud laughter, all is respectful.  Calm.  It gets dark and boom – bright lights appear on the other side of the river, blinding the camp so that it is hard to walk around and see your footing.  These are clearly coming from the pipeline and are meant to be annoying, and they are.  Then come the helicopters circling, planes, and finally the military drone which circles over us all night long.  The drone is large and loud and circling low.  Strategies to intimidate and wear down.  Everyone remains calm and ignores the loud circling and lights.

And the drumming begins.  It is quiet, soothing, grounding.  There is some singing, calm and powerful.  The camp goes about its business.  The drumming is clearly ancient and its rhythm leads our minds away from the annoying drone and finally lulls me to sleep.

We awake at 5am, the drone has gone away.  We walk to the river and gaze at the beauty, give thanks.  Others are doing the same.  Gina and I prepare our own breakfast, though there are camp cookhouses up and providng food, we try to be of as much help as we can for our short stay.  It is important to us to be self-sufficient so as not to drain resources.


There is much work to be done.  Winter is coming and preparation is needed, sorting supplies, building more shelters, training and meditating, learning from the elders, standing at the front lines, and perhaps getting arrested.  We go to a daily morning meeting which begins and ends with prayer.  People from around the world attend the meeting, it is cold in the tent where we sit on the floor to meet, but we are soon warmed by each other and our commitment to stand, to respect, to love.  This is no touchy-feely thing (though I like that sort of thing too), this is no false glamorous thing, this is real and even more beautiful and sparkly in the dust of the camp.  This is engaged, fierce, love.  And it feels like home.  Like the place we all long to be; awake, aware, doing the right thing.

The camp vision is set out by the Elders of the Sioux Nation.  They tell us that this is an indigenous-centered effort and a sacred ceremony.  Meaning that the entire endeavor is a sacred ceremony.  The meeting is profound and heart opening and real.

We are asked to operate in camp and in all our actions with these main tenants:  Indigenous-Centered, Be who you are where you are, and Be of Use.  The idea is that every act we take here is one of respect and being awake and aware and peaceful in intention.

A gentleman from the Navajo nation offers a closing prayer. He began by praying for the sherriff, the police, and DAPL employees, for they are loved too. He asked for all to find compassion for each other. Water is life, all life is precious, human and all living things. Tears for this. Gina repeats this daily now.  I have created a simple altar at my spring where I daily ask for compassion for all things, for all of us.

This is one simple meeting which happens every morning and its power is the same every day.  Shouldn’t all our meetings be this way?  Set with intention, love, and awareness, in order to foster right action.


Now we go to be of service.  Gina is drawn to help organize and sort supplies, one of her many talents.  She does the work that is practical and that so many did not want to do. It seems overwhelming to me.  It was not glorious photo op stuff for sure. And she is smoothly following the tenets of camp; Being who we are, where we are. Of use.

It was a huge scramble to get thousands of pounds of supplies into shelters and ready for winter. Gina stacks 50 pound bags of rice, beans, flour.  She sees the operations of camp and participates in its flow.  She watches children at recess from the camp school running around shooting toy guns…that were filled with love.  Little flags that say love wave from the guns- the only armor they needed.

I am approached and asked to help create a large medicine wheel.  I think that I should be helping in a more concrete way like Gina.  I could build structures or chop wood for their winter supplies.  Also, I want to go to the training they require before going to the front lines on how to take action in a respectful manner.  The Medicine Wheel activity seems important to the ones who asked me.  I decide to listen to their desires and put aside my “white” ways of getting into action.  I notice my heart singing.

The Medicine Wheel has been around for generations of various Native American tribes for health and healing. It embodies the Four Directions, as well as Father Sky and Mother Earth, which symbolize dimensions of health and the cycles of life. Each of the Four Directions, North, South, East, and West is represented by a distinctive color, such as black, red, yellow, and white, which for some stands for the human races.

I go to the ring of the 7 sacred fires (standing for the 7 tribes of the Sioux Nation) and the ceremony opens with prayer, singing and drumming.   The International Indigenous Youth Council have created this action and they set with us the intention to bless water and life.  They are hoping 500 people will join.

We begin to walk across the prairie toward Turtle Island which lies in an oxbow of the river.  The sun is up and sparkling on the oh so blue waters and the wind has the grasses whispering.  There are people drumming and chanting and burning sage which wafts over us as we walk.  There is quiet conversation with neighbors and we chant Mni Wiconi, Water is Life.  I visit with a man who works for a conservation group in New York City and who has brought Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to Standing Rock, he has been to my small village in Alaska.  I hear many languages being spoken.  I talk to a young woman from Texas who wants to stay here through the winter.  I overhear two people talking about their volunteer work in Afghanistan helping people there.  We walk on.

How long is this going to take?  I should get to that meeting for the front lines.   I am not being of much help here.   I smile to myself, and let these thoughts pass.

We keep walking.  Soon there is a very long line of us, I cannot tell how many we are.  We walk four and five abreast with pungent sage burning and we chant Mni Wiconi, Water is Life.  People walk at different paces, some pass me, others I pass.  Always I seem to be walking with different people, all different aspects of myself.  There I am as an older woman, a woman of color, a young girl, a tall man, a Sioux Protector.  There are a few dogs on leashes and then horses ridden bareback and so beautiful I crane my neck to watch them pass by.  I feel the horse hooves dance on the earth and experience jà vu.

We are not loud, we are not silent, we are like a melodic tributary of humanity that is intent on carving an important groove for the planet.

The youth and the elders walk through and remind us not to engage with the police or cross their barriers, we are  doing ceremony and to respect the police, to realize they do not want to be there and we are doing this for the water and the land and the people.  And we walk.  My feet on the flat plain begin to feel like a drum beat and this beat matches my heart beat and it begins to match all of our heart beats.  It is calming and strengthening.  This is the Oceti Sakowin way.  The ceremony becomes you, you become the ceremony.

I survey this vast open landscape where you can see for miles and I feel a rhythm and a personality and a pain in the earth.  We walk. I speak with a Lakota Woman and she talks about bears roaming here and I am reminded.  Bear told me to walk the land and here I am!  I feel aligned with myself, with the people around me, and with the land.

Finally, we get to a large open circle which the river curves around.  Across the river is a steep bank and I see a few police men in riot gear stroll down the bank to take a look at us. They seem to be wearing scary costumes and I have a moment of anxiety.  Others around me point to them and whisper, “here they come,” with resignation…then the elders and youth talk to us saying, “it is okay, they are okay, we are in ceremony for the water.”.

We discover there are over 900 of us who have come.  There is fabric laid out in a huge circle hundreds of feet wide.  We stand for a long time, there is no hurrying.  Then we fill in the wheel with the youth in the center, around which the wheel moves.  The Youth Leadership speak and pray and drum for all of us, for an end to oil and a return to life, to wake up.  We sit in a human chain within the four colors of peoples, Indigenous People, People of Color, Asian People, Caucasian People and we are all blended.  Another group kneels around all of us, they are asked to protect everyone in the circle.  Next to me kneel Lakota and Dakota Elders and I see that I am not there for them.  They are there for me.

There is a plan and the Elders have been following through on their plan for hundreds of years. NoDAPL is one segment of the plan.  Water is life.

We sit in this way, drumming and being for some time.   The tribe sends it’s own small quiet drone up hundreds of feet to capture this beautiful ceremony which is shared around the world (you can see the video below).  We ask for peace and harmony.  When we get up I see that some police have come down the hill on the other side of the river and they seem different, at ease.  Some wave when we wave.  Then 900 people begin the walk back to camp.

But then there is a slight commotion.

A young white man frantically points at the police and yells for people to gather and swim across the water with him to  storm the other side, “They can’t take all of us!  We must make a stand”,  he charges to the water’s edge, and begins to tear his clothes off…

I turn and with me others turn too who are wondering what to do with him.  Many more police begin streaming down the bank on the other side.  I am thinking about the tanks and the helicopters and planes and drones and I know we cannot “take” them.  There is no way to win this with violence.  This is clear.  We must do this with awareness, with fierce peace.

There are quite a few of us who have stopped and are standing around the man, I see that just this single person has sparked anxiety on both sides of the water.  The police are gathering at the waters edge with more coming down the hill and their hands are on their weapons now.  It feels confusing and scary and I stand and re-ground myself.  I wish he was not white.  I know he is any one of us at a particular time.  But at this time, he is the white western way- employing the language of battle and war.  I consider going up to him to stop him, but this does not feel right, I do not want to give him more energy.

Then we hear leaders and elders,  “Stay with the ceremony, we are still in our ceremony, we must walk back to camp together to complete our ceremony”.  A woman taps me on the shoulder and says, “we need you to help us, tell people we are still in ceremony, not to go with this man, that is not our ceremony.”  And I tell people this and it is shared and we turn to walk away, 1,000 souls move on and return to intention.  Mni Wiconi.

A few steps later, I look back and see the man putting his pants on, no one is with him. The police stop on the hill and then disperse.  Our heart beats slow and we walk together.  Footsteps massage the earth for an hour, sounding out our respect all the way back to camp to complete the ceremony.  This is the work for that day.

When you stand in your power you must be grounded and stand firm in any wind.  It may or may not look like fancy cars and clothes, but more than any of that it will FEEL like respect and love and peace and it will feel clear and real. This is your cloak against the winds.  When you come from this place, it does not matter what others are doing and thinking, you will do the right thing. This is what it feels like at Standing Rock.  Clear engaged love transmitted into action.



Here are some ways I get back to my own center

  • Breathe.  Stop and take 7 breaths.  Just count your breaths.  Simply honor and give attention to the automatic phenomenon of breathing.  See how nice that feels?
  • Touch Nature, Take a walk, See what you see
  • Body Scan.  Link here to read how to use this grounding tool.
  • Use your Hands.  Hold your hands out at your sides and feel the air around them, feel the temperature, feel what your hands feel.  Can you feel your unique energy signature?  It’s there. Your hands can be your simplest touchstone to reconnect.


Do you feel the craving to take a stand?

Here are some ways to stand with Standing Rock right now:

Are you called to go?


Please be as self-sufficient as possible.  It is cold now and winter camping experience is valuable.

The new arrivals orientation is every morning at 9am and highly recommended.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or for any tips 🙂

Are you called to donate?

Check the current list of needs on the Oceti Sakowin website.

Cash donations are acceptable, and will be used for needs at the camp fairly and equitably.  This is a traditional Lakota Camp, everyone’s needs are shared and met by all.  You may donate cash through the Oceti Sakowin website or send checks or cash sent to:

Oceti Sakowin Camp

P.O. Box 298

Cannon Ball, ND  58528

Want to support the Water protectors?

You can make phone calls or write Emails!

Go to the Oceti Sakowin Get Involved Page for contact information and much more.

1..This camp is well organized and needs your support. Harsh winter conditions are coming, people are needed on the ground with winter camping experience.
2. Donations are needed so that the right supplies can be bought by the people needing them. Winter lodging is being built now and more is needed.
3. Advocacy. Use this website, make calls, write letters, talk to people. 


  1. Bridgette Parent Reid
    December 1, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring heartfelt experience with us. Standing Rock is representative of what is happening in the greater world in this time in history. I am so thankful for courageous, connected souls like you who are showing up to make a peaceful and powerful stand. And to the beautiful indigenous people who are showing us the way. ♡

  2. Natalia
    December 1, 2016

    So beautiful and powerful, Wendy. I could so feel and see all of this through your words…this one big sacred ceremony for what is right and all that you love! What an excellent teaching story, too–always connecting to your singing heart over the mind. Thank you for your service and inspiring share.

  3. Linda Rawlings
    January 3, 2017

    Thanks for your wise and moving sharing of your experience at Standing Rock. On a much smaller scale we in Western Australia are doing what we can to holt the destruction of the treasured Beeliar wetlands to create a truck highway. All environmental reports show significant loss of endangered species and migratory birds and local Indigenous people warn that disturbance of the Wagyl, their ancestral Rainbow serpent will cause long-lasting severe drought.

    May our love, prayers and heartfelt contributions bear fruit and preserve our precious waters and lands, xx

    • Wendy Battino
      January 12, 2017

      I appreciate your share Linda! Thank you for letting me know what is going on in Western Australia, I will be following this and sending love and awareness. Thank you friend.


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