Ta Maka Waste Win Speaks at the University of Montana
November 2, 2017
Opening remarks were recognition of the land we are on as the home of the Salish People. Ta Maka Waste Win was introduced as LaDonna Bravebull Allard, the woman behind the Standing Rock camp.
Ta Maka Waste Win greeted us and then said, “First, I am a Grandmother.” She spoke of her own grandmother then, and of the healing role of grandmothers. She gave us examples of relationship with her grandmother, things learned; Tobacco keeps away Rattlesnakes, and how to preserve food, love and stories and hugs. She is first a Grandmother. She is also a Historian of her people and a teacher, never did she imagine that after 60 years she would become an activist. Ta Maka Waste Win credits her new role to the young people around her- to her grandchildren and to other youth in her community. When she learned that an oil pipeline was to go through the place where her son is buried, she said, “I could not think. Who would build a pipeline where my son is buried?” She asked us then, “When do you stop being a Mom?”
Ta Maka Waste Win went to the children, asked them about water; asked them what water was and how important they thought it was, from these dialogs came the first affirmation that was to become the signature and call of Standing Rock: Mni Wiconi- Water is Life. Heroes, she called these children. “This little quiet thing, she was such a hero,” she said, fondly, and I wept, because that’s me- the little quiet thing, always have been and have always known that didn’t make me less of a hero, we each have our place. “What can we do?” they asked each other, the Grandma and the children, “How can we stop this?” Run, came the answer, Run and Pray. The children organized to run to Washington DC to stop the pipeline. People began to talk about setting up a camp to stop the pipeline and Ta Maka Waste Win realized she had land available that could be camped on. They gave themselves five days, and they opened Sacred Stone Camp on April 1, 2016. The camp is named Sacred Stone after the name of the River there, The Place of the Sacred Stones. There was a whirlpool there, where two waters met; the whirlpool would swirl sandstone boulders around until they were perfect spheres. This is why the European Americans called it the ‘cannonball’ river. The day they opened Sacred Stone Camp, a woman was there. “I came to pray,” she said, “I am here to pray for the Camp that is to be here.” First, the children came, running, Ta Maka Waste Win told us, then came the Mothers and the Grandmothers and all the other Children; walking, walking together into the Camp. The young men on their horses were next and then the young men on motorcycles. All coming to protect the water. “Water is our First Medicine,” Ta Maka Waste Win reminded us, “Water is Female.” She spoke of the power of Women, of our strengths, our ability to bond with each other and to bind our communities together. We carry our unborn in water and through water we give birth. Water runs through us as it runs through our Mother, our Planet. “When we harm our Water, we are harming ourselves.”
“No one was responsible” for Standing Rock, and “everybody was responsible” Ta Maka Waste Win told us. They were hoping for 50 people to come stand with them at the camp to protect the Water. How do we tell people? Who will come? These were the questions she had, and the children said, “Grandma! Facebook!”. The call went out on social media and by the time the Veterans had shown up in late November, there were 15,000 humans in the Camps in the Place of the Sacred Stones. Ta Maka Waste Win attended at one point, 17 prayer ceremonies in one day. She spoke then, of Prayer as a connecting power. Water was brought from all over the world, from India and Japan, from New Zealand and from France. Water was brought and poured into “my little Cannonball River” in a global show of support, blessing and goodwill. She told us of 4 am prayers at the River, Women lining both sides of the Water, “We could not see each other, but we could hear each other singing.”
When the bulldozers came, Ta Naka Waste Win told us; it was the women and children who responded. It was children, Grandmothers, Mothers, who went out to stop them. The young men came then- “Grandma! Get behind us!” they called out, riding their horses between their mothers and sisters and the bulldozers. When things got bad, though, she explained; that’s when you saw the strong warriors, the strong women. The Grandma who stood up between the police and a young man and his horse, when they were going to shoot the horse- “Shoot me!” Grandma told the police, “Shoot me instead, I’m old.” On the night of the water cannons in freezing temperatures, there was an old Grandma standing where she was getting soaked. Later, Ta Maka Waste Win asked her why she had stayed, risking hypothermia. “I couldn’t move,” this powerful warrior said, “From where I was, I could see the incoming grenades and I could warn people so not as many got hurt.” There were fires for Protectors to come back to, to stave off hypothermia and these were protected from the water cannons by tarps held up by warriors, in one case a 70 year old Grandmother.
The very bright lights were kept on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, disrupting people’s sleep. “We did bad things back to them,” Ta Maka Waste Win said, smiling just a shade deviously, “We played Pow Wow music all night.” There were classes nearly every day on how Not to react, on how nonviolent resistance works, what it looks like. “Everywhere,” she said, “I heard people praying and singing, and I thought- this is how people Should live! There was community, there was belonging and healing happening!” She told us of Habib, a Muslim man and his family who were there for nine months and who did a prayer-walk every day. When they first came, Habib was afraid they would be turned away because they are Muslim. Ta Maka Waste Win told us of the boy, Mohammed, eight years old. He had a toy rabbit and one day, when they had gone up to pray at the barrier, she saw the boy over near the barrier, he was trying to share his toy rabbit with the police so they wouldn’t shoot anyone.
“When did we disempower ourselves?” Ta Maka Waste Win asked us, “When did we forget that our children have the right to live?”, and finally, “How do you make a negative a positive?” The first two, I think, she meant rhetorically- we do need to think hard on these things. The third one, she gave us the answer- Women and Children and Grandmas and Prayer. And Plant things, plant Food, plant Medicine. I know she means it metaphorically also, but really…Plant! “How can you be sovereign unless you can provide your own food?” she asked.
There are at least 250 camps like Standing Rock right now, fighting damaging industries around the world. How can we help? How can we get everyone to stand together? These questions too, have answers- “These are corporations,” Ta Maka Waste Win reminded us, “They run on dollars. We can divest.” We can choose how our money impacts our Planet. The worldwide divestment movement has caused Wells Fargo to close 400 banks and lost them 33 billion dollars. Indigenous people across the globe are working to ensure their rights to vote in the United Nations so that they can Protect the land. “When they take the last of the land,” Ta Maka Waste Win warned us, “the world will end.” But, she said, “I have to think in small, simple ways…No one can save the World, but we can save a little bit of ourselves and our families, those around us.” We can pick up garbage, we can plant food, we can engage with our communities. “You can’t talk about change,” she told us, “unless you Do change. You can’t create change unless you are willing to change.” We must face those things that make us uncomfortable, allow ourselves to Be uncomfortable, sit with that discomfort and then change it! We cannot/willnot change when we are comfortable. “We can do this!” she smiled so warmly at us all, “I believe in mankind… but I really believe in womankind!”
Grow food and build your communities, she told us,Water is Female, Water is Life.
What can I do personally to respond?
“Call them out! Make people uncomfortable. If you are comfortable, you are not paying attention.”
How can I, as a middle class, white college student; speak up on these issues without overshadowing Native voices that need to be heard more?
“Why is your voice less important than any other? We need all our voices.”
“We need to talk, to heal, to work now. If there are two of you, if there are 20 or 500, talk.”
How do you pray? I don’t know how to pray.
“Prayer is whatever is in your heart.”
“If you are too comfortable, something is wrong.”
I wrote this up from notes three weeks afterwards due to time constraints, there may be some variants in wording or in placement of concepts, but I have endeavored to share here the lessons and the hope and joy that I took with me from listening to Ta Maka Waste Win speak.
*also published at https://butterflyonarudder.wordpress.com/2017/11/23/blog-11-ta-maka-waste-win-speaks-at-the-university-of-montana-november-2-2017/