Seven days ago.
FTX Standing Rock was seven days ago.
From the start there was an urgency to all our actions.
From receiving the message to do our event, to the planning, to the almost 4,000 mile round trip journey thru eight states.
I felt a drive in me that would either burn myself out completely or successfully complete our task.
Why such a need? I do not know.
We arrived at the Oceti Sakowin camp early in the morning the day before our FTX. My single-minded focus for the past week had been only to serve our gift of french toast and hugs on Saturday the 26th.
But that focus was shattered forever that fateful Friday morning as we turned north on the 1806 highway.
There in the dawning light of blues, pinks, and oranges I drove across the Cannon Ball river. A few silhouettes of people walked the same road we drove as they went from the Sacred Stone camp to the Oceti Sakowin camp. The road curved to the right and the land sloped down into the valley below.
What I saw took my breath away.
Teepees, tents and make shift buildings as far as my eyes could see.
A thick blue mist of sage and smoke hovered above and moved around the housing as if it was a river of colored air.
The original idea of what I thought our goal was dissolved as a quiet stillness entered into me.
There were thousands here. Reported well over ten thousand.
A historical meeting of over 300 tribes as well as people the world over.
We were welcomed at the entrance by hushed voices who told us the water ceremony was underway.
We found parking and got out into the crisp air walking to one of the Sacred Fires of the camp. As we moved past tents we entered an open area where people of all lands and races were standing in ceremony and prayer.
Prayer for the water.
Prayer for the Water Protectors who would soon be walking again out onto that bridge.
Prayer for us all.
I could see tears in the eyes of my gang as the simple truth and power of the moment was revealed.
Everything we had read or thought before paled compared to actually standing with people who had such pure intention.
Throughout my life, even as a young young boy, I always questioned myself and my beliefs. I remember being in college and sitting in my dorm room rather than going out and systematically questioning what I believed and why I chose to follow or not follow specific laws.
It was then that I realized that laws were merely the opinions of those in power.
Although we are led to believe that laws are just, it has been repeated time and again that that is not always so.
It was once the law for my father to ride in the back of the bus when he first moved to America.
At the Oceti Sakowin camp there are many kitchens.
With the help of my friends Tim and Tyler we started our search for a place to set up at the California kitchen. California kitchen is run by Patti of the Hoopa tribe.
Brandy, Tim and I entered a small dark dining room tent where people were milling around looking for something to eat. At the back were two small swinging doors. We knocked and entered to find a large white supply tent that was illuminated by the sun shining thru. Stacks and stacks of canned goods were to the left side while the right was filled with volunteers washing dishes. We asked where we could find Patti and they motioned us to two more small doors near the back of this tent. We again knocked and went thru to find another small darkened tent that was filled with stoves and even a refrigerator. The kitchen.
Sitting around a stove for warmth were a handful of people. I stood nervously behind them and asked if Patti was there. A woman directly in front of me turned and said that was her. I quickly explained the French Toast & Hugs Gang and our mission here at Standing Rock. I wondered if we would be able to set up outside the front dining room tent to serve people the following morning. With a smile Patti asked if we ran a Hug gang then where was her hug?
Hugs were never my strong suit but I felt calmed by her and leaned in to give her one.
She told us we were welcome to set up wherever we liked but that it would be cold in the morning and we were more than welcome to set up inside any of the three kitchen tents they used each day. We chose the middle storage tent for its sun warmed large space. The idea was to have people line up thru the first small dining tent and enter the storage tent. There we would serve them freshly grilled french toast along with maple syrup, butter, powdered sugar, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, oranges, coconut, and chocolate syrup along with a bottle of water to wash it down with.
We left Patti knowing we had found the right person and the right place.
This is not something new for me and my experience with FTX.
The right people just CLICK when you find them, like a Lego piece.
But sometimes it takes longer than others to find those Legos. With our limited time to prepare I was grateful this daunting task of finding a location in a camp full of thousands was complete.
We then walked across the way to the orientation dome. Daily they give orientation talks to new people to give them not only a better understanding of what is going on with the specific situation of the oil pipeline and the Water Protectors but also of the experience of First Americans in the land today.
There was much we learned in the 2 ½ hours of orientation but what stood most with me was the young American Indian man who opened it with a prayer. It wasn’t the prayer you may think of in our western ways but more of a conversation told not only to our minds but to our hearts. He spoke with such strength about each of our uniqueness and place in the world. How we were each uniquely loved by our creator. The power in each of us and how we can use it for a better world. I could feel the people around me stirring as he spoke to their hearts, hearts that had been taught lies that filled them with uncertainty and missing confidence. Hearts that knew the truth when they heard it.
This is something I have always believed.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now.
We are legends.
All of us.
We just have to choose to be one in each day and in each instant.
As he finished his prayer he mentioned his mother runs the kitchen across the way cooking for 500 people each day. Helping and feeding people was one of the things we could do.
I couldn’t believe it. His mother is Patti!
Of course she is.
Me and my buddy, eleven year old Nick, then went out and put FTX flyers on the outside of the camp portapotty doors. Sometimes people were in them and we had to move quick as to not disturb them.
As we were leaving camp we ended where we started near the Sacred Fire.
There is a microphone there where camp events and messages are relayed.
As we were taught in orientation we offered the American Indian man with the mic some tobacco as a sign of respect. I then showed him my flyer and asked if he’d mention to the people about our free french toast event the next morning.
He shrewdly looked me up and down and told me I had to do it.
Something I did not want to do.
I took the mic and went into my head as I introduced myself as Toast and that we run a French Toast and Hugs gang that would be handing out free french toast at the California kitchen beginning at 8am the next day.
I was so nervous and lost in thought that it wasn’t until later that my sister Tara and Brandy told me that American Indian cheers and trills went up into the air after my announcement.
I gave the mic back to the man who slyly mentioned to the gathering crowd that as we were starting at 8am he would be in line at 7:59.
The gang began arriving throughout that evening to our Bismarck hotel room as we prepped the fruit and batter for the next morning.
We woke at 4am and made our way slowly to the camp once again.
Brandy and I went into the California kitchen and helped Patti and her crew move the dishwashing tables back so we could bring in our own. It was so cold that the cleaned camp dishes and cups were frozen to the tables and had to be broken off before they could be moved.
Unloading of our FTX items into the storage tent went quickly as unknown volunteer after volunteer silently helped.
The silence was something I noticed the day before.
This is a prayer and ceremony camp and being such any sound made needed to be done out of respect and love for others and for the intention of the group as a whole.
I knew right then that I would not be playing any of our FTX Soundtrack mixes.
The sounds of the people serving and eating and the grills frying would be the music for FTX Standing Rock.
After we set up in the white storage tent I gave a quick speech to my crew.
As with all FTX events, but none more so than this one, I wanted to remove my ego out of it as best I could.
We were here to serve. Nothing more and nothing less.
And then the dining room tent door was opened.
I do not know the number we fed that morning but I believe it to be over 200.
I never got a chance to go outside to see it but I was told the line went down the road and never diminished.
We had enough food for 500 but as we were taught in orientation, we are guests here and need to follow the non-linear flow of the Oceti Sakowin camp.
Around 10:30am Patti let me know that we needed to stop at 11am as the elders would be using her kitchen for a special meal.
I could tell Patti was a little sad to tell me the news but I knew that this was as it was to be. Again, my ego to feed more had to be removed from what was needed.
I spoke with her kitchen staff and they promised to use all our leftover eggs, bread and fruit for meals later that day and the days to follow. The weather was so cold I had no doubt that they would keep.
I left Oceti Sakowin wanting to do more.
And in reflection I believe that is a good place to be.
I leave you now with just a few more thoughts I got from my short stay at the Oceti Sakowin camp.
The land we are on is not our own.
Find out who lived on it before you.
Treat it with respect for what you are, a guest.
Our intentions matter. All of them.
What you eat, drink, drive, buy, invest in matters.
None more so I believe than how we treat each other.
I have witnessed so much division this year.
Division amongst friends and family and people of all lands, faiths and politics.
The question I humbly ask is who does this division serve?
If we look at each other and do not see brothers and sisters then who are we seeing?
There is much in disarray in our world.
But I believe there is much we can do to help it.
To me the first and foremost is communication.
Communication is a form of love.
Communication is sharing with someone who you are and listening to them tell you who they are. You don’t have to like or agree with every aspect of that person but you can listen. Because without listening there will never be a bridge of understanding.
It makes sense to me that the Water Protectors and the Police are facing off on a bridge.
One that has yet to be crossed.
The time has come to speak.
The time has come to listen.
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