“This land is your land
If you’re a white man
With a million dollars
And a crisp white collar
Destroy our forests
Destroy our water
This land was scammed from you and me”
“The Ghost of Woody Guthrie”
Before I share a glimpse of my recent experience in North Dakota, I owe you some background about me.
Before we get to that, December 15 marks 126 years since the murder of Tatanka Iyotake (Chief Sitting Bull) Wokiksuye .
This resource provides a summary about his murder but much more has been written and portrayed in film. A few months before I toured Little Bighorn and months before I camped and Stood at Standing Rock, I researched the history. Talk about your Manifest Destiny – most of our teachers left out the “at the end of a gun barrel” part of that story. We did not receive any of this information in school – and that inaction, I am sad to inform you, was and continues to be intentional. Doubt me? Slavery is also being whitewashed.
Okay, back to me for a moment:
New Jersey born (fatty baby) and raised (Exit 137) – Eight years of Catholic School (never dated my Priest), thirteen months as an in-patient – Ford LTD v Me on a dark Texas road (some participants were drinking) and I learned a few guitar chords in that hospital bed – Navy 8404 FMF Corpsman and Nurse Without a Purse – turned Songwriter, Performer, Producer – GRAMMY Producers and Engineers Wing, GRAMMY Voting Member, BMI Publisher, Sold a few records, Licensed a few songs. Healthcare day job pays the big bills and distracts me from an otherwise incredible musical trajectory. Maybe 2017 holds the key to addressing this dichotomy.
Likes: Music, Truth, Harley Davidson Motorcycles, Silver Margaritas
Dislikes: Lies and Liars
As a Veteran, a grown-up and a relatively alert human, I have learned that most of our enemies during the past twenty years are – now get this – domestic. Clinton to Bush to Obama holds several examples of the manipulation of the people. Our military oath remains very real to me. As I sang out at the DNC in 2008, there is a duty to RISE UP both individually and as a group when we witness tyranny at home by enemies domestic. The same Americans that are angry when they see a burning or an upside down American Flag, the same Americans that scream out in anger when a professional athlete takes a knee during the national anthem, could not be bothered to examine the rapid devolution of America right before their eyes and on their watch. The lack of informed consciousness across America is a major factor in this national decline. For decades, the leadership across this country from both sides of the aisle participated in the buying and selling of America to the point that our patriotic symbols – our flags and songs – might as well be left unwaved and unsung. The willful dumbing down of the populace in our schools and through our corporate, bought off mainstream media has resulted in a rewrite of history along with a significant downgrade of basic constitutional, civil and human rights.
It has taken me too many decades as an American to realize who we are and more importantly, who we were.
Way back at the dawn of our new century, I dedicated many hours to engage in activism, to warn the masses about the fraud being perpetrated in our name during the run up to the Iraq invasion. Meanwhile the very same politicians leveraged 9/11 to cleverly strip away basic rights and liberties. I wrote and performed songs of protest across America for crowds of one to many and I met several great thinkers along the way. We built an actual movement of the people, for the people to reverse the downward spiral of America. At that time, the latest buzz was telling us that Obama was going to get us back to square! I was certain that nobody could be worse than Bush. Wow was I sucker-punched. Obama and his empty promise of hope and change never happened. Investigation and prosecution of Bushco for war crimes never happened. Gitmo is still open. Bankers and War Criminals remain on the wrong side of the prison bars. I still believe that the GOP choice would have been worse but that’s when it hit me. I came to the painful conclusion that the game is rigged on both sides of the aisle and America has been duped or dumbed down to a one-party oligarchy.
I was losing steam, losing friends and as a writer, I was losing at least half of my music audience by spewing my Anti-War, Anti-GOV, Kumbaya music. I had also received unwanted attention from U.S. GOV on more than one occasion. The highest form of flattery (so far) was a visit to my home for Q&A by two CIA agents (One of them was James Olson). I was not and will not be intimidated by the U.S. GOV Eichmann Squad yet in retrospect, I cannot deny there was an impact on my life. I essentially made an unconscious decision to shift my focus to self-preservation and safety for my Family. The anti-war and anti-GOV songs became non-partisan and seemed more pointless – eventually giving way to less serious songs and more music production and long motorcycle rides. My participation in activism and protests gave way to angry quiet rants and eventually to a relatively dumb, equally numb state of indifference.
Enter Standing Rock
I first learned about the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and their mission to fight the “Black Snake” through alternative media sources since MSM was mostly silent on the topic. The Dakota Access Pipeline AKA DAPL, originally slated for installation near the city of Bismarck, was rerouted and now bearing down on Lake Oahe. What began as a small protest was growing larger by the day. I watched video footage of irrefutable police brutality against these Water Protectors and the violence seemed to be one-sided. With no reliable news source to educate me at a distance, I had to search for any alternative and social media information to piece together the real story. Like my trip to Crawford, Texas to meet Cindy Sheehan and my experience in seeking the truth about the Iraq war a decade before, I decided I would ride my Street Glide up from Colorado and get a first-hand look at the situation. As a former FMF Corpsman turned Nurse (AKA Musician with a day job) I set out to assess the medical need there and provide any support or advice about field-based medicine.
My first visit to Standing Rock took place in early November. I enjoy taking a long motorcycle ride and this trip was that. The ride up to Cannon Ball was uneventful except for my experience at an “Indian Casino”. A few hundred years ago, America drove west and gold was discovered in the Montana Territory. U.S. GOV had one hell of a time getting the Indigenous First Americans, the Indians, to follow along with their Manifest Destiny philosophy. A popular method of forced compliance involved widespread slaughter of Buffalo, Sheep, essentially any food source that could be destroyed along the pathway to the gold. The plan was to either eradicate or starve and drive these people to “Reservations” and a life of “Rations”. Alcohol and tobacco were already in use by this time but trade (and massive profit) exploded there and a “drink until you’re drunk” mentality caught on rather quickly. Nowhere is the impact more apparent today than within the walls of these gambling houses where alcohol flows and chain-smoking is all the rage. I had smoked my share of cigarettes before quitting in 1985 and I still enjoy some booze. The difference I see is in what appears to be a community-adopted mindset roughly two decades behind the rest of America in terms of leveraging prevention, intervention and rehabilitation measures. I will state without hesitation or equivocation – while visiting Oceti Sakowin Camp during both trips, I saw no alcohol, drugs or weapons anywhere in camp. Despite what the Morton County Sheriff is claiming, I did not witness a single instance or incident that involved any alcohol, drugs or weapons.
As I rode up highway 1806 and approached the camp, I was surprised to see how very big the space was and how many tents and tipis were spread across this massive grassy basin. Aside from the beautiful weather and the rolling hills leading down to the water, the starlit sky and the wood smoke of the Sacred Fire provided an amazing backdrop for the live soundtrack of Indigenous Music that echoed across Oceti Sakowin Camp. I pitched my tent on the northern bank of the Cannonball River and just a few hundred yards from the confluence of the Missouri River in Lake Oahe.
Within a few days, I had gathered enough raw details to determine this was a standoff with a “Force” of local bullies with badges, National Guardsmen and former Blackwater creeps, now known as TigerSwan, blocking a public highway and violating civil and constitutional rights while providing armed cover for a corporate entity, Energy Transfer Partners. I met their “enemy”, hundreds of peaceful, prayerful people trying to find a way to protect their water and defend their land. In addition to scores of local, Indigenous folks, the influx of hundreds of others from every corner of America and all walks of life was an astounding sight to behold. During my first visit to the “Medical Area”, a team of volunteers was already on site to support Standing Rock Medic and Healer Counsel, and the group was busy sorting through massive mounds of medical and sanitary supplies while mapping out the logistics and clinical workflow implications for the growing camp population. I was impressed by the mix of health professionals that had showed up to stand up. I left my Harley parked next to a giant stack of oral care products and roamed the camp to search out a few friends already aboard and to figure out what else I could do to help. The general tone in was peaceful yet determined. There were a few visiting musicians with guitars and drums yet there was a decent, mostly respectful balance between that folksy “Joan Baez Songbook” sound and the beautiful flow of Indigenous music that carried across the land.
Meanwhile, it was sinking in gradually that the arrogant illegal blockade of public Highway 1806 and the use of dangerous ammunition by these DAPLGangers against Americans on American soil absolutely disgusted me. This mocking provocation included 24-hour aircraft flyovers, a giant line of DAPL lights that shined like daylight on the camp and an armed presence at the Backwater Bridge as well as across various outposts in the hills surrounding the various camps. I wondered if we would see Wounded Knee III soon.
I had researched the history (more like willful and calculated eradication) of First Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890 and again during the occupation in 1973. In 2015 I rode through Little Bighorn in Montana to bear witness and better understand why Custer and his men were killed and brutally dismembered there in 1876 after yet another treaty element was violated for the sake of gold. (spoiler alert……they deserved it). Like Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse was clever and fearless long before Little Bighorn.
Fast forward to 2016 and the treasure is oil instead of gold but the U.S. GOV strategy has never changed as they have broken more than 500 treaties since the first ink was dry– Push the Native Americans here and there and off their Treaty-protected land; dump the risky developments on the Native Americans.
Like many in camp, I had to return to my job and so one morning, I rolled up my tent, stopped in at the Prairie Knights Casino for a good old American Breakfast Buffet and pointed my Harley for home. Aside from running out of gas in Isabel, SD and a brief encounter with a very kind Wyoming Highway Patrolman, I arrived home that evening without incident.
Standing Rock 2
It was at least a full week before I was completely back into my home routine and that trip had left a lasting impression within me. I would wrap up my days by checking in on the camp via internet and by messaging a few friends there for real updates every few days. Within a few weeks back home, it was clear that momentum and the risk of violence was growing by the day. During my first visit, I was ill-equipped to provide much more than basic first aid and hand out a band-aid or two. Knowing the camp layout and logistical status, I prepared for what would likely be a fight. I received a message that a few thousand Veterans would be converging at Standing Rock and it was a no brainer from there. I made plans, traveled by air and rented a very reliable AWD vehicle in Bismarck.
For this trip, I was prepared to provide tactical medical support whether in a peaceful setting or up front at the Backwater bridge. As I arrived in Cannon Ball and made my way to Oceti Sakowin Camp, the most amazing procession of cars and people on foot lined the road for well over a mile ahead of me. I will never forget that image and that feeling of solidarity. By this time, I am sure that phones were ringing from Morton County to North Dakota Gov. Dalrymple to the White House with a plea for armed intervention.
With thousands of Veterans joining our mission, blizzard conditions created new logistical and medical challenges across the camps. Bitter cold, ice and snow made it difficult for many to move about safely and the roads were as slick as I have ever experienced. We dealt with a range of minor injuries related to slip /fall or cold exposure. Thankfully, there was no major skirmish at the bridge this time. We celebrated the news that evening and from Media Hill (AKA Facebook Hill), a stream of commercial fireworks lit up the sky. The loud booming sounds stirred up a few Veterans in camp and words were exchanged with no further escalation and no more fireworks. The general sentiment was the Veterans came rolling in and the media followed. Hundreds of Indigenous Water Protectors had been in camp for months before the Veterans and it seemed to me that there was frustration about a balance in recognition. The bottom line – DAPL was denied the easement to drill under Lake Oahe and I did not have to break out any tactical gear, dodge any inbound rounds or suck up any tear gas. I do find it interesting that the Army Corps of Engineers is now asking for a complete environmental impact study while new evidence has emerged that key documents were withheld from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that might have changed the course of this pipeline!
Among the emergencies I responded to during this trip, one incident and one man stands out. This guy’s name is Jim. Conditions had deteriorated to blizzard and ice and Jim must have taken a nasty fall on Flag Road. Multiple cries rang out “We Need Medics”. When we reached him, he was exhibiting concussion symptoms and after waiting for a vehicle for several minutes, we decided to transport him along the ground to the main medical yurt. The Lakota spirit was with us as we evaluated him there on the ground. While unwrapping one of those flimsy metallic blankets and fighting the wind and snow to cover Jim, one of the Lakota Water Protectors placed a Buffalo Hide over him to protect him from the weather and keep his core temperature safe. Someone by the name of Andrea Yellow Bee took this video of that long trek down the road. The experience was surreal and beautiful. We were approached by a loud screaming guy while transporting Jim down this icy road and our Lakota Friend dispatched the guy with a sentence and a simple glance. We stabilized him, delivered him to the medical yurt and they sent him away via ambulance for proper care. When I returned home a few days later, I remembered that Jim had a Veterans for Peace (VFP) button on his camo jacket. I had also found the footage of the transport from Andrea and I spotted a recent picture in the news that resembled Jim. I sent this information to VFP headquarters in Missouri and within a few hours, they let me know Jim was safe and would be coming home to Colorado soon. I just heard from Retired Army Major Jim this week and he is recovering at home with his wife. We plan to get a drink soon and share stories – perhaps a few strategies. I also rejoined VFP this week (We go back a few years / wars together).
As I drove out of camp to catch my plane, I realized that there is more to do here and the #NoDAPL Mission is just one of many important challenges ahead of us. I am keeping my tactical gear ready. Based on new developments as well as the impending presidential administration with Rick Perry at DOE, another visit to Standing Rock might be scheduled in the coming weeks.