From Offense to Prayer: Vets change their mission at Standing Rock

December 8, 2016 by Barbara With

When veterans Wesley Clark Jr. and Michael Wood Jr. organized Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, a deployment document was created and distributed through social media. In it were instructions for veterans to meet up at Cannon Ball, North Dakota on December 4, 2016 and stand as protectors of the water protectors there.

The North Dakota governor had just issued an emergency eviction order for the camps, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had set a deadline for the protectors to leave the area by Monday, December 5. Water protectors had already been subjected to violent responses from the Morton County sheriff’s department and more was expected as the day of eviction approached.

Veterans looking to participate were given specific instructions about the nature of the situation— opposing forces, the mission and its execution, what to bring—all the logistics of Wood Jr. and Clark Jr.’s vision to protect the front lines of the Oceti Sakowin camp and prevent Energy Transfer Partners from drilling under Lake Oahe.

Pow wow at Standing Rock, honoring the veterans with a feather ceremony. December 6, 2016 Photo: Kellie Stewart

Pow wow at Standing Rock, honoring the veterans with a feather ceremony. December 6, 2016 Photo: Kellie Stewart

Anticipating 1,500, the two veterans rallied over 4000 to show up at Standing Rock Sunday, December 4. Though fully prepared to surround the Dakota Access pipeline drill pad, vets knew that this was to be a peaceful mission and no violence would be tolerated. Still, how they would get through the front lines of the militarized police presence—complete with rubber bullets, tear gas, razor wire, barricades, LRAD sound machines, percussion grenades, water cannons, and 24 hour surveillance—was anyone’s guess. In an interview with The Young Turks, Wood Jr. said he was ready to give up his life for this cause.

When the vets arrived at Sitting Bull College, they were met by tribal elders, including Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of the sacred pipe bundle of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota nation. Looking Horse’s wife Paula, a PTSD counselor, was also present. When these two forces came together—the army of US vets and Standing Rock’s spiritual leaders—the initial mission to take the hill changed to one of peace and prayer.

According to Woods Jr., the vets were prepared to lead the mission, but on arrival, realized that they, like all who come to Standing Rock, had to follow the leadership of the tribe’s spiritual leaders. There was concern about triggering PTSD in the vets who had been through combat. But more than that, the entire stand against the Black Snake has been built on peace, prayers, and non-violence.

At a ceremony to purify the vets held the following day, Paula Looking Horse explained the mutual distress the two groups have experienced:

This intersect of your PTSD intersects perfectly with our PTSD. When we spoke at Sitting Bull College, the initial instructions were that the veterans were going to take the hill. But the message changed to peace and prayer.

Late in the afternoon of December 4, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they were withholding approval of an easement to drill under the Missouri River to DAPL until an Environmental Impact Statement was completed on alternative routes. Whether or not this action came from the presence of the vets at Standing Rock, the entire mission turned into one of peace and prayer.

From here, the Veterans for Standing Rock are planning more actions around the country, starting with a trip to Flint, MI to assist in rebuilding the water infrastructures there.

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