Friday, December 23, 2016

Thursday, December 9 EOM

I woke up in the same position I had fallen asleep. It appeared to still be dark outside, and my initial thought was to just stay asleep. But sleep wouldn't find me again, so I rolled out of bed and peeked out the window.

The sun had come up, but it was very overcast and snowy again. I was dressed and packed up pretty quickly and after gassing up the car, I was headed East for home.

I had many hours to reflect on the week I had just been through, but it was difficult to process everything. There had been some not so great things that had happened. However, I had met some wonderful people that I certainly hope to come across again in my life. I was saddened by the multiple factions that seemed to be splintering off at the camp, and a little disturbed by the factions I saw emerging in the VSSR camps.

It seems to be human nature to want to create order out of chaos. It also seems to be human nature for everyone to have a different idea of how to go about creating that order. Unfortunately, as evidenced around the planet, those with the muscle and might are often the ones that come out on top in such conflict.

Human nature had reared its ugly side many times during this adventure. Wes Clark jr. using the vets for his "spiritual journey" was typical of the religious extremist that tells people one thing, then does another to satisfy their own desires. The midnight raid on "agitators" that wanted to use other options for their stand against DAPL seemed questionable to me at the time, and became even more sketchy as time passed and I learned more about the reasons behind it - not to mention that the assembled vets searched the wrong tents first... other veterans tents. Margaret attacking Tammy for questioning her command. It all left a metaphorically sour taste in my mouth. The unity of purpose I had felt back in August wasn't there anymore. Even on my trip in October, I had seen seeds of discontent and anger between groups. But this visit highlighted the dissolution of that unity, brought on as well by the influx of too many veterans that immediately split into factions as well. The veterans that wanted to follow the Elders command to stand down in peace and prayer vs. the vets that marched on the bridge vs. the vets that were there for completely different reasons all together.

I spent a lot of time pondering the ramifications of societal collapse, especially in light of the incoming administration this coming January. People, in large groups, don't tend to follow leaders that are weak or tyrannical. In the President Elect, we have both character traits. The potential for "Really Bad Things" to happen in the next 1-4 years have increased exponentially with a guy that has...shall we say... a "Margaretesque" temperament. A "Clarkish" need for self aggrandizement. Wanting to install sub-commanders that want to dismantle and eliminate the very departments they would be leading. A man whose claims and campaign promises, that apparently mattered to just over 60 million Americans, now don't seem to matter to him. A guy who likes the idea of not just building more nukes, but using them as well.

He has a grouping of supporters that have already broken down into bickering factions. "Build the Wall" vs. "Don't worry, nobody will build a wall". Those wanting to block all Muslims, those wanting to round up the Muslims, and those calling for war against the Muslims. People that say "Just give him a chance and give it some time, everything will be fine" vs his supporters that still want to "lock her up" and ban non-Christians and non-straight people from anything and everything resembling this American life. He not only has the support of white nationalists, he's appointing them to leadership positions, and that seems to be ok with his more rational supporters as well. 

So, yeah. I have some serious misgivings about the direction this country has taken, even just since the election itself. And having just witnessed a microcosm of societal collapse at Standing Rock, I am not altogether encouraged by human nature.

Now, I do think that there are many, many really good people out there. The Laura's, the Mel's. The Kiyoshi's, Frances', Tammy's and the Marlow's. There were great people that I hardly knew out there. Sgt. Major Clark (not Wes) and others that were capable and knew how to organize and get good things moving along. In a collapse without weapons, I am certain that good would prevail. It only took four or five people to pull Margaret off of Tammy and de-escalate the situation. Unfortunately, we don't live in a society without weapons. It seems like the crazier and more extremist somebody is, the more weapons they have. I tried to imagine the same scenario with everyone having a sidearm. How many people would Margaret have taken down with her? How many people that still supported her would have come to her aid? What would it have been like if we had been thrown together not for a few days, but a few weeks or months? What if we had that to look forward to for four years?

The military works because we are indoctrinated to follow lawful orders from our superiors. Most of the time, the superiors we have rose through the ranks because they were already good leaders. So the military keeps chugging along because we have faith that the higher ups will at least know what they are doing a little bit. But we have all heard stories of fragging poor officers. Every vet has a story or ten of some officer that just didn't have a clue, or orders that came down that were completely ridiculous. Every corporal can remember a time when they had a better plan than their sergeant, and on up the chain. Throughout history there have been violent overthrows of leadership due to someone else wanting to do things a different way. Et tu, Brutus?

We have a 'civil' society now, because for the most part, we all believe in the rules and the enforcers of those rules. We have a Constitution or other documents that lay out those rules, and we try to live by them. But what will happen when our documents are no longer followed by those in charge? What happens when large swaths of our population are refused the freedoms those documents are supposed to protect? As it is, our collective government has ignored or marginalized many groups of people. Non-whites, non-Christians, non-straight, non-conformist. Freedoms and rights have been ignored or brushed aside ostensibly for the "common good".

But what happens when the majority of the population come to realize that those protecting the "common good" are really only protecting their own self interests? What happens when more people realize that this country protects corporate greed over ordinary citizens? Have we reached the point in our great experiment of "Democracy" where we have too many factions to find unity again? Unlike the camp, we can't just pack up our tipis and leave to go home. No matter where we live in this country, we ARE home. So then, do we become like the midnight raiders and "sweep" our camp for undesirables, agitators, those who want to do things differently from us, and tell them to conform, or we will remove them by force? How does that make us any better than Germany circa 1938 and 39? How do we still claim to be the "United States of America" when some individual states have more voting influence that that of the population as a whole? How do we claim moral high ground if we've walked into the swamp that someone promised to drain? And how long will it take supporters of that 'someone' to realize they followed him right into the swamp so that he can stand on their backs and not get as covered in the filth?

Standing Rock is having a crisis of leadership. Everyone there and everyone who has gone want the same thing. Many want to expand on killing this black snake to transitioning to sustainable energy for the survival of the planet. Lots of people fall in the middle of those two goals. But the different factions have different ideas on how to accomplish that. Peaceful prayer vs. direct action. Non-violent protest vs. all out war on DAPL. Then there are factions that have a mix of any or all of those ideas. Then there are factions that want to use the whole thing as a money making opportunity. It has gotten to the point where I don't know who to support any more. At least, not from a distance. And I don't think I'm alone. Many, many of my friends have expressed a hesitation to donate to any specific fund anymore because nobody is sure of the motives of those groups.

This couldn't come at a worse time. The people that have been arrested over the past nine months are starting to come to trial, and will need financial support to get justice. Winter has hit the camps, and there are people in need of heat and food and water. But without actually being there, or having been there for awhile, it is impossible to know which faction to back.

So my heart has been in turmoil since the drive home. Sad for the unity that I had seen before being gone. Glad for the unity of some of those vets I had met, that gathered with good hearts. Upset by the personal agendas that I was used for. Glad for the small victory of easement denial, but sad knowing that it could easily be reversed by the invested incoming administration.

It was a long car ride home from the Dakotas. In many ways, I'm still trying to find my way home. I'm not sure that the place I dwell really is 'home' anymore. Never in my life has the term "Home is where the heart is" been more of a reality. Wherever my wife and kids are, that is my home now. My fealty to a plot of land or a state or country has been profoundly shaken in the past couple of months. The future is always unknown, of course. But I had hoped that the country that I lived in would keep making progress towards realizing those truths that we once held self-evident. Our government has been seized by a quarter of the population that seem willing to destroy it, and by the apathy of half of the citizenry that didn't think they mattered. By an electoral system that was designed to keep this very thing from happening, but has been so corrupted over our two hundred plus years that it doesn't know how to do anything but rubber stamp an election.

Will there be enough of us that stand up against this? Will we have enough time to do so? We are putting the launch codes into the hands of a man that gets mad at a SNL skit. How will he handle mocking from China, North Korea, or his Russian "friends"? We are putting the future of our environment into the hands of people heavily invested in keeping us addicted to fossil fuels. The science is pretty clear about what we can expect if we choose to stay addicted, yet we still have the incredibly short sighted and happily ignorant trying to tell us that everything will be fine.

I feel like we're all on a bus that is being driven off a cliff by a delusional narcissist that thinks that more road will magically appear because he wants it to, and a quarter of the passenger think that sounds cool, half the passengers are asleep or too busy on their smart phones to care, and the rest of us are fervently looking for a way to stop the bus or get the hell off. 

Oh, humanity. I'm not all that sure we are worth saving in the long run. For the sake of my children and grandchildren, I hope I'm wrong.

Otherwise it will be EOM, End of Mission, for us all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wednesday, December 7th

A date that will live in infamy, to be sure.

We were told that wake up was going to be at 0530 so we could all get out by 0800. But I awoke around 0500 to the sounds of people up and packing and bugging out for warmer climes.

Word had come down that the Standing Rock tribal chairman, Dave Archambault, had asked all those who were not Sioux to vacate the area due to the weather. This seemed logical, as another blizzard was approaching, and around 4000 people had shown up for the VSSR event. That meant about 3500 more than the planners had originally thought would come, and 2000 more than were on the final roster. With another blizzard coming in, and a polar vortex that would drop temperatures well below the negative numbers, it made sense to get as many people out of the area as possible. To me anyway.

So, we all packed up and cleaned up our areas and said our goodbyes. I would have sworn that I took pictures with everyone I met that I really liked, but apparently I only got a shot of Marlow and me.

What a lovely human being

I had met Marlow in Cannon Ball. We passed each other coming and going at the entrance of the community center. She had smiled and said "Good Morning" so I smiled back and said the same thing.  Later that morning, as Mel the CO (XO? ... Leader Type Person) held an informational meeting for us, I found myself standing next to her again. We made little comments to each other as the meeting progressed, and finally I introduced myself, figuring that if we were going to keep running into each other, I should probably know her name. After that, she disappeared. I think she went off with the New York 'Rambo' Brigade. But I didn't figure I'd see her again. But then, on the Monday morning of the ceremony, she ended up right next to me in the formation! We helped each other get up and down from the floor (as they had the front row sit, which was fine with my tired knees) and at one rather emotional point of the ceremony, we just stood and hugged each other. Two strangers from different walks of life, united by our veteran status and our desire to do something good for the people of Standing Rock. Later, I found her again at the AJAMC in Ft. Yates. Although I only knew her for a few days, by the time I went home it seemed like I had known her for ages. I hope I can get to Seattle some day to visit her and her wife. (And my cousin, who lives there also... and because I've never been to Washington and it's one of three states I've yet to set foot in in this country...) But yeah. I'd love to hang out with her again. She's awesome.

I went and found Mel the Chaplain/Cannon Ball CO or XO or LTP to say goodbye to her and found her in line for chow. I met her in Cannon Ball, too, and was very impressed that she stepped up to help get CB organized. She also had an incredibly chipper attitude the ENTIRE time. Every time I saw her I was greeted with a smile. Every time I greeted her, she greeted me warmly. She was a great leader because she didn't just 'give orders', she did work as well. I caught her sweeping the floor outside the mess hall one evening when I was too tired to do anything other than fall in to my bed. We had had a few good but short talks about logistics, and one good talk about the legalities around the 1851 treaty and ramifications for this event pertaining to that document and our own Constitution. I had only known her for a couple of days, but felt like I had known her for months. She's an awesome lady.

I also got to say goodbye to Tammy, Terry and Frances and a few others that had all been bonded since our Cannon Ball days... day... several hours (?) Seriously, time was weird out there. Days seemed like weeks. Hours seemed like days... or sometimes just a few seconds. I'd serve with that group again though. The Cannon Ball detachment I mean. They were top notch.

Kiyoshi and I packed all of the remaining medical gear we could into my car for a last trip to camp to drop everything off. He drove his car up to the casino and joined me for the remaining twelve miles or so to the camp.

It was still dark when we arrived, and bitterly, bitterly cold. Kiyoshi donated all of his formidable body armor to the guard we met on the way in. Ceramic plate body armor, tactical goggles that would stop a .22 round, a few other things. Then we drove down to the veterans medical tent to drop off the medical supplies.

Most people there were still asleep, and we were then directed to take it to the main medical tent for the camp. Fortunately, I had passed that on my Monday excursion, so I knew where I was going. When we got there, we met two women that told us to take it up to the main donation tent, unless it was stuff for hypothermia. Well, I had brought an extra sleeping bag to use as a cold weather wrap in case of emergency, so we left that and some wool blankets and chemical hand warmers behind. One of the women came with us to show us where the main donation tent was. It turns out that it was near the sacred fire.

I wanted to approach in the right way, so I took some coffee and tobacco with me as I approached the fire, found a couple of men nearby and presented them with the gifts and asked where we could drop of our boxes of medical supplies. They were very humble and kind, and soon we were schlepping boxes and bags of donated medical supplies from all over the country into the GP tent by the fire. We were invited to pray at the fire, and before I left, I took the opportunity to send up my first prayers from the sacred fire I had only ever seen from a distance.

The circle of people around the fire was quite full, and while I am sure they would have made room for me to sit, I stood behind the front row and said my prayers as a song was being sung in the Lakota language.

I prayed for protection to all those staying here long term. I prayed for clarity in the days and weeks to come for the leaders of all of the different factions that had erupted since my last visit. I prayed for all of this to end peacefully, and for more people around the world to wake up and see the dangers that are facing us. Finally, I prayed for the fire. I prayed that the sacred fire stay burning for as long as it was needed. That it would spark a fire within all those who visited to take an ember back to where they lived and start another fire. A local fire, to fight against oppression, injustice, environmental attacks. A fire to stand up in their own communities and say 'enough is enough' and start making the changes that need to happen if we are to survive as a species.

I stepped away from the fire after the song was finished. The sun was coming up and it looked like it was going to be a bright, sunny day. Cold. Bitterly, bitterly cold. But bright and sunny. I joined Kiyoshi back in my warm car and he told me that there was going to be a camp meeting in the Dome at 0900. That seemed like an interesting thing to attend, and it was 0800 already, so we decided to head down to the Oglala Kitchen again to see if we could find Joe or anybody I had met on my previous trips to say hi. Maybe get some breakfast or basically just hang out someplace warm until the meeting.

The last time I was there, we had built a wood framed building that would serve as the new kitchen. It turned out pretty well, and next to it was still the lean-to shelter kitchen that they had been using. Next to that was a green GP tent that had been used as a dining room/gathering place the last time I was there. As we approached, we met a young man named Francois, a Lakota from Eagle Butte. As we conversed, we learned that he was looking for a way to get back home to his grandparents. Well, as a Shaffer, a couple hours added to a road trip is usually not a bad thing, so I offered to drive him down there. Then he asked if I had room for a tipi in my Highlander.

I thought for a minute... how much room does a tipi take up? How on earth would I strap the poles to the top? I told him we could try, but I made no promises. As if reading my mind he told me that it was just the canvas parts, not the poles, and that it was already all bundled up, it just needed to be loaded. So I had him grab his gear and throw it in the car. We then went to look for a familiar face in the dining hall GP tent.

As we went in, there were two white guys and a gal talking quietly next to a barrel stove, and a few cots further on with bundled up sleeping people. It appeared that the dining hall had become lodging. I walked up to the three talking people and quietly asked if Joe was around. No he wasn't. So I asked about a guy nicknamed Leprechaun that had been there in August. The girl said that he was still there and offered to take me over to his lodging. I thanked her and we all headed outside. We were followed by one of the guys that then scolded us for talking near the sleeping people. After all, he said "It's very rude to talk when people are sleeping here."

"Yeah, but you were talking when I came in, soooo..."
"But I live here." He said. "We need our sleep, we work hard."
Then Francois stepped in.
"Maybe you should be awake when there are things to be done." He said sternly. "Maybe we shouldn't sleep all day. Maybe you should think about why you are here."

Well, that just annoyed the guy further. He muttered something else about being rude and how maybe we should think about why we were there, and headed back into the tent. It was most decidedly a different vibe than the other two times I had been out there. Francois was the only native guy I had seen at Oglala Kitchen on this trip. My friend Joe had left to sell some of his amazing art in New Mexico, and apparently Clarence Rowland was around, though I hadn't met him in person yet. The gal walked us over to the shack where Leprechaun was living, but they were all still asleep. I asked her not to wake him, and pulled an Oglala Lakota flag from my coat and handed it to her.

Joe had mentioned that they needed another Oglala flag at the kitchen, and I brought one to give to him. I asked her to be sure it got to Clarence, instead. Her eyes smiled at me since every other bit of her face was covered against the cold, and she promised to get the flag to him.

The three of us climbed back into the car and decided to go pick up Francois' tipi, and head over to the dome to wait for the meeting to start. It was a short drive to a different part of the camp where Francois was storing his tipi bundle. It was about the size of a car topper, and frozen to boot. But we managed to smoosh it into the back with the little amount of stuff I was taking home with me. We drove over to the Dome and started in to see what was happening when we were greeted by a guy who asked us if we could help move his stuff back across camp to his tent. Apparently they were vacating people from the Dome, and he was going to head back over to the Veterans for Peace site. I told him that we could load stuff on top of my little workhorse, but there was no room inside with Kiyoshi, Francois and the tipi.

So we loaded a bedroll, a couple backpacks and a frozen garbage bag of dirty laundry on top of the car, and slowly made our way across the camp again. As we helped him load his stuff into his tent, a woman approached me and asked if I could help her get the U-Haul van she was driving off of an icy patch that wouldn't let her go. After a few tries pushing it myself, I headed back and asked the other guys to come give me a hand. With four of us pushing, it skittered it's way off of the ice and she was on her way. We bid the mover guy a farewell, and headed back over to the Dome to wait for the meeting to start.

While we waited, Francois shared with us the story of his family, the High Elks, and how they were supposed to be the true keepers of the sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman pipe instead of Arvol Looking Horse. He had many documents and family lineage to back up the claim, and said he was looking for a good law team to help his family take back the sacred bundle. He was earnest in his beliefs, and was obviously raised traditional, as he gave me gifts of a book and a kit to make moccasins as a thank you for driving him to Eagle Butte. But I was a little discouraged to hear his claims.

The whole week had been a series of fights between factions out there. We had taken part in a camp faction conflict with our veterans sweeping tents for firearms. We had listened to many people that had supposedly been "Standing Together at Standing Rock" tell us different things. Go home. Stay here. We don't want you here. We need you here. Go today. Stay a few more days. Now we had been scolded out of Oglala Kitchen by some white guy with an attitude, and this kid wanted help fighting Arvol Looking Horse for the sacred bundle. My spirit was tired. My soul was tired. This seemed to be just the final assault on my willpower to keep supporting Standing Rock. I didn't know who to back anymore. I was there to help. To serve. And all I seemed to find were people wanting to use me to further their own agendas. At least Francois was up front about it.

At around five to nine, we decided to head into the Dome and see what was happening. When we got inside it was hard to breathe. There were many people in the dome. Some moving their personal gear out. Some still sleeping in their cocoon bags. Some cleaning ash out of the wood burning stove. The whole place was heavy with wood smoke, which apparently led others to believe that lighting up their cigarettes was on ok thing to do. By ten minutes after nine, the place was crowding with people looking for the meeting, but nobody there to actually DO a meeting. I talked it over with the guys, and we decided that waiting another who knows how long for a meeting that may or may not happen when we had a half day's drive ahead of us to get home was probably not the best idea. So we decided that it was time to head out.

We stopped briefly outside to get a picture of ourselves at Standing Rock, as we had been too busy  every other time we had been there to think of that.

see? we really were there!

As we drove out of camp, we passed the same guard that Kiyoshi had given all of his gear to. The guard was bedecked in everything, and we stopped once more for Kiyoshi to give him a rather formidable pair of riot gloves and get a picture with him in Kiyoshi's gear. It was pretty awesome.

We snapped a few pictures of the camp as we drove towards the casino, but that was about it for pictures. It just wasn't a picture taking kind of adventure, and I was lost in my conflicting thoughts about the events of the week anyway.

We drove back to the casino where Kiyoshi had parked his car, and said our farewells. I certainly hope to see Kiyoshi again someday. He's a really good guy. He'd be caravanning behind Francois and me down to just south of Ft. Yates. There he would continue on a south/southeast road back to Illinois, and I would be heading more south/southwest to Eagle Butte.

I honked and waved goodbye as Kiyoshi took the turn for his road and I continued on with Francois.

Now, a couple things to preface the following part of my adventure. Four years ago when I had first volunteered at a place called Re-Member on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, I met a man named Will Peters. He was one of the Lakota speakers that Re-Member brought in to teach volunteers about the culture of the Oglala Lakota. Over time, Will and I have grown quite close. We've had many a talk about out two cultures, and spiritual truths, and a great many things. I consider him a brother, and my Dad even calls him son. As Shaffers, we tend to adopt people we love into our "tribe" that we call the "Shaffer Hotel".

Aside to the aside... When I was growing up, Mom and Dad opened our house up to all of our friends so that we'd have a safe place to have cast parties and get togethers. Everyone was welcome as long as they followed a few simple rules. No drugs, alcohol or dangerous tomfoolery. As the years progressed, there were times when I'd go down to breakfast and find kids I didn't know already eating. They turned out to be friends of friends of friends of mine or Jason or Steph, and Mom and Dad were always fine with anyone that stuck with the rules.

So we have always had "family" that wasn't blood related. As such, it was completely normal for me to "adopt" Will and his family into mine. He's good people. Awesome wife, wonderful kids and grandkids. All around good egg. So, now that you know that, I'll tell you that Will's Lakota name translates to "Teacher of the Red Road", and teach he does. He's a high school teacher that works with kids in a good Lakota way. (And frankly, much like my Dad did as a high school teacher) He meets them where they are at, teaches them to the best of both of their abilities, is calm and gentle, but not a pushover. Will speaks Lakota to them in the classroom. Teaches them how to do beadwork to help keep them centered and focused on the good.

He also has taken the time to help THIS muddling white guy learn more about Lakota culture, traditions, and the "right way" to do certain things than I could have ever learned by reading a book.
One of the things he taught me right away was that Lakota teachings don't come with a price. No native teachings should. If you are wanting to be a student of said teachings, you should pray about it and wait until the right teacher comes. Will told me that there are many people, both native and non-native, that will claim to be 'Medicine Men' or 'Chiefs' and will offer to teach you their ways as long as you give them some money. Now, he also says that when an elder teaches you something, it is a sign of respect to give that elder a gift, and money is a fine gift. But no teacher should ask for money.

Now, back to the drive from Ft. Yates to Eagle Butte. Francois had started to tell me that his family is very well connected. Very important. That he was a medicine man and knew all sorts of medicine men and chiefs on the various reservations. That may be true, but it raised a red flag in my head, because Will had taught me that one of the Lakota values was humility, and Francois wasn't being very humble in his name dropping. Then he mentioned that even though he was young, he had great wisdom and would be happy to teach me all about Lakota culture, spirituality and wisdom if I could provide some funds for a project he wanted to do.

Yep. Another red flag.

He was a nice kid. Pretty respectful, but I could feel him trying to do things in what the Lakota would call "the wrong way". But something Will and I have not discussed is if I - as a white guy - can call out a hustler when I see one if said hustler is a native and hustling native traditions. I was unsure how to respond to this. So I asked Francois what the Lakota word for 'Karma' is. He was unsure, as he's still learning the language, and I directed our conversation to what was happening at Standing Rock, how he got there, and the events of the last few weeks. We agreed that KARMA would most likely be coming around to bite those in the booty that had done some bad things up there. Non-native and native alike. We talked about the conflict of wanting to be a law-abiding citizen, yet seeing that the law was doing horrendous things to its citizens and then lying about it. How does one stay loyal to a system that isn't loyal to them?

We started talking about spirituality again, and I mentioned some of the spiritual truths that Will and I had talked about. He once again mentioned that for a small fee, he could teach me how to do sweats and pipe ceremonies, maybe even a Sundance. I was uncomfortable again, so I mentioned that I had a Lakota friend in Pine Ridge that was already teaching me all of those things, or at least letting me be a part of them so I could learn by experience and by listening.

"Who is it?" Francois asked "I know all of the medicine men on Pine Ridge."
"Oh, he doesn't claim to be a medicine man or a chief." I told him.
"Who does he say he is?" Francois pressed. "What does he claim to be?"
"All I've ever heard him claim to be..." I said, "Is a common man. Nobody special. Just an ordinary Lakota guy. I think that's one of the reasons he is so highly respected down there, and by my family and me. He doesn't claim to know everything, yet in his humble way of teaching, shows that he knows an awful lot."

There was silence for a few minutes. Then the conversation moved along. It is noteworthy to mention now that he didn't mention money or ask for support again for the remaining hour of our trip.

As we drove along, I told him that my parents, whether they knew it or not, pretty much raised us to live by the seven Lakota virtues. Respect, prayer, honesty, compassion, generosity, humility and wisdom. We were taught to respect our elders. Live our lives as a prayer, not relying entirely on praying in a church to talk to God. Tell the truth. Empathize with others. Help people how you can, when you can, even if that means sacrifice. Don't boast or brag, let your actions do that for you. and for heaven's sake, think before you speak and learn before you teach. I understand that wisdom doesn't just magically come. Heck, I know lots of old guys that lack wisdom. Wisdom is the accumulation of lessons and life experiences AND an ability to reflect on them and learn from them. Not everyone has wisdom, and I am skeptical of someone that claims to have it mastered.

I was trying to tell Francois about my feelings on wisdom by telling him about my Dad, who has lived a long life AND learned from his mistakes and successes. He is humble and will offer an 'opinion' about something without forcing you to believe it. But since he's very often right in his opinion, a person who seeks wisdom would heed his words. As I was telling him about Dad, a Bald Eagle came out from the woods and flew along with us for about twenty seconds. Francois took this as a sign.

"My brother Wanbli has come to tell us that we were meant to meet each other! That whatever you are doing, keep doing it, because you are on the right road!" Francois said excitedly. He told me that eagles were the most holy bird to the Lakota, and that for one to show itself to us while I was speaking honoring words about my dad was a wonderful sign from Creator. That my dad must be a great and honorable man. This I could agree with!

He sang a song in Lakota that I only knew a few words to and when he was done he smiled at me.

Now, I'm always unsure if eagles and hawks come into my view as a sign, or as a thank you for the rescues I've done, or just because they happened to be in that airspace as I've been driving by. But I've seen a lot of things all around the world, and had a lot of experiences with other critters like dragonflies, buffalo, crows, raccoons and red-winged blackbirds, (to name a few) that have seemed like way more than coincidental encounters. My middle name is Thomas, so I have 'doubt' hardwired in to me. But I'll admit that when that eagle flew by as I was talking of my dad, followed by this Lakota kid singing in Lakota a song of thanks for the visit made a pretty powerful impact on me.

The rest of our drive was spent talking about our families and things we have learned from our elders and our friends. We talked about both of us being artists and craftsmen. I offered to sell his stuff on my website if it was legal to do so, and if he wanted to. I think we sorta bonded over the fact that regardless of culture, we all have similar struggles and triumphs. We talked of places that gave one the sense of 'home' in their spirit when we came into an area of rolling hills that were familiar to him. Sights and vistas that were imprinted in our brains and on our souls that only spoke of safe and wonderful feelings of being truly home.

His were these hills and the camp at Standing Rock. Mine were my childhood neighborhood, the Island, an area in Pine Ridge, the Mississippi River and the faces of my wife and children.

As we pulled into his long driveway, another Bald Eagle flew directly over the car headed for his house. We both voiced awe, and stared at the great bird as it flew ahead of us.

"What a welcome home!" I said to Francois.

He was beaming.

He tried to get a picture of it with my phone, because who would possibly believe that an eagle had LITERALLY led him home!

just above the peak of the roof there...

We unloaded the tipi into a nearby truck and grabbed his gear to take inside. I remembered that I had a can of coffee and a bag of tobacco left in one of my bags that I had forgotten to give away at the camp, so I grabbed those to give as a gift to his grandparents when I went inside to meet them. You know, the 'right way' to greet elders. Francois introduced me to his family, and they offered to feed me, but I still had many, many miles to try and go before I got home, and I was already feeling the lack of sleep taking hold. I excused myself and headed back for my car. On a picnic table near the door were three deer heads.

Whole. Deer. Heads.

there they are all standing in a row...

I commented on how amazing they were, because the antlers were truly spectacular. Francois and I had talked a bit about how I made knife handles out of antlers on our drive, so I was taken aback when they offered me one of the heads.

Now. I do like making knife handles out of deer antlers, but I had no idea what on earth I would do with an entire head! I tried to politely decline, but was told that these were their three best kills this season, and I could pick whichever I pleased.

"No really." I said. "That is way too generous of a gift. I couldn't possibly..."

"I insist. Really!"

Well, another thing I have learned is that when people offer you something of their best or finest, it is poor form to reject it, even if it is not something you personally may ever have on your picnic table. Besides which, none of them were bloody, and they were all frozen pretty solid in the frigid air. So I chose the smallest of the three, not just because I didn't want to seem greedy, but because those antlers really would make the best knife handles. The 8 and 10 pointers were awesome, but not as knife-able. I grabbed a plastic bag to put the meaty neck side in, and set it in the back on top of my gear.

and I shall call him George...

Thanking them profusely and promising to stay in touch, I departed for the long drive home. As I drove, the bag slowly slid off of the deer head in the way back, and at one point I looked in the rear view mirror to see the giant buck staring blankly at me. Every time I rounded a corner, the head would topple to one side or the other, coming to rest staring at me with a cocked head. It was going to be a long, long drive home.

Crossing the Missouri River/Lake Oahe... Mni Wiconi, my friends. Water is LIFE.

My plan was to get home that night, but by the time I reached Pierre, I was far too tired to continue. It had been a physically and emotionally very long day, and yet another surreal day that I couldn't quite process. Conflicting emotions everywhere. The good and bad of the deployment. The good and bad at the camp. The good and bad at AJAMC. The good and bad of the DAPL easement denial. The good and bad of Francois. God, I just wanted to focus on the good of it all, but the questionable things just kept nagging at me. By 7:30, I had found a room at a Super 8 for cheap and went to bed without supper, meds, shower or anything. Just collapsed, shut my brain off and slept.

More Later

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Tuesday, December 6th

The trouble with living inside of a gym in a blizzard is that there are no windows.

OK, so there are other troubles with living inside of a gym in a blizzard. But the no windows thing is a biggie. Because there are also no clocks nearby, and so - unless you check your watch or phone from time to time - you can lose track of time completely. Add to this the occasional short nap, and more surreal experiences, and you've got the perfect recipe for a 100 hour day.

Since Tuesday is a jumble of strange events and curious happenings, I'm just going to share some stories of the day. I can't really say what happened when, but I'll try to keep morning stories in the morning, afternoon in the afternoon, and so on.

One of my early thoughts was that I had taken surprisingly few photos. If you know me well, you know that most of my adventures are overly photographed by me. I'm as heavy on the shutter release as I am wordy on my blog posts...

But on this trip I had not taken many pictures. I left my 'good' camera home, because I remember what military life was like, and figured we'd be moving around a lot, or engaged in taking water and gas and rubber bullets from the "authorities", or various other things that could result in my good camera becoming my lost camera, or my broken camera. I had planned on taking many pictures with my phone, but still didn't document much by way of images. So I figured I'd better get a couple pictures of the blizzard before it ended...

And a couple is literally all I got. The first one is from our drive to camp on the 5th, the second is a shot outside at the AJAMC on Tuesday morning.

At some point Tuesday, word came down simultaneously that the roads were all closed due to the abhorrent weather and road conditions AND that we were expecting an unknown number of people coming to us as overflow from the casino and the sick and weak people from the camp. We were instructed not to drive, but that somebody would be driving mass quantities of people to us.

In true military fashion, most of us smiled and nodded and carried on with what we were doing, and some of us went into panic mode trying to figure out where all the new people would go and what we'd do with the sick, contagious people. We had already set up a little quarantine area because we had a few people coughing up bloody sputum, so we made plans to enlarge that a little. Our Cannon Ball XO, Mel - who was now our AJAMC chaplain and all around good egg - suggested we name it the 'comfort area', as legally we couldn't be quarantining anybody. Most of us liked this idea.

I will tell more about the people I met in a later post. Because I met some truly wonderful people out there.

Anyway, someone came around to collect all of the mats that went with the donated cots to double our sleeping capacity. that wasn't much of a loss for anyone with a cot/mat combo, because we all had our super thick and warm negative temperature sleeping bags that acted like mattresses anyway. I gave brief consideration to donating my cot as well, but I figured I'd just hang on to it until I saw someone who needed it more than me.

Things were coming together nicely, when Margaret came by to find out why we hadn't been gathering information on all of our 'patients'. She was very concerned that we all be able to cover our own butts in case we were sued later. Understandable, I suppose. But since we were basically handing out band-aids and headache meds to people that asked for them, I didn't feel the need to keep super strict records on everyone we saw. As she was telling us of the importance of collecting all of this data, a gal came up with a broken fingernail and wondered if we had any scissors.

I pulled out my trauma shears and gave them to her and she snipped off the offending nail. As she left, I tried to get her name, symptoms, allergies, medications, past medical history, mother's hair color, etc, and that made Margaret laugh. I think she may have relaxed a little bit there, because we had just shown who our 'patient' base was, and there was really no need for data collection on anything but the bad cases.

And we did have a couple of bad cases. One guy who suffered from anxiety found us looking for some help. Fortunately there was a counselor type person who gathered a group of other counselor type people, and I took him over to her and things worked out. We had some blood sugar issues that could have been bad. But mostly we had aches and pains and cuts and blisters.

At another point in the day, a bus had arrived with sixty or so people from...somewhere... Casino maybe? Anyway, the bus got stuck in a snowbank coming in to the parking lot, so a herd of us went out to help push it loose.

As we walked into the frigid, cold, blowy type day, I noticed some people hooking the side of the bus to a big pickup, ostensibly to pull it sideways off of the bank(?) I dunno. I just gave them some space in case the chains snapped. When that didn't work, we were all instructed to go to the back of the bus and prepare to push.

So we tromped our way around to the back of the bus and waited.
And waited.
And waited.

Then someone up front yelled for us to get out of the way, because the bus was going to try and go backwards to get another run at the parking lot.

So we all moved back and watched...

When that didn't work they told us to get ready to push, as the pickup truck had now moved to the front of the bus and was being hooked up to pull.

When that didn't work, they told us to come around to the front of the bus and try pushing it back into the street. So we all moved around to the front of the bus and waited.
And waited.
And waited.

It was when they decided that we should go to the back of the bus and push that I decided that things were getting silly and I was getting cold. So I headed back inside to warm up a little, and found several others had preceded me. More would join us from outside as we talked about all the new people that had arrived.

Eventually the bus was freed. I don't know how, because it happened while most of us were inside. But I'd like to believe it was the power of our positive bus moving thoughts that helped the most.

One of the local business owners came in to tell us that he was bringing Chili and fry bread for everybody at supper time. This was met with loud and appreciative cheering, and I think I can safely say we were almost all looking forward to seven o'clock. (1900 in military time.)

At some point between the bus and supper, Margaret came over to ask if I had any dressings for an IV.

"Do we have IV equipment?" I asked.
"I do." she said.
"Do we have someone that needs an IV?" I asked.
"The dog over by the door is sick and needs fluids, so I'm going to start an IV on it."

I slow blinked a few times.

"Really?" I asked.
Margaret just looked at me with impatience and again asked if I had any dressings for an IV.

I gave her my package of 3x3's and a roll of Coban. I wondered to myself if she was going to try for a vein, or just do a fluid push in the scruff of the neck like I had done with Shoba when she was dehydrated. But I didn't ask, because Margaret was obviously tired of my questions.

As she headed off excitedly, Tammy got up to follow. She wanted to keep an eye on things since the whole "starting an IV on a dog" thing seemed a little hinky to us.

It was not too much later that we had... an "incident".

Here is what I saw.

I was sitting on my cot, talking with a couple other people when suddenly there was a commotion over by the door.

Margaret was holding someone and yelling for people to take their medical supplies away. She was very obviously pissed by the tone of her voice.

I stood up to see better and saw that Margaret was holding Tammy's arm behind her back, and her (Margaret's) other arm around Tammy's neck. As I started to head over to see what the heck was going on, Margaret then put Tammy in a headlock and was yanking her around, trying to wrestle her to the floor.

I ran over, but others had already stepped in and removed Margaret from Tammy. They were quickly separated. Ari the CO and Clark the Sgt. Major were there in a flash and talking to each woman individually. As I walked by Ari talking with Margaret I heard him say something to the effect that what she had just done could be prosecuted as battery... I just wanted to get to Tammy and make sure she was ok.

I saw that she was talking with Clark and another witness, and so assessed from a distance. Her neck was red, but she seemed to be breathing fine. So I decided not to barge in and just let things get taken care of.

Eventually I was able to talk with the other girl that saw the whole thing and got the rest of the story.

Apparently, there was a vet tech type person willing to try the stick on the dog, but she was pretty frazzled and missed. So Margaret stepped in to save the day. But apparently Margaret didn't have any experience with medical procedures on dogs, and Tammy didn't think it was a good idea to let Margaret experiment on this dog. Some words were exchanged, and Tammy reached over and moved the IV kit out of Margaret's reach. This threat to her authority set Margaret off, and you know the rest.

Well... I was a tad perturbed by this. Margaret had rubbed me the wrong way from pretty much the moment I had met her. I had figured that she could be "in charge" as long as she wanted if it made her feel better, because we weren't going to be there long enough for any of that to really matter. But she had just attacked one of MY medics.

OK, so I was technically not in charge of any medics or anything. But the Cannon Ball medics had been together for awhile now, and I was feeling quite protective of the little group of friends I was in. So when Tammy got attacked, I got mad.

I made it a point to seek out both Ari and Clark and let them know that there was simply no way on God's green earth that I was following any orders from Margaret anymore. I told them that there were other medics that felt the same, and told them that if they should choose to keep her as "Chief Medical Officer", then I would question their leadership as well. And since we were all volunteers and there was no actual chain of command, I was more than willing to take all of the medical supplies I had gathered and head up to the camp.

Other medics also stepped up to voice their displeasure with what had happened. At one point, Ari came over and asked me two questions.

Would I be able to work under Margaret just for another night?

No. Absolutely not. She is unstable and at this point a danger to herself and others. She should not be near an actual patient.

Would I be willing to step up and lead medical if they removed her?

Umm... yes? But only if they didn't have anyone better.

I didn't want to be a boss. I just wanted to be available to help people as the need arose. I wanted to eat and make sure all of 'my' people got food. I wanted to sleep and make sure all of 'my' people had beds. I wanted to keep everyone calm and cheery without the threat of being attacked by a "Type A" self appointed leader.

Medic Tiffany made a joke about the Lord of the Flies. It was sadly funny because it was certainly starting to play out like that. If we stayed for much longer, things were going to devolve quickly.

Eventually they called all of us medics to a meeting. I went with some trepidation. If they kept Margaret, a bunch of us were out of there. I also didn't want to be boss. I was hoping they'd just tell everyone to chill, since we'd all be leaving in the morning anyway.

At the meeting, they told us that Margaret was no longer in command (good news) and that David the RN was our new Chief Medical Officer (GREAT news)

David and I were talking later, and he felt the same way I did. If we were going to be stuck there for weeks, then yes - we'd need a better command structure. But for a night or two... just help people that need it and chill.

I went back to my cot relieved. Word soon came down that the chili and fry bread had arrived. Another grateful whoop rose up, and people started lining up for hot chow. I stood off to the side to make sure everyone got some food, and was pleased when they made the announcement for elders to go up and eat first in the traditional Lakota/Dakota/Nakota way. I was joined by Chaplain Mel, and we had a fun talk about our beloved Marine Corps.  As we spoke, a new group of people came in, and I resigned myself to not getting any chili or fry bread because I wanted to make sure the travelers coming in from the cold got some hot food. Besides, I had parts of the MRE left to eat, so it wasn't like I was going to starve or anything. I went back out to see if there was anything left when the line died down and remarkably there was some chili still in the pot! I grabbed a piece of fry bread to go with it, and went back to my cot to eat.

I cannot describe the epigastric joy I experienced with that meal. There simply aren't words that would do justice to the flavor sensations that were held in that little bowl. You should be jealous you were not there. (Unless you were there - then - Holy Carp! Was that good chili or what!?!)

After dinner there was a program going on with a native guy and his wife telling a story about two birds in a race. Tortoise and the Hare, Dakota style. They had recruited a couple of vets to play the parts of the birds, and made a good show of it. That was really fun to watch.

After that, they began a drum song and a round dance, where people joined hands and danced in a circle. As I was watching that, a gentleman came over looking for a doc. I answered, because it was one of the three names I had agreed to answer to.

He told me that he has a seizure disorder and that his meds were in his gear in Kenel, a small town about seventeen miles away. Then he told me that he hadn't taken any of his meds for a few days. He was worried that he might have a seizure and wanted us to be aware of it so he didn't freak anyone out if it happened.

I thought perhaps we could scrounge for someone that took the same meds, but how to go about finding those? This, I decided, was a job for our NEW CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER!

He was dancing in the circle dance when I approached him and gently tugged on his sleeve. He smiled and made a space for me to join in the dance. This would have been fine had I not met the gentlemen off his meds. So I told him I needed to talk to him away from the circle.

After filling him in on the situation, we went to talk to Clark and Ari. Knowing that finding the same meds in the same doses as this guy was unlikely, I volunteered to drive down to Kenel to get it. Clark was a little hesitant, but I gave him my credentials, Arctic driving courses in the Marines (Which were basically just driving around Ft. McCoy in the wintertime - but hey, it got me a military license to drive in Norway!) 100,000 miles as an over the road truck driver, and I promised him that we'd go slow and turn around if it got too bad.

He agreed on the condition that I take a co-driver. So I asked Kiyoshi if he wanted to come along, because he's good company and I knew I could count on him if something went wrong. We also took the 'patient', as we were going to the Kenel community center and finding his gear amongst a lot of other gear. I figured he'd be able to find it, and with my luck, we'd just bring back some other vets gear.

The roads weren't good, but they were so very much improved from our adventure driving on Monday! So much so that I was actually up to 40 MPH for some stretches! The wind was still blowing snow into near whiteout conditions, but not as fiercely as the day before. We also noticed that the sky had cleared up, and we could see starts through the swirling maelstrom on the ground. The conversation was delightful, as our 'patient' had been a career mechanic in the Navy, and kept us entertained with stories of fixing all sorts of engines. I don't know about Kiyoshi, but most of his technical talk was pretty much lost on me. But it was still good to hear. From a medical standpoint, I could maintain observation on him even though my eyes were on the road. As long as he was speaking clearly, no seizure! From a veteran standpoint, it was fun to hear his military stories. Kiyoshi did a great job of keeping the conversation going most of the time, which I was thankful for when I needed to be ultra focused on the road a few times. It was a very pleasant trip down to Kenel.

We found the community center gym without too much difficulty, and upon entering found a well organized, albeit small, group of people. They welcomed us, offered us bed space and food, and in all did a great job of being hosts in their space! We explained that we were just stopping by for some gear and meds, and when we returned from finding our patients belongings, they had packed a bag with fried chicken and sodas for our return trip.

We had been there all of fifteen minutes, but were still sent off with food and hugs. It was very nice.

The trip back was pretty good, as we neared the AJAMC, the winds were finally starting to slow down a bit as well. I had no doubts that we'd be able to clear out in the morning.

The gym was dark when we returned, and Clark seemed glad to see us back in one piece.  I went to the bathroom and when I came back saw our patient and his friend and some others gathering near the door.

Turns out they were getting on a bus to head back to Kenel to join up with the rest of their crew. I'm still trying to find a way to convince myself that our whole trip wasn't for nothing. Although to be fair, it was a good road trip with excellent company, so I'll hold on to those memories for the take away.

In the "medical room" was another seizure patient that had intentionally refused to take his meds. He was being tended to by the aroma therapist doctor, and Dave the RN CMO was trying to find medics that could stay awake and monitor him. I begged off, as I was exhausted and was going to need to drive a lot the next day. Thankfully, oh so thankfully, Medic Tiffany stepped up to volunteer, as she was going to be a passenger in her vehicle. So I finally said my goodnights.

I was heading across the dining room when a guy half carrying a stumbling woman approached. We got her into the medical room as well, learning that she was diabetic. Well, being a newly minted diabetic myself, I just happened to have my glucometer in my gear. So I went back into the dark gym to pillage through my things until I found it.

With a clean needle, we checked her blood sugar and it came back at 100. This is not particularly low, but she was symptomatic. Fortunately, she was also being tended by our LPN's, so my presence there was superfluous. I said goodnight again and was again stopped in the middle of the dining hall. This time for introductions to an ACTUAL MD! He asked for an update and I told him all that I knew, which wasn't much because I had been searching for my glucometer. I told him her blood sugar was 100, but she was still kind of loopy. They were getting her food and juice. Then he asked me if I was a paramedic. I told him I had been, and he asked me what I thought had happened.

I said with a smile that even when I was a medic, we weren't allowed to diagnose. He smiled back and said "Still... what do you think?"

So I told him that 100 might not be low for a normal person, but she's diabetic, stressed, maybe not eating well, maybe not taking her meds. So maybe 100 is low for her if she's used to 300 or 400.

He smiled again and said "I agree."

He asked me if I had insulin. Which confused me for a moment because A) I was stupid tired by this point, and B) I'm not insulin dependent, so I thought he was talking about having her insulin. And why would I have her insulin? I just met her five minutes ago.

Then it dawned on me what he was talking about, so I told him I had none, and he seemed ok with that. He was laid back and unperturbed, which I like in a doctor. I was glad he was there, even though I'd never see him again.

Blessedly, I made it back to my cot without further interruptions, and flopped down to sleep right after kicking off my boots, coat and hat.

It had been a long, weird day. The plan was to be up at 0530 to depart the AJAMC by 0800. I set my alarm for 0545 just in case I slept through reveille. It was 1 o'clock (zero 100)when I finally shut my eyes on the day. 

More Later

Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday, December 5th

Remember, remember the fifth of December. Custer's birthday. Our celebration of the DAPL easement being denied would have him spinning in his grave... I hope.

Author's Note: I am hesitant to share this blog post. It contains some negative views on what happened out there. So I struggled with whether or not to post it. My intent in releasing it into the wild is not to disparage anyone, or cast aspersions on any of the things that happened out there. It is simply my own personal views and reflections about what I experienced. In that spirit, I cannot be anything but honest in my recording of this event. Good things happened and bad things happened. That's the nature of an event this size. People react to events and stress in different ways. I did good things, and I did not so good things. I don't think I am unique in this way. For this mission, there were so many things happening in so many places that it would be impossible to accurately portray an "average" experience. So again, this is just MY experience. Let's dive in to Monday, shall we?

I awoke early to the sounds of people moving around, already starting their day. The gym lights had been activated, and were slowly coming to life, illuminating the emergency shelter that was our home away from home. It was well before 7 am.

It was an uneventful morning, at least in my memory, because I don't really remember anything except that Laura had decided to head south and try to beat the storm to get home, and leaving for the casino to make the ceremony at 0800. Losing Laura would be a blow, as she was a really good person to have around for a situation like this. She stayed calm, listened to the elders and spoke well. She was flexible and knew how to lead by example. We said our goodbyes and got her on her way as we left for the ceremony.

I remember wondering what sort of ceremony it would be. A victory celebration? Vets honoring vets? Another semi-sloppy military formation with speeches? I heard all sorts of theories, but there were a few things I thought I knew to be true.

It was originally going to be held at camp, where the thousands of veterans would form up and march gloriously into the camp, after asking permission to enter. It would be resplendent with flags and bagpipes and lots of pomp and circumstance. I originally planned on skipping that ceremony, because I'm not really a pomp and circumstancy kind of a guy.

But due to the weather, the ceremony was to be moved indoors to the casino pavilion. That I could get on board with. Upon reaching the casino at ten minutes to 8:00. I found the place to be practically deserted.

There was no one in the pavilion hall, and very few people standing around outside of it. I wondered if I was in the right place or not. The others gathered there were wondering the same thing. The doors to the pavilion were open, so we made our way inside and grabbed some seats, figuring that if people showed up, then great.

Slowly, more people trickled in, until hotel security came and asked us to leave. Apparently the casino had not heard that our ceremony had been moved to the inside of their building, and they weren't ready for anyone to be in that space.

So we flooded back into the lobby and waited while the assembled leaders talked with hotel people and tried to figure out what was going on. Pretty quickly the lobby was packed with veterans, and once again the rumor mill blossomed.

We were going to march from here to the front lines.
(10 miles in the snow? Don't think so)
We were going to get buses from here to camp.
(And do the ceremony in the snow? Don't think so)
The REAL ceremony was going to happen in Ft. Yates...
And Cannon Ball...
And Eagle Butte...
And tomorrow.

Rumors, or scuttlebutt as we called it in the Marines, was something about military life that I had not missed.

Eventually the higher ups got everything sorted out and we were once again allowed into the pavilion space. I'm not sure what time everything kicked off, but a few veterans from (I think) a Dakota tribe sang an honoring song for the assembled veterans.

This was followed by a call for us to form up in a horseshoe formation. Again, it was obvious that a lot of us hadn't done this for awhile, but we managed. We listened as people and elders from many nations spoke to us. A medic who had been out there for the long hall took the opportunity to speak to the media that had gathered and tell the truth about some things. What had happened to a young lady whose arm had been ripped open by a gas canister launched by police, and a couple other things that directly contradicted the "official" narrative from the "authorities". I, for one, was glad that she put the media on alert that we knew the "authorities" were telling lies and getting away with it. 

Leonard Crow Dog, Arvol Looking Horse, and Faith Spotted Eagle were just a few of the Elders that spoke to us. They thanked the vets for coming, and spoke of the victory we all had shared in. They spoke of honor and togetherness in the upcoming fights, because this wasn't a final victory, it was only one in hopefully many. They spoke of their traditions and their stories, and in general it was a really powerful and moving time. I was feeling a great sense of peace and happiness listening to their stories. Knowing that we were a small part of something this momentous.

(photo from Chicago Tribune)

The guy in the above picture spoke very eloquently and I wish I knew his name, because his words brought a tear to my eye. Also, if you look at the guy in the blue shirt and backpack in the front left there, the little elder in the cammie jacket is Frances! She's awesome.

At some point however, a guy from the Wannabe tribe (White guys that wanna be native) pushed his way through the crowd up next to me. He had pasty white skin like me, and long, braided red hair with turkey feathers tied in. (He's not yet near me in the above picture.)

There was LOTS of press there, lots of pushy photographers, and a few people, like this guy, that I think were hoping for a little added attention. He started breathing quite heavily, inhaling sharply and blowing air out loudly.

At first I was concerned, because he sounded like he was choking, and when I turned to look at him, he looked as if someone had squeezed his grapes a little too hard (if you know what I mean). Being in medic mode, I wondered if I should escort him out and check him over. He really did look to be in respiratory distress. 

Then he sob/breathed in and sobbed again, and the thespian in me assessed the situation. Guy just wanted some recognition for his tears was all. I didn't really have time for that. Eventually he worked his way juuust in front of me to my left, where he continued the dramatic crying. I took a step back to leave him alone in the spotlight. It was a bit distracting.

Now, to be fair... it was a powerful ceremony up to that point. Songs and speeches from elders can have that effect on people. Lots of people were teary at times. I was teary at times. But this guy... well, he was trying too hard. Kinda put a damper on my mood a bit.

It was then that Wes Clark jr stepped forward with his small group and proceeded to apologize to Leonard Crow Dog on behalf of the US Military...

Uhhh... wait a second? What now?

Honestly, it took me by surprise. So many questions raced through my head that I may have missed the "amazing" part of the moment everyone seems to be talking about on social media.

Did Clark just apologize on behalf of the ENTIRE HISTORICAL US MILITARY? Did he get appointed spokesperson at some point? Was this sanctioned by OUR elders, or generals, or POTUS, or anybody? For me, it wasn't such an "amazing" moment as a "WTF just happened here?" moment. As Clark and his group kneeled in front of Crow Dog, Mr. Wannabe leapt from beside me over a pushy photographer and next to the group, prostrating himself alongside the kneelers, weeping loudly.

I sat in confused disbelief. A very moving ceremony had suddenly morphed into a surreal demonstration of a white guy who seemed to have his own agenda taking over so that he could get some more attention and feel better about himself.

Then came more questions.

Is this what he had planned this whole time? Would he have done this if we had all marched into camp? Had he told anybody about this little display? Who the heck does he think he is speaking for the entire US Military? Is this why he publicly asked the elder to be his grandmother on Saturday night at his quite odd talk to those of us gathered at Ft. Yates for the elders meeting?

I started to get a sick feeling in my stomach. Did this guy set this whole thing up to be a publicity stunt?

In most news reports you will read about how there was not a dry eye in the house, and that even the most battle hardened veterans were weeping.

Yeah. That's not entirely true. I was disoriented and a little disgusted. I mean, sure. An apology to Native Americans for our past military brutality is long overdue. Absolutely I agree with that. But for some random dude in a cavalry coat and hat to just step up and do it while claiming to be some kind of leader seemed... well... pathetic.

I know that many, MANY of us non-native veterans really want a formal apology from the US Government for the sins of our forefathers. But this didn't seem right. I felt like it actually dishonored the progress made between natives and non-natives. Random white guy comes in, makes it all about him, and apologizes, and all is supposed to be forgiven and forgotten?

Alrighty then.

After that surreal moment, they called up all the native veterans to shake hands with the Wes Clark jr group, so I stepped back for a few minutes to let that play out. Then I noticed that the line of native veterans was making its way through the rest of the veterans on the floor, so I jumped in line to shake some hands.

Now THAT was another powerful part of the ceremony. Smiles, hugs, handshakes, thankfulness for the presence of another brother or sister, and overall a great sense of spirits coming together. Black, white, native, Asian... every race and creed were there, shaking hands and coming together as one, as the ceremony had initially been geared towards. I was happy to have been there for that part, and wrote off the 'apology' as the least important part of the whole thing. Unfortunately, what the media focused on was "White Military Guy Apologizes To Natives for Historical Bad Things", and they pretty much skipped over the medic calling for the truth, the Elders words of wisdom, and the coming together of veterans from all over shaking hands and hugging. Ah, well...

As the ceremony wound down, we were instructed to go home if we could, as a huge blizzard was coming in and driving would be treacherous. The VSSR leadership dismissed us (in the military fashion), told us to go home, and I was a bit confused.

Yes, DAPL had been denied a permit. But they were still up at the drill pad. Yes, lots of WVIC's (White Veterans In Charge) were patting themselves on the backs for completion of the mission and telling each other that we had done something that every other group had been unable to in "defeating the Black Snake". But to my way of thinking, the veterans arrival may have been a straw upon the camels back, but we had done absolutely ZERO of the heavy lifting in beating the pipeline. Yes, there was a blizzard hitting, and people needed to be safe. But would leaving during a blizzard be the best bet for 2-4000 veterans that had JUST arrived?

I saw Chief Arvol Looking Horse across the bay, the keeper of the sacred pipe bundle for the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota nations. So I walked up to him as humbly as I could and introduced myself as a veteran and a medic. I asked him what HE wanted me to do. Stay or go?

He said that yes, a blizzard was here, but he didn't think the fight was over. He said that if I could hang around for a few more days, I should. That was all I needed to hear. If Chief Looking Horse says to stay, you stay.

We talked with the medic organizer, a very nice man by the name of Aaron, and told him we'd be sticking around for a few days in Ft. Yates if he needed us. We asked around if anything else was happening that day, and the general consensus was that everyone would be finding shelter and hunkering down to wait out the blizzard or making a break for home. As we left the casino, it appeared that we would have little choice in the matter, as the snow was falling by the foot, and the temperatures had dropped a bit as well.

Tammy and I headed back to the AJAMC in Ft. Yates, 12 miles down the road. Due to the weather and a car accident that blocked traffic for awhile, it took nearly an hour to return to our station. We had been told that the only thing happening today was finding sleeping space for everyone and making sure everyone had beds and hot chow. We would take care of medical needs at the AJAMC, and were set up to have a chill kind of day.

Upon returning, I checked Facebook again to see if anything had developed and saw that there was a large group of veterans and water protectors marching on the bridge.

Holy Charlie Foxtrot! Nothing had been mentioned about this at the casino. Nobody at Ft. Yates knew anything about it. I thought we had been ordered to stand down. But there they were, in the blizzard, marching on the bridge.

I mentioned this to Kiyoshi and Tammy and we briefly discussed whether or not to head up there. Since there was nothing happening at the AJAMC, and Kiyoshi really wanted to get in on a march, and I figured if things went bad, they'd need medics up there, we decided to go.

So we geared up and I offered to drive, having a bit of winter driving experience and such. I looked around for anyone else that might want to go, but found no one. So the three of us piled into my vehicle and started the trip north, with the understanding that if I felt it was too hazardous, we'd head back to Yates.

Well... the roads were 100% ice covered, the winds were between 20 and 40 mph across the road, and conditions were really, really bad. I had driven in worse, but not by much. The going was slow and a bit sketchy at times. At one point, while reaching out the window to try and snap the accumulating ice off the wiper, the wiper blade came loose and popped off. That was a little disconcerting, but with the defroster on high, I had a little clear space on the window to see clearly through, and since we didn't get much faster than 5-10 MPH, we continued on.

After about an hour we reached the casino, where the Tesoro gas station was, and filled the gas tank. After also acquiring large cups of hot chocolate and fixing the wiper blade, we headed back out for the ten mile drive to camp.

It took us another hour to get there. But we made it, and drove down to the Oglala Kitchen to see if we could find anyone I knew. Finding no one, the three of us decided to head to the front lines and see what, if anything, was happening.

After hiking up to the guard shack at the entrance, we asked one of the security guys if the action at the bridge was still happening.

"No." He said. "Ended about a half hour ago."

That seemed about right. Ended just before we arrived. It wasn't the first time on this adventure that I felt like I had missed something. Wouldn't be the last!

We decided that since we were there, we may as well see if there was anything we could do to help. So we headed down to the Veterans tent to check in, and walked in on a legal meeting already in progress. They were talking about what to do if you were arrested, who to call, what your options would be. That sort of thing. We listened patiently and filled out forms so the could know our preferences if we were arrested, and pretty soon were guided to the veteran medic tent.

When we walked in, they were in as much disarray as Cannon Ball and Ft. Yates had been. We dropped our gear and helped move stuff around, and load stuff from outside to inside. We heard that some GP tents were being set up down by the woods near the horse track, and that the mission for the afternoon/evening was to find people who had been sleeping in their vehicles and get them to the warmer, safer GP tents. One family that was near the medic tent was moving out of a camping tent and were getting ready to move into one of the warmer GP tents that were going up all around.

Made of a rubberized fabric, GP tents, or General Purpose tents, are about fifteen feet wide and thirty feet long, and are able to accommodate a wood burning stove or some other form of heat. They are much warmer than a little nylon tent.

Well, this guy had a bunch of gear to move across the river to the Rosebud camp, so I offered my vehicle to drive his stuff over. The trouble with this was that I had parked down by the Oglala Kitchen, clear across camp. So I bundled up and headed out to get the car.

Evening was starting to set in, and the blizzard was swirling all around. I wondered if we should just plan on staying the night. Grab some blankets and find a corner of one of the warm tents. As I walked across the camp, I stopped at a few cars that had people in them and talked to them about their sleeping arrangements. I directed a few to the GP tents, and kept walking.

By the time I got to my car and drove back to the medic tent, it was pretty much completely dark. I went in to find the guy I was helping move, only to be told that he and his family would be staying in the medic tent that night. That was good news. It would have been a bear to get him moved and settled in.

Now the three of us had to decide what our plans would be for the night. It was only six or seven o'clock. So we weighed the options carefully and decided that if we stayed, we'd need to tap into the camp resources for bedding and food and heat and sleeping space. But if we headed back, we could take it slow and still more than likely get back to the AJAMC where most of our gear was.

It would have been a good story to say that we had roughed it out in the blizzard at the camp, but it didn't seem like the best option when others there needed sleeping space as well. So we headed back into the snow to make our way to the AJAMC. Again, with the understanding that if conditions got worse, we'd go back to camp and settle in.

The 25 mile trip back was nearly uneventful. As uneventful as blizzard driving can be anyway. At some points I had to roll the window down to watch for the yellow center line through the patchy ice and blowing snow to assure we were still on the road. A few times we just stopped completely as the wind whipped the snow into complete whiteout conditions. And near the end of the two and a half hour drive, we passed a car that seemed stuck in the middle of the road. The driver of that car decided that my car was better equipped to lead in these conditions. (He was driving a little Honda Accord) and so we became a small caravan all the way back to Ft. Yates. But we went slow and we made it just fine.

Upon arriving back at the AJAMC, we found even more people had moved in, and everyone was settling in pretty well. There were a couple of young vets that had moved their gear next to the medic area, because they were there to be medics as well. The female of the two ripped into us when we came in for not taking her with us. After all, she hadn't been to the camp at ALL yet, and they were just wasting her skills by having her sit here with all of us medics. After all, she was a LPN, and "no offense, but you are just medics."

These were all things she actually said to us. She didn't understand why accommodations hadn't been made to get her to the camp, because she had travelled a long way, and deserved to see the camp and put her skills to work there, because she probably knew more than the stupid medics that had been there the whole time anyway.

Seriously... she was a charmer.

I offered to take her up to the camp the next day, but she would have none of that. If the roads were passable, they were just going home. She was angry that I had driven in the blizzard, not because it was dangerous, but because if I had made the trip, then she could have gone as well in their car if someone had told them about it in the first place.

Eventually I just had to walk away. I'm pretty sure she suffers from PTSD, and positive that it is untreated, since she spent a lot of that evening talking to another vet about how she blew off her VA appointments because she was smarter than all of the VA doctors.

On the plus side, most of the other vets that were there were cheerful and having a fun adventure. Even when word came down that we would probably be snowed in the next day and not going anywhere until the evening, most people just smiled and nodded. After all, most of the time spent in the military is "hurry up and wait", and we were all in the same boat, so most people decided to just make the best of it.

One group of vets decided that we really needed a chain of command, so they put themselves in charge. That was fine by most of us, because we had spent the day with people that HAD to be busy. Organizing, sweeping, cleaning, more organizing. More power to them. So we had a guy named Ari as our CO, a guy named Clark as the Sgt. Major, various HQ admin people, and then we had Margaret as our Chief Medical Officer.

Margaret... where to begin with Margaret.

She called a meeting for all of the medical people to gather and get organized. Introducing herself only as a "Type A" personality, she put me in charge of making a list of names and ratings so we could better know who all of the medics were and what we were capable of.

While I was getting names, she seemed to be very concerned with who could do ALS and who could do BLS (Advanced vs. Basic Lifesaving Skills) She assured us that if we needed any "big" drugs more than aspirin of Band-Aids, that she had connections and could get us whatever we needed. The generally confused consensus around the room was that we probably wouldn't need to do anything to dramatic by way of lifesaving, and all of us had BLS, so it wouldn't be a big deal.

But she went on to tell us that the IHS (Indian Health Services) Hospital that was only a few blocks away wouldn't take non-natives unless it was life threatening(!) and that we were ALL ON OUR OWN HERE WITH NO BACKUP!!! We tried to assure her that we could handle non-life-threatening stuff here and if there was something dire, we could take it to the hospital. Still, she was adamant that we all be aware that she had connections to medical drug suppliers and that we be ready for the worst... zombie apocalypse maybe?

She wanted to set up a special medical area (which, as you may recall, we had already done in the gym), and wanted a private room for the more severe cases, and wanted to consolidate all of the medical gear in one place under her control so she knew who had what, and so on and so on.

I didn't really pay much attention. I had had a pretty long day, and was pretty tired by this point. If she wanted to be Lord High Poobah, that was fine by me. So long as she stayed out of the way and let us do what we needed to do. I really just wanted to go to bed and sleep. She had us go around the room and say our name and our rating, and when it was done, Tammy asked her what her qualifications were.

She snapped at Tammy that she had lost over 300 friends on 9/11 and she had more training in biological warfare and survival scenarios like this and other things than probably anyone in the room, and kinda went into scary lecture mode for a bit, so I tuned her out again while she ranted about how qualified she was to lead us.

When I tuned back in, she was saying that calling all of us 'Medics' just wasn't right, since some of us had lapsed certifications, and some didn't, some were basics and some were paramedics, some were combat and some were not, and some were RN's and LPN's. So she was trying to come up with a system to have the general population call us by our skill set or something and trying to find a way to label ourselves so that people would know who to seek for specific kinds of medical problems.

This was the straw that broke my back.

I told her that she was making things WAAAAY harder than they needed to be. We already had a medic area, and anyone needing a medic would probably only care that we answered to 'Medic' or 'Doc' or 'Anybody got a Tylenol'. We were only going to be here for a day or two, and we really shouldn't be making things more complicated and confusing than we need to.

Yes, I used my perturbed voice, and I probably shouldn't have. But JEEZ... I wanted to sleep! So I kinda shut things down and said that we'd all be called 'medics', and that the medic area in the gym was staying put. There was more discussion about making more serious cases a 'level 2' and bringing them to the private room for higher care, but by that point I was done listening.

The meeting ended and I headed back out to my cot, where another list found me. It was started so Margaret could get a list of all the medics and their ratings.

What happened to the one I gave her? That question was only met with shrugs.

But, I basked in the glow of laughter and camaraderie in the gym, and that soon had my spirits up again. It had been a long and busy day, and I wasn't really sure what to make of all of the developments. We had all showed up essentially to be a show of force. We had planned on being there for a week, but now after less than 48 hours we were being told to go home. Except now we were told not to go because of the blizzard.

We were a mix of people that had originally landed in Eagle Butte, Cannon Ball, Camp or the casino, and different groups had all sorts of different swag. Just like on deployments, lots of people seemed to find souvenirs.

The Eagle Butte group had been through a ceremony with the Cherokee, had been given "war paint" on their cheeks and made "warriors", and had been given four color wristbands.

The Casino group had t-shirts that someone had been selling.

We Cannon Ballers... well...we had each other! That was the best thing to come of the past couple days. The friendships that were forming.

There were some other little stress filled moments that night between some people. But for the most part, we all settled in and prepared for whatever Tuesday would hold for us.

More Later