The man who was talking told us we needed to go as quickly as possible, so I got into my cold weather gear, grabbed my medic kit, and headed out to warm up the car. Then I waited.
Then I waited some more.
Then I waited some more.
Then I went and talked to the guy who had awakened us, because I saw him standing at the door.
"Didn't you say this was urgent?" I asked.
"It is." He said. "We're just waiting on the other vets to get dressed"
Apparently my old medic days of being ready to go at a moments notice were still sharp, because it took us nearly a half hour to get everyone dressed, loaded and rolling.
We rolled in a big convoy up into the camp. It was very dark, save for the big floodlights the DAPL people had set up to shine down on conflict areas. The camp had grown even more since the last time I had been there, and with the addition of the snow covering, I quickly lost my bearings as I followed the convoy in.
We parked and mustered out in a small, snow covered field and listened as the Native CO and Sgt. Major told us what was up.
Apparently, there was a group of 60 or so natives that were labeled as agitators. This group had been responsible for starting conflicts with the police, and going against what the Elders wanted, which was peace and prayer. So, now that the veteran had arrived, the Elders wanted us to go search the agitators tents for weapons, as they had been rumored to have firearms amongst them. As one of four medics, I was held back from the strike force, which was fine by me for a couple of reasons.
First, I have zero desire to go rushing off, looking for people with guns to tell them I have to take their guns away.
Second, it seemed strange to me that a bunch of white, military vets were being used to go through a native camp looking for guns. Seemed a little too 'Wounded Knee'-ish, to me.
Fortunately, as things were developing, the Elders decided to handle it in the old way and took a pipe to meet with the leader of the agitator faction. From what I heard, they smoked the pipe together and talked about the issues currently taking place. The leader of the agitators gave permission for their tents to be searched for weapons, and agreed to stand down from aggressive actions at the bridge and Turtle Island.
So, after standing around in the snow and cold for a few hours, we headed back to Ft. Yates to try and get a little sleep.
When we got back, there were some people packing up to go to a local gym, some that wanted to head for camp, and some, like the four of us medics, that just wanted to sleep for awhile.
That first medic team was comprised of Laura, Tammy, Terry and myself. We decided to stay together in case anyone needed to find us. That way we could do things as a group instead of being lone medics wandering around. So we tucked back into our sleeping gear...
for about twenty minutes.
Then word came down that the building that we were in was going to be used for something else, and we'd have to head out. We had our choice of a gym across the street or a community center up in Cannon Ball. We decided to head up to Cannon Ball, since that was only a couple miles from the camp, and Ft. Yates was a good twenty to thirty minute drive. Besides, maybe at Cannon Ball we could figure out what was going on a little better.
So, we packed up all of our gear, and Laura, Terry and I headed North to Cannon Ball. Tammy went to scout out the gym, but would later join us at the Cannon Ball location.
Upon arrival at the Cannon Ball Community Center (CBCC), we walked in to organized chaos. Nobody there had heard anything from higher leadership, so - being military type folks - decided to just start getting stuff organized and moving forward. They had formed their own detachment, but had no medical people, so we decided to set up a medical area, and start locating any and all medics we could find to start a medic platoon.
Pretty soon we had gathered about a dozen medics, all of various skill levels, and were gathering medical supplies in a central area.
I really liked the folks that had stepped up to lead us. Chris, an older guy who seemed to know what he was doing, and a Marine JAG named Mel, who relayed information as she got it, which wasn't often.
Having just a couple hours of sleep, I had stretched out all my sleeping gear and was trying to find a good time for a nap. People kept arriving, and the mood seemed pretty jovial as we settled in.
Then the New Yorkers got fussy.
They had come as a group, most of them - like the rest of us - expecting the mission to be standing between water protectors and "authorities" on the front lines. One guy was telling anyone that would listen how he figured it was better if he took the bullets than a water protector, and I just wanted to say "Dude... you're preaching to the choir here. Relax. Get some chow. Get some sleep. try to be flexible."
Unfortunately, the New York brigade had not heard the elders in the meeting of the night before say that our mission had changed. So when they found out about that, they were pretty pissy.
Medic Laura stepped up and tried to talk to them about what we had heard. A couple of native elders also spoke to the group to try and calm them down. But they didn't seem to want to hear that we were there to pray.
Pretty soon, they had loaded up in a U-Haul with the back open and a couple of pickups to "head for the front lines!" I called them the Rambo Brigade. Damn the orders! Full speed ahead!
Now, to be fair, I was VERY tired. I am also aware that my limited exposure to Lakota culture and teachings is more than likely WAY more than any of them had, so my distaste at them going against the elders just didn't resonate with any of them. They were there to get in the fight, and they wanted to show they hadn't come all this way for nothing.
So I held my words and let them go. I figured that they'd be corrected when they got to the camp.
We continued to try and contact anyone higher up the chain of command and find out what we were supposed to be doing, but communication was terrible. Information that came down was sketchy and often conflicted with things we had heard moments earlier. Throughout the day we had orders to:
1. Meet at Cannon Ball field for formation and practice. (though we didn't know what we were practicing for or where Cannon Ball Field was.)
2. Meet at the casino for a briefing at 1800.
3. Meet at the casino for a briefing at 0800 the next day.
4. Meet at Ft. Yates for a briefing at 1800.
4. Meet at Ft. Yates for a briefing at 1800.
5. Meet at the first building we met at in Ft. Yates to form into platoons and such.
6. Meet at the camp asap to form into platoons and such.
7. Stand by to receive 200 busloads of veterans at our location, then at camp, then at the casino, then with us again, then at Ft. Yates.
8. Stay where we were to form into platoons and such.
9. Head to camp for a ceremony at 1300...or 1500...or 1600...or 1800... or maybe for dinner.
Mel handed down the most reliable information, so I gravitated towards just listening to her.
I had moved my vehicle away from a fire hydrant so a camp water truck could resupply when I got the initial news that DAPL had been denied the permit to drill under the river.
I checked Facebook, as I had spotty connection with that, but saw nothing about it yet. So I prayed that it was one of those actually TRUE rumors and got back to work. Within an hour it had been confirmed.
I can't tell you the relief that washed over me at that moment. Followed shortly by dread.
I heard a lot of people saying "We've won! It's all over!", and for a little bit, I indulged in that celebration as well. But it occurred to me that perhaps this was just another stall tactic. Obviously the arrival of 4000 vets had scared the "authorities" a bit. As it was, it was shaping up to be a PR nightmare. Cops firing on Veterans? That would have been horrific. Now rumors were swirling that the police were going to back away from the bridge. Some talk floated around of swarming the bridge. Most of us who had stayed behind when the Rambo Brigade left were going to honor what the Elders had asked us to do and just sit tight and pray.
Part of me wanted to celebrate. But the other part of me, the part that has read the history books, was uneasy. How many times in the past had the army, or police, or some other force told the Indians that they were going to back off. That if the Indians just calmed down and stepped back, they'd be just fine. Sand Creek. Wounded Knee. The entire ploy of giving tribes until Jan 1st in the late 1800's to go to a reservation or be considered 'hostile'. It has all played out again like that in todays North Dakota.
"Go back across the Cannon Ball river, or you'll be considered hostile."
"Since you called us bad names, we were totally justified in using fire hoses on you in freezing weather."
This just felt wrong. It felt like a ploy to get veterans to leave. To leave the water protectors vulnerable again.
But, I assured myself that surely the elders and leaders of this movement will see through the ploy. We veterans weren't going to go anywhere! Some of us would be there for a week, then others would come in, and so on and so on, because that's what the plan had been. To put boots on the ground to stop the violation of human rights. When I went back into the CBCC, we were being notified that we'd all have to move to the gym in Ft. Yates because the Navajo code talkers and water protectors were arriving and would be using this space.
See? Lots more vets coming in! We could keep the pressure on and make sure this thing got shut down! My spirits were lifted, and I didn't mind packing up and moving if it was for the Navajo.
So, without getting any sleep yet, we once again packed our gear and prepared to move. We had accumulated a LOT of extra medical supplies, and Laura, who became the person we followed, made the suggestion that we keep our jump kits and some small supplies, but take all the extra stuff up to camp, since it was a couple miles away, and would be where it was most needed in the coming days. We agreed that that was a good plan, and she and Terry loaded that stuff up for delivery while I went down to find the gym in Ft. Yates and secure us a medical area. Before I left, I was introduced to Frances, a Coeur d'Alene elder who loaned her van to her nephews and didn't have a ride down to Ft. Yates. I happily loaded her gear into my vehicle and had a delightful talk with her on the trip down.
Arriving at the AJ Agard Multipurpose Center (AJAMC), I was greeted by a little more organization. Just barely.
They had been telling people to head up to CBCC for billeting, but had just received word to start taking people in there. Apparently with the school week starting the next day, we'd all need to leave overnight or in the morning, so I left most of my gear packed up. I signed in and was directed to the gym to wait for further instructions.
When I walked in to the gym, I was one of two people in there. Figuring that it couldn't hurt to be a little proactive, I secured a couple of folding chairs next to an electricity outlet on the wall between the two bathrooms.
Word came down that someone had brought a couple dozen donated cots that needed to be unloaded, so I went to help unload and acquired cots for Laura, Terry, a guy named Kiyoshi and Tammy, as well as for Frances and myself. I hadn't heard much from the other medics I had gathered information on in Cannon Ball, but figured if they were here, they'd find cots too.
Shortly, the gym began to fill. I sectioned off an area for medical after obtaining permission from the folks out front, and set up all of the medic cots that I had grabbed to save our space. It worked out pretty well, as Terry and Laura arrived not long after Tammy and Kiyoshi. So our group would at least be together.
Thankfully, oh so thankfully, the gal doing the registering came in to tell us that VSSR had secured this space for the next eight days to be used as a barracks for veterans. It was then that we REALLY settled in! Sleeping bags unrolled, gear brought in from vehicles. This was to be our staging area. I actually got to take a shower, which was good, because I was starting to smell rather goatish.
And so it continued. People trickled in by the ones and twos and dozens, the gym started filling with cots and mats and such. Rumors kept flying around. They were sending us home. They were sending us to the front. There was a blizzard coming. There was nothing but sunshine and warm weather ahead. The leaders would be here to talk to us soon. There was a meeting every hour somewhere in the building that kept getting pushed back or cancelled.
Through it all, a few rumors persisted. There was going to be a ceremony at 0800 Monday morning at the Casino Pavilion. That one turned out to get confirmed. Others that got confirmed... There was a blizzard on the way. We were not going to confront the police. We were there to stand in peace and prayer.
For the most part, I think people were happy that the permit had been denied. I think that night we were all looking forward to standing down, getting some rest, being part of a ceremony in the morning and going from there. I set an alarm for 7am, figuring I'd get up, get dressed, and head for the casino. Honestly, I don't remember much of anything else that night, because I was beyond tired, in a safe space, warm, fed and in bed. All of my new friends seemed to be settled in, and I happily fell asleep to try and recover a bit for the festivities coming the next day.
People trickled in all through the night, so I awoke probably a dozen times. Was awakened once for someone wanting some Tylenol. But all told, slept better than I had the night before!
This was the calmest day I had, and the night where I got the most sleep.