Friday, September 9, 2016

Via Walter Kirn / FB: The story from Standing Rock


Walter Kirn

Listen. This is important. It will affect you, though you may not know it yet. Tonight on North Dakota's Cannon Ball River, near its convergence with the Missouri, on a wide, grassy meadow ringed by sloping hills and lit by scores of smoky orange campfires, hundreds or maybe thousands of Native people who have not come together in this way for well over a century have gathered, along with supporters from many backgrounds, to sing and drum and pray for the protection of the earth and water. It is not a romantic or fanciful event but an earnest and passionate spiritual intervention by people for whom spirit and matter are not separate categories at all but a living, interpenetrating unity. 

Their immediate concern is with a pipeline capable of fouling the local waters with toxic oil from the nearby fracking fields. Their larger concern is with a mad philosophy that pits human beings against their natural home for vain and temporary benefits. Against this pipeline and this philosophy they have arrayed the powers of tradition, family, community, magic, music, prophecy, and simple human courage. 

Will they prevail? They will, they must, and they are certain of it, though in what fashion or on what schedule they don't yet fully know. You are with them even if you don't think so because they are battling for life itself.

Does that sound lofty? Let me bring it down some. The camp is electric tonight. A stream of vehicles with yellow headlights clogs the entry road. Smoke is everywhere, creating a spectral geometry of softened angles and misty silhouettes. Down the hill from me, half a mile to my right, an amplified rapper is exhorting a crowd to stand strong in its convictions. In front of me, at the same distance, a drummer is beating a steady, insistent rhythm accompanied by a rising and falling chant. The stars are crackling in the cold black sky. I have been many places as a reporter, to great political conventions, important congresses of leaders, championship sports events, and somber public memorials, but never have I felt such power, such energy. I am not even sure what year it is right now. 

Tomorrow a judge will rule in the pipeline matter, giving the people massed around these fires a victory or a defeat or some muddy combination of the two. Their leaders have urged them in the sternest tones not to be enraged if disappointed. Violence will not be tolerated. And despair will not be tolerated. That is because however the ruling goes, something abiding has been accomplished here: The unification of a hundred nations in a refreshed sense of relevance and purpose. They were divided, these people, and then conquered. Sickness and hunger and material poverty were some of the results. They might never have recovered, never have regained their footing, never have reasserted their common vitality. But they did, they prevailed. Their family is intact. 

Spirituality. In the culture I'm from it's something you slot in to a busy, hectic, willful life. You go to church. You take a yoga class. You climb into bed with an inspiring book. These people approach the spirit differently. They live inside it all day long, and then in their dreams, and then when they wake up. It is how they say hello and how they eat and how they walk across a road. There is nothing else but spirit for them. It has made them more than a little out of step with us. It hasn't added to their bank accounts. It wasn't a route to success as we define it. It didn't make them famous on TV.
It has only made them indomitable, I've noticed.

And that is the news. The story from Standing Rock.