Jul 4, 2017 - Reflections from Camp pt 2 by Curtis Ray Yaz
Standing Rock has become a place inside of me that I’m afraid to enter, like the box of movie ticket memories and photos of “the good ol’ days” with loved ones that have moved on from this life. The one that’s in the darkest part of your closet buried with the rest of the boxes full of things you don’t need but won’t allow yourself to get rid of.
All I’ve seen in life is how to get rid of people and things of the past. I’ve typed in and searched thoroughly through my spiritual database for blueprints on “how to rebuild yourself,” with no results. When mom would frantically break up with a man, I would see her exes’ Polaroid’s shredded into unrecognizable bits of photo matter thrown into the garbage. Whenever uncles would get drunk, it would look like every guzzle was being taken in like a magical elixir doing away with things past. Erasing their memories and taking it all away from them, at least for that moment. As far as I could tell we don’t mourn, we self-destruct. Replacing everything we break along the way with temporary quick fixes that only add to the emptiness rather than fill it, even if we will never admit it. As far as I can tell no one really matters to each other, everything and everyone is disposable, we don’t really resolve anything, we just replace.
At times, I wish it were that easy, but I’ve done all of this already, I’ve drank and despite popular indigenous opinion I found myself in an empty bottle of whiskey because at the bottom of it, I found who it is that I’m not. I’ve replaced everything in my life time and time over. I’ve seen what this world has to offer, schmoozed with the best of them knowing I could easily out do them if I wanted. I’ve looked into the eyes of the most beautiful women on the planet and known they wanted me to want them back. I’ve wined and dined in the halls of the conquerors. As far as I can tell, everything that I’m supposed to want and have on societies standards are just a simple decision away. So, here I sit with every option laying before me, like Aladdin with the lamp in hand. With the choice to replace everything in my life with something supposedly better.
But eventually you reach a point where you start to wonder if anything in this life is worth having forever and the saddest part about it is, these are the things I found at Standing Rock. I found purpose, I found what it was like to be in a place where every decision I made affected and impacted the world in a real way. I found people who would follow me into the depths of Mordor. The kind of people you only hear about in fairy tales. I found love, the kind of love that would make a Shakespeare novel sound like a teen romance drama starring Shailene Woodley. I found who we were meant to be. Some days it even felt like we were bringing meaning to everything we have lost, like it wasn’t all in vein. We may have been surrounded by invisible walls, guns and armored vehicles and the same confines of imperial laws that our ancestors banged their heads against with no avail. But I found what it was like to truly be free as I acted out of love in defiance to it all.
When you walk out into the middle of a winter’s night towards enemy lines knowing you could die, surely knowing that they want to kill you, you find out what you’re really made of. You’ll never know until you reach this point where you have no choice but to follow your heart instead of following your fears. One night as I walked alone, cold and tired towards the front-lines, I had a brief moment of clarity where I found happiness and fulfillment as I realized what Henley meant when he said,
“Out of the night which covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
We may be trodden and run down over and over, they may take it all again and again, but they can’t take away how you react to it, and what you’re going to do about it. This is what holocaust victims called “the last freedom.” The freedom to choose how something is going to affect you. This is freedom through chaos but you’ll only find this kind of freedom if you have love. Ego won’t take you to this place, neither will how popular you are. All of those things will fade by the time you reach this place where you have to stand on your own two and make the choice to act out of principle, rather than impulse. Everything inside of your mind will say leave, give up, and unless the love for greater things is present, you will. You will be corrupted and be subject to the whims and conditions of the outside world. This is how we lost, this is how we lose.
This is how we will continuously lose until we look in the mirror. I know we want a glorified version of our failures as we replace the pain of how we feel about losing again, with images of beautiful banners, beautiful people and beautiful “leaders.” But this will only last for so long, after the hype fades and the Facebook Likes move on to the next trending world issue, at the end of the day we will still be left with the same malcontent we have always felt as indigenous people. Quick fixes and temporary remedies aren’t going to do away with the root causes. Yes, we are beautiful, yes, we have power, but we have also become ugly. And no matter how many banners, benefits, and rallies we throw they aren’t going to heal what’s at the core of this indigenous movement; which is indigenous hearts and indigenous minds.
You don’t go through everything we have gone through without learning a thing or two on how to fuck each other up. Some may even say we are better at oppressing ourselves then our actual oppressors, now that we’ve learned how to. Either way we like to talk about how we are in the seventh generation so “it’s all good now.” I don’t buy it. In the end, I seen what Standing Rock did to people. I seen it in their eyes, it killed their spirit. People started to feel powerless and in movements this is when people start to fight the ones they were supposed to be fighting for. Even though it’s so hard for people to believe and understand how, when the Standing Rock movement was all “rainbows, unicorns, prayer and unity.” It really wasn’t. It was clear from the beginning when the people with the most self-confidence and self-empowerment started to unify. And this is what people don’t want to talk about.
Red Warrior was the thorn in the sides of those who truly didn’t want change or truthfully unify with others. Standing Rock became the “Land of Opportunity” for those looking to make a name for themselves and their organizations. And they did, Standing Rock became a pool of money because wholehearted individuals gave to the camps simply because they cared and it was the right thing to do, for humanity and the planet. Like crabs in a bucket it became a battle ground for resources, attention and reputation. This was every Indians chance to become, “THE INDIAN.” Unfortunately, this ego infested camp started to neglect the children, the youth and the purpose it had formed. With no real single identifiable cause for things not working out how it was supposed to for them, Red Warrior became the scapegoat, an identifiable target. Red warrior took the heat from the tribe, the “elders,” the headsmen, the horn, the media, or whatever “governing” body that decided that they were the head honcho’s for the week. Oddly enough every tribally appointed group and individual had the agenda to make Red Warrior out to be the problem.
I think it’s peculiar that a camp formed in the name of stopping a pipeline decided to turn on the only group of people that actually kept stopping construction. But all in all, this dynamic of natives pitting themselves against those who decided to follow their hearts rather then the fears of others, killed the spirit of camp. These opportunists, leaders and “elders” kept taking and taking from this spirit without giving back to it until all that was left was empty eyes and tired bodies. This is why we lost, this is why we lose. The leaders we always thought would be there, never showed up. So, after all the pirates took what they wanted, a few rag tag affinity groups had to become the glue that held the ship together keeping the actual on the ground #NODAPL movement afloat.
And so, here I am sitting at the door step of the room in my mind that has the power to break me, the place where I keep all the things that I’ve loved and lost. With the choice to fall back into old patterns and learned behaviors. As well as the decision to leave it all behind, replacing it all with things that are new. But instead I continue to sit at this doorway, hurting and afraid. Unable to turn away from the things that I found in Standing Rock that are worth fighting for and keeping forever. At times crumbling from the inside out. But I stay here sitting and waiting to go in. Because the answers I need to undo my ugliness, the ugliness that we have all become, are in there. Among the heartache brought onto us through our own flaws and how we have failed each other. This place has the answers I need to move on. This place holds the blueprints for “How to rebuild ourselves.” So, I sit here weighed down by every beautiful moment that now serves as a reminder of what could’ve been. Twirling my options at my fingertips like Harvey Dent also known as Two Face and his scarred silver dollar coin. Sitting, waiting, wondering how much of this I can really endure.
Ever reminding myself that, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.
by Curtis Ray Yaz
Curtis Ray Yaz (Yupik, Diné and Blackfeet amskapiipikuni) is a community organizer and a hip hop artist. Check out Curtis aka YAZ Like JAWS at https://soundcloud.com/yazlikejaws/tracks