Writing Contest Winner – Spring 2017

‘Dancing with Dragons’ by Kevin Raymond

The police barricade was up the road several hundred yards. Between them and us was a no-man’s land. The water protectors were bunched up, afraid and uncertain. The threat of being shot was real, as the police had clearly stated that any breach would be met with such a response.

This was my moment. The natives had taken enough losses. They had already sacrificed everything, many times over. Someone else needed to risk that bullet. My lost Irish ancestry could be proud of me. Whatever harm my lineage had done to Native America in our escape from the hells of Europe could be undone today. I just had to be the first to make that trek.

I stepped up to the leadership, gave a fine salute, and said in my best Irish accent, “Lieutenant Governor Cannon Fodder reporting for duty! Sirs.” The native chiefs knew not what to make of me, unsure if I was some clown or a prince of light. I stood there with my didgeridoo and my foot long golden dragon perched on top. “Standard Bearer to Her Royal Majesty’s Dragoneers, 37th reserve division of the Queendom of Cascadia. What seems to be the problem?”

Being there in my outfit that had come to me from across the globe, bundled up to handle the North Dakota cold, I did appear to be wearing some sort of cosmic warrior uniform. Those at the front of our group had all taken notice, what with the golden dragon and my Irish accent. I was obviously insane, but in a hopeful kind of way.

Without any more ado, I lifted my didgeridoo and gave a sounding drone that carried far across the grassy swales. The police line visually reacted with much shifting and pointing. Somehow I had known when I brought my didg that it was the thing that would have me shot. From a few hundred yards away it could definitely be perceived as a bazooka, and golden dragons were probably illegal in North Dakota. I was walking into a shooting gallery and I made for a fine target.

On that first step I felt the weight of the world. My second step was easier. By my third step I was in another universe. It was just me and Goddess and my golden dragon now. I could feel every breath of wind across my few patches of exposed skin. I could see the faces of those officers aiming their sniper rifles at me. Tears of joy and sadness ran down my cheeks until they froze. The bittersweet taste of freedom washed through my body. I had been searching for this freedom my whole life, and now I finally had it, facing death on this lonely windswept road, a hailstorm of bullets sure to arrive momentarily. My march became a slow dance interspersed with blasts on the didgeridoo. I was a hero of the universe in that moment. Every step was a step for all of humanity. My ancestors were proud. It was a good day to die.

I don’t know how that story ends. Maybe I was shot. Maybe the cops realized they didn’t want to shoot someone dancing toward them with a stuffed golden dragon on the end of a hollow piece of wood. That story played out only in my mind, day after day on my front porch. It was September and I was enjoying the last days of summer in my little Cascadian mountain village far from any violations of peace.

The video feeds coming out of Standing Rock were moving me on the daily. The Native American voice was rising, their actions so just, I cried; their stand blowing up the sweet lies we Americans love to tell ourselves so we can hold on to some vestige of the mirage of a great America, so that we don’t have to see that we are stripping the fat from this land of natural wealth, and that we have forced its original occupants to live in prison camps called ‘reservations’ in America’s most desolate and harsh regions.

I didn’t know how, but I knew I had to go. I was broke, barely keeping a roof over my head, and making just enough to pay the major bills. I still had a long way to go on my winter firewood supply and my family had a garden going – an Oregon garden. October is the worst time to leave an Oregon garden. Mildew can ruin whole crops of medicinal flowers. But everyday I woke up and had my morning smoke, and in the smoke came my tears and visions. I prayed. I talked with a few people. They thought I was totally unrealistic. I prayed more. I cried more. And after several weeks of this, the door opened right up. Everything fell together just enough that I could have the faith to head to Standing Rock, my woman and daughter enthusiastically on board. It was truly amazing. We had a 36-hour window to get situated, but even on such short notice my village was at our house with warm clothes, camping equipment, donations, and even a few much-needed greenbacks.

The morning we got to Standing Rock, it looked like a war zone – a war with the wind. And the people were losing badly. We had pulled in just before sunrise, which was also windrise, and I set up our camp as our daughter jumped in on the departing convoy of water protectors. I rigged the tents with lots of extra support ropes. And then, being unable to sleep, I sat in the van and watched the wind destroy pretty much every tent in Oceti Sakowin. Then I saw even a few tipis starting to lose ground.

The wind never stopped. All day it blew like that. The small hole in our tent steadily grew larger and larger over those next few hours. I felt helpless. Our gear was no match for these conditions, and our tents were only standing because I had rigged them to the van. I knew it wasn’t a long-term solution. I watched as people packed up and left, some abandoning whole camps. Oceti Sakowin seemed empty. Garbage and debris blew hither and thither. A tent had actually blown into the Cannonball River. Still unable to sleep, I bundled up and put my Rainbow skills to action. I started picking up garbage and staking down loose tents and tarps. The few people I saw were also busy trying to save camp from being destroyed.

In my ego mind I had come to stand up to injustice. I had come to stand with the protectors in the face of tyranny. But the wind was here showing me who truly demanded my respect and attention: the weather, the environment, the true test of Standing Rock. The police are an annoyance compared to the harsh conditions. It dawned on me that sending a tribe here was a death sentence. How many thousands of Lakota perished in those first few winters?

The original vision that pulled me to Standing Rock did find some fulfillment. It was one of my last days; our two-week window was nearly up. And here I was with a group of water protectors standing on some lonely Morton County Road, a police blockade a few hundred yards off. The ground between us was empty and uncontested. It was just the blockade and us. The only witnesses were the live stream viewers, and that was if our cells weren’t being jammed.

The moment for Lieutenant Cannon Fodder to be the hero never did come. I had left the didg at camp, knowing that if I brought it out on action it could easily get me shot or be used to confuse the public, with blurry pictures of me holding what might have looked like a ballistic device. Not only was Cannon Fodder not needed, it was I who needed the strength of this group to take those steps. And step we did. When the youth council asked us if we wanted to return to our cars or march toward that blockade, the overwhelming response was, “March!” My voice was not among them. I could have never done it alone. My best in that moment was to simply stand with the group in solidarity. I had my own grave doubts about marching toward the blockade. I looked around, surrounded mostly by younger native women. These women were the bulk of our bravery.

The words were spoken clearly: “Pray!” And with that, a cheer went up and we started shuffling steadily toward the blockade. The front lines raised up the banner. From then on I was walking blind toward a group of well-armed men in a strategic position. A group near the front was drumming hard. It strengthened me greatly. It was pure prayer. It was beautiful. Tears ran down my face. I was not alone. We were all Cannon Fodder together.

Any moment now the tear gas canisters would arrive, and then billy clubs. I looked around for other men, hoping we could band together in the event of an attack. Maybe we could be a protective wall around the women, children, and elderly. I wanted to run, but my ancestors were with me. I knew I could stand there if need be, if nothing else, because the Irish have the fortune of being stubborn with a sort of genetic resistance to totalitarianism. After many steps, a cry went up. A cheer, in fact. The banner was lowered to the scene of police jumping in their SUV’s and beating a quick retreat. They abandoned the road to us! It was mind blowing. And it was the power of prayer and the beautiful innocence of childlike righteousness that drove the officers out of our path.

I still think back to that day and cry. What I saw was so beautiful and terrible. The whole of Standing Rock impressed me in ways that will take years to unravel. The Natives impressed me with their stout hearts and determined spirits. I was proud to be there. I was proud of my family for finding a niche in Rosebud Camp and serving with the medics. I was also proud of America, seeing her for the very first time – not the commercial monster of the United States, but the true revolutionary spirit of America. The same spirit that carried those colonists through Valley Forge was embodied in this conglomeration of Native Americans, peace activists, spiritual sojourners, military veterans, awakened youth, and all manner of human beings from all over the world. (Even a beautiful native Irish woman who told me fey tales of my distant homeland.)

Regardless of the outcome, I know in my heart that I saw one of the proudest moments in all of human history: simple red-blooded humans standing up to the ugly monster of corporate police and their “non-lethal” weaponry. I saw America. She was standing naked and vulnerable, surrounded by her children, and she was defiant as ever.

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