An Open Letter from Linda Black Elk to Visiting Medic+Healer Volunteers:
In my conversations over the years with Native peoples who were forced into boarding schools as children, one of their greatest laments stems from the theft of languages and knowledge of the land through genocidal practices of the U.S. government. Specifically, many of these “younger elders” still mourn the theft and suppression of knowledge about plants and their uses. I have always felt that it was my job, as someone who was lucky enough to learn about plants from my Catawba grandmother and other women, to pass plant knowledge forward to the younger generations, but also to pass this knowledge backwards to those who were victims of boarding schools.
Here on Standing Rock, where I have lived most of my life, where my children are enrolled, and where I have taught ethnobotany for 16 years, we are so fortunate to have a strong, vibrant connection to plants. There are a number of young people who consider themselves budding ethnobotanists with a strong knowledge base in traditional medicine of the Lakota people. There are also a significant number of elders who retain this knowledge, many of them who were never traumatized by boarding school. Standing Rock leads Indian Country in protecting plant foods and medicines, in restoring them back to areas from which they have been decimated, and in holding reservation-wide workshops to teach all generations the techniques and protocols for identifying, harvesting, storing, preparing and using plants.
I bring all of this up to make a point: we do not need you to save us. We love and appreciate you. We want you here. We can use your help in so many different ways. But we are working every day to hold on, to renew, to revitalize, and to walk in beauty and prayer. We invite you to work with us, to learn from us, and to teach us.
Please come with respect and open hearts, and you will be welcomed with the same.
We realize that many of you, too, are descended from the tribal peoples of what is now the European continent. We respect those ways of knowing and your desire to return to the land, knowledge, and ways of your ancestors. However, exploitation and appropriation of Native American culture, ceremonies, and knowledge will not be tolerated. There is a difference between learning/appreciating and exploiting/appropriating. If you have any questions or concerns about this, please ask and above all, please listen.
Finally, you are encouraged to use traditional Lakota plants as often as possible. I will attach a long list to this message that includes botanical, common, and Lakota names for many plants that could prove useful in your practice. While we support the use of plants such as calendula, lavender, and chapparal, we would also like you to add local plants into your arsenal and into the teas, poultices, glycerites and balms that you make. So, a patient consultation might sound something like this: “Well, it looks like you need a healing salve for that cut. This is a great salve that will heal it right up, and it contains a number of plants, including a prairie plant called yarrow, which is called ‘taopi pezuta’ in Lakota (in English – ‘wound medicine’) and has been used for thousands of years to heal wounds.”
I know this can be time consuming and that there will be a major learning curve for some folks, but I believe this will help to reconnect some of these “younger elders” to plant knowledge that they are so interested in. Remember, we are here for the long term and we want these camps to have positive impacts on the local community that will reach far into the future. Stand with Standing Rock!
Cultural Respect FAQ:
How do I honor cultural traditions while at the camp?
When you are at Standing Rock, you are a guest of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota nation. If you are told to do or not do something according to tradition, please be respectful and comply. Photography is not allowed during ceremony or prayer. If you are a woman, you are asked not to attend ceremony, including sweat lodges, while you are on your moon (menstruating). Certain traditional events, items, and clothing are only to be attended/used/worn by Native people. Please ask before collecting sage, berries, or any other plant from the area. When in doubt, ask an elder or local. If you are taking any kinds of photos or video, please review our Media Guidelines.
Cultural Respect in the Medic-Healer Role
Even in 2016, many tribal communities are still digging themselves out from underneath hundreds of years of historical genocide and colonization. The intergenerational trauma carried out through these injustices affects physical, emotional & mental health, manifesting in bodies, spirits and interactions with non-natives – and Standing Rock is no difference. Sensitivity to this is of great importance for anyone arriving to camp from the outside, and is especially necessary when working in sensitive and powerful roles within the medic-healer areas. Volunteer medic-healers are not here to save – we are here to serve. Check your privilege and attitude at the door.
For those coming to Standing Rock from outside the reservation, we ask that you arrive to your work in the framework of humility and service. Self determination and body sovereignty are two tools which are practiced by many indigenous persons as a means of healing intergenerational trauma; as such, individuals may or may not wish to receive your services; they may not be interested in your modern medical tools or herbs from another tradition; and they have no responsibility to be nice or welcoming. This ability to make their own choice is a sign of healing we are obligated to honor and respect.
One way we can enter this environment with greater respect and appreciation for the local culture is to integrate traditional remedies into our services. Please prioritize the use of local medicinal plants in your wellness work as a way of honoring the living culture of the land on which we are serving. Medic-healer volunteers may also be aware that oftentimes, a family accompanies a patient through a health visit, and that regional language praxis may include pauses that are not as common in European conversation. Volunteers are encouraged to use patient, active listening skills through intake and assessment.
In addition to honoring body sovereignty & cultural healing traditions, you are encouraged to honor the hierarchy of leadership with the same attitude of humility and service. During your volunteer time, you may be working for or alongside practitioners with different experience or less medical credentials, but the leadership of the camp has entrusted many individuals since April with the health of the camp. These practitioners have worked tirelessly for months, often with little or no resources, and have provided outstanding care for our water protectors. As the camp has grown organically, we have introduced the Medic-Healer Council to help coordinate and organize our efforts, but as with any young movement, we encounter growing pains as humans live in relationship and community from many different traditions in a challenging environment under difficult circumstances. We request your honor and respect of the authority of those who have been on the ground serving before you. We encourage you to direct any personal concerns and constructive feedback on any aspect of organization, leadership, or direct services to the coordinator of the Medic-Healer Council, rather than directly critique or pass judgment on a particular system or service you witness.
What is Intergenerational Trauma?
Emotional and psychological wounding over generations, resulting from the unresolved trauma of genocide, loss of culture, forcible removal from family, and traditional lands (Reservations and boarding schools), European and American colonialist policy
What are signs or consequences of Intergenerational Trauma?
– Migration to Urban Areas
– Lack of cultural and family ties
– Feelings of isolation in predominant culture
– Discrimination in jobs & housing, leading to poverty
– Exposure of an earlier generation to a traumatic event that continues to affect subsequent generations
– The dynamics to historical or intergenerational trauma include layers of grief due to the erosion of the family, the erosion of Tribal structure, the loss of cultural traditions and practices, and the loss of spiritual ties
– Physical manifestations of historical trauma include depression and anxiety, substance use disorders, anger management concerns, elevated mortality rates, and stress-related illness
What does Mni Wiconi mean?
Mni wiconi (pronounced “mini we-choh-nee”) is Lakota for “water is life.”
What’s all this about Black Snakes?
When we refer to the pipeline as a black snake, we are referencing an old Lakota prophecy that speaks of a black snake (zuzeca sape) crossing the land, bringing with it destruction and devastation.
What are the Sacred Stones?
The camp is named for the Iŋyaŋ Wakháŋagapi Othí: the sacred stones for which this area was originally named. Later called cannonballs by colonizers, they are large, spherical stones that were created by the confluence of currents where the Cannonball and Missouri rivers meet. The rivers stopped producing these sacred stones when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged and flooded the rivers in the 1950’s.