As I crisscrossed the country the rest of 2014, with my first stop being the Marias River massacre site others, long dead according to written history, begin introducing themselves. Sometimes individually as did Sitting Bull and other times en masse. Until they introduced themselves, I had no intellectual or known spiritual connection to them. They are mostly male, entirely indigenous and they have sent me to their connections to lands and peoples across the globe. The first few years of our journeys together they sent me to hinterlands – particularly those places formally held sacred and forgotten where their living kin who are gifted in the way I call “carrying the medicine“ and struggle mightily with that weight.
The direction from the ancestors comes in the form of dreams and visions and which I am given maps, street signs, directions, topography and other symbols. In addition real life strings of connections between human beings also lead the way. The only time I have not known where or why they were sending me anywhere what is the direction to Standing Rock.
In the summer of 2015, Nicholas Black Elk (known by most for the book Black Elk Speaks) came through and, among other things, said I was going to Standing Rock. I had no idea what he meant. I thought he was sending me to another literal standing rock, another monolith. Nearly twelve months to the day of his initial visit, Grandmothers begin to gather around me as they did the summer of 2014, readying me for a Sun Dance. In this case, they began by flying into the window of a friend’s house in Texas. One after another, until They were sure They had our attention. Then, with that, they progressed to doing the same thing where I was staying in Montana; less violently but They made sure to hold my attention.
I knew I was heading to the Dakotas, but even then, even when horses and their riders appeared the day before I was to leave, I still had no idea where I was going beyond somewhere in the vast expanse that is North and South Dakota. I knew the general direction I was going because Sitting Bull and Black Elk put me in the wind the winter before, sending me there spiritually (without my body) to set the stage for something but there was nothing specific. By then, I had forgotten about Black Elk telling me that I was going to Standing Rock and the only communication I really had was with one of the birds, one of the window-smacking Grandmothers, the Aunt Rita of the man who ran the Sun Dance I had been sent to the summer of 2015 (turns out he’s is direct kin to three of those in my entourage: Black Elk, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse).
With the understanding that I was headed to somewhere in the Dakotas, there was a vision of a councilman connected to the Three Affiliated (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara) tribes in North Dakota—three days before I was to leave. His secretary tracked him down and just before I got on the road, we scheduled an appointment to meet. When I told him about the visions that brought him through, he said, “I thought this would be happening when I hung up my bow and stepped away from the politics.” To which I said, “That’s not how this works. We don’t get to choose when we are chosen.” A healing/awakening session, several conversations, and two days later, I asked him if he had a sense in which direction I should go. He said his girlfriend had gone to ‘that protest thing’ farther south and maybe that’s where I should head. Despite wondering why I would be sent to a protest of any kind, I left Bismarck, North Dakota, and headed south toward an encampment I had not even heard of.
An hour later, as I drove by a fence with handmade protest signs as agitated in the blowing winds as the winds themselves, I shook my head and kept going because what was I doing at a ‘protest thing’? The maps that come in visions, are usually just that. I don’t know where to begin or who I am meeting when I get there. I get quiet and when impatience kicks in, I head to a visitors or community center—places where people know the history of the area and the business of everyone in that community. It has only once, taken more than two conversations to find the one with whom Ancestors are trying to connect. (In that one time, two of those conversations were with the same two people.) Someone always knows where I’m going. This trip was no different. I walked into the visitor center at Fort Yates and the entire building began vibrating through and around me. Within a few minutes a young woman came out of the office and asked if she could help me and within another couple of minutes she said, “I know exactly where you’re going.” She passed me a handdrawn map and directions to the Sacred Stone Camp. It was there I began my 5 1/2 months camp out on the banks of the Cannonball and Missouri River‘s.
In the years between 2013 and 2016, when I landed at Standing Rock, I had always known why I was being sent where I was sent. It might take a conversation or two to understand the who or where, but I always knew the why. It was as clear as a hand drawn maps go here, heal her or that place, take him back to his birth mother, bleed on this rock, sit on the ground, find these things. However, once at Standing Rock and even the women working in the kitchen walked out in their own personal protest. As I walked into the space next to it, someone asked me, the new and confused arrival, “What’s for dinner?“ The subsequent energetic smack upside the head by the ever present Aunt Rita, confirmed that I did not need to know anything other than I was in charge of feeding a few hundred people breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three days. I’m still thrilled when I think about the man who, after bringing coolers full of bison said, “That’s the best bison stew I’ve ever had!“ I had no idea what I was doing exactly as I threw bison, onions, herbs, and potatoes in pots over fires while stirring and hoping. Which, when I think about it, is not so much different from how I move through the rest of the world.
Beyond the immediate,“You brought me here to fucking cook?” I had no idea why I was there and a little pissed. I have never identified as a protester nor an activist. I had no connection to the Sioux nation beyond my relationships with their ancestors and a Wakinyan, a thunderbeing, who had become an active part of my world two years prior (in fact, I was to learn at Standing Rock that he had been part of my world, unbeknownst to me since 2011.) However, I trusted. It was impossible to miss that I’d walked into, essentially, a new job that would allow me to meet many people and I had housing (such as a one person tent can be) already set up for me. When I gone to where I had been sent in the years prior, all had been revealed so I tried to abide in that remembrance.
When an Old Missouria-Choctaw showed up in my world at the end of April 2015, I sat up and took note. James Eaglefeather, no longer attached to his body, showed up as I was connecting to another James, a breathing alikchi (medicine man) in Mississippi Choctaw country. I was sent to the breathing James in early April. I found James Johnson, that alikchi, in two conversations; the first at tribal offices and the second, a not-exactly-accidental meeting with his daughter at the tribe’s gift shop. She sent me to his house I left on the door. After he read it, he came to visit at the hotel, and during that conversation we scheduled a sweat lodge for two nights later. By the time we crawled into the sweat lodge together, I had met Mr. Eaglefeather in the flesh, although I didn’t know it. Killing time two days before the sweat, I went to the local lake on afternoon to walk and reconnect with Mississippi, reminding myself there was more to it than bigotry and family drama. It was a beautiful, still and quiet with the only vestiges of the weekend crowds, a cacophony of crows digging through the overladen dumpsters. In my wanderings, my bladder did what it does best in quiet moments and I went in search of a restroom. I found a porta-john, complete with toilet paper, and stepped out and onto a large, beat up, partially shredded feather. It was lovely and dark and I thanked the crows for the present. Little did I know. During the sweat and through Mr. Johnson, Mr. Eaglefeather formally introduced himself. He let it be known clearly that his job was to be my go-fer, my man-Friday, and he was damn good at his job so I’d better use him well and often. He also said, “She can see me in the daytime but doesn’t know it yet” and, the kicker, “You need to be prepared to Sun Dance.” He didn’t say which Sun Dance or where this Sun Dance might be but this missive came twelve hours after a Cree bundle had the same thing to say; in about the same words. He did not say what a Sun Dance was and I certainly did not know it but I was to prepare. For something, somewhere. Now that I think about it, this piece is a lot like how I ended up at Standing Rock.As the 700 miles between Philadelphia, MS and Blanco, TX, later unfolded before me, I was filled with flummoxedness. I had added a new feather to my visor, a new person in my invisible entourage, and direction to get to an unknown place at an unknown time. To figure it out, I mentally retraced my steps from Helena and revisited my interaction with Daniel, a youngster I met at the Wounded Knee memorial. I had not planned on stopping there. I had no desire to get caught up with a bunch of tourists or folks wanting to sell something to me with what little money I had. I gassed up at Pine Ridge and made a beeline eastward. Until my car turned itself around. Now, I know it was my hands on the steering wheel, however, I didn’t actually turn Tater around after I’d passed the exit for Wounded Knee but that u-turn in the middle of the highway happened. So there I went, shaking my head and wondering what the hell I was getting into.
There were no tourists. The few folks there were trying to sell their wares or ask for donations to a number of causes; their own or of the community. The wind was brisk and biting. And I sat. I said no to a couple of people and I sat some more, listening to wind and observing the cemetery on the hilltop. There was yet another knock at my window and a youngster was seeking funds to help support a local youth drumming group. He noticed my Virginia license plates and asked how I’d made it to South Dakota via Virginia and so I told him the story and then said, “You’re why I’m here.” He asked, “So, you can heal my heart?” I said yes. And, so, in the biting bluster, I got out of the car and put my hands around this young man’s heart and said, “Why are your insides jumping around? Can you feel it?” “Yes, my spirit is dancing.” “Why have you separated yourself from it?” He openly shared his heart and we merged the two of them again. As we wrapped up, I sent him in the direction of his uncle for follow up and knew, at some point, I would be back to find him.
Three weeks after the sweat lodge in Choctaw country it became clear that I was headed back to South Dakota but not to meet Daniel again. I had done my bit of research to learn what a Sun Dance was, how they came to be and why on earth this white girl was doing being led–or shoved–in the direction of one. Mr. Johnson had mentioned one he’d been to in the past in Kyle, SD, although he claimed to have not remembered that conversation and I knew when that one was scheduled. I also knew of another one, found courtesy Google, but the only thing clear until two days before I was to get on the road was I was going to somewhere in South Dakota.While recovering from the interaction with my father and researching all things Sun Dance in Texas, nuggets of information flowed in like random postal deliveries. Old Ladies of the ether began bringing me Buffalo hides and other gifts, including language carved in stone, to prepare me for the journey. A second eagle feather, one that had been stored for years in a box in a closet, magically appeared on the bed next to me one morning and a dream-vision included an envelope with the name Betty War Bonnet and an address in Kyle, South Dakota, on it. Remembering only her name and not being able to find a current telephone number for her, I headed my way back into Sioux country, with enough knowing to go find a lady whose name appeared to me in a dream. Two days and 1100 miles later I landed in Kyle, SD. I smelled bad, hurt all over and learned I would have to sleep in the car again by the store’s dumpster. Staring at the moon, listening to the occasional bottle rocket and wondering in which way I would turn onto the highway the next morning to find the lady whose phone number I didn’t have but whose name I did. While I wondered and tried to talk the dumpster smiles into wafting another direction, I watched a pack of rez dogs being corralled (and spoiled) by a couple of old ladies sharing their dinner with them. These two ladies and their dinner captured the attention of at least six dogs who sat silently, like they were enraptured by hot dogs, and waited for dinner to come their way. I got out of the car, walked over, introduced myself and asked if they knew Betty War Bonnet, shared her old phone number I had managed to find, and mentioned I was looking for a Sun Dance but wasn’t sure which one. “Oh, she lives right over there. You’re looking for her granddaughter, though. Here’s her new phone number. By the way, her family’s Sun Dance was over today so that’s not the one you’re going to.” I shook my head at my luck, their hands in gratitude, and crawled back into my car to settle in for the night.
After sharing breakfast with some kids from the local store, a phone call with Ms. War Bonnet’s granddaughter , I found my way to where I needed to be. I drove into a camp of strangers, essentially crashing a family reunion, saved by a brother who said, “Who are you and why are you here?” When his response was met with my, “I’m Ingrid Oliphant and all I can tell you is that I was sent here,” without blinking an eye, he said, “Well, welcome! I think you need to see my brother!”Another brother and the full story of guides and gifts later, I was settled in for the long haul. I still didn’t know why I was there but was grateful to have made it, even if it meant sleeping in the car another five nights in a row.
I was blessed to know that the Sun Dance leader understood and recognized my “I just need to be still” and in things as they unfolded. For me, that meant secluding myself in the midst of a relatively large gathering. I was left me alone to pay attention to all that was going on in the physical and etheric realm and be available to their merging within me. When I needed a break in the seriousness and somber, kids would show up to make me laugh. I fixed Batman kites, rolled my eyes appropriately enough to leave kids in stitches, too, and thought, perhaps, it was one of them I had been brought in for.For two days, I danced with the songs and drum in support of dancers I did not know and family I felt no connection to. And while dancing, I wondered why I still didn’t have clarity about my participation. I also wondered why the songs weren’t coming to me. They usually do. In languages I don’t know, songs burble from my being during ceremony. Here though, nothing. I stomped my feet, I talked to the tree, and let the wind whisper but nothing came.Until it did. Only after I gave a flesh offering, though, did the songs come. And, did they. We danced, I sang. We sweat, I sang. The sweat leader, “You know these songs? You know these songs.” “Not exactly. The songs just come.” All of those Old Ladies I didn’t know, those who had appeared before me with gifts and guidance, had brought me there so they and other kin could actively participate with the dancers who had prayed for them to come. And, with that knowing, trust and responsibility, I opened myself into being the vessel for those who wanted to breathe the air & dance for their loved ones.
I figured something similar would unfold in Cannonball as it had in Kyle, perhaps this time, without giving any actual flesh. To a certain degree it did. When we sweat, I was met with the same, “You know these songs? How do you know these songs!?” Blessedly no one seemed to notice that I ended up singing in Winnebago while in a Sioux sweat so I did not have to offer an explanation. How I wanted to say, “The songs come because I contain the memories of multitudes. I am those who walked before. My body contains the essences of all the multitudes I have ever been before and the songs come because I have sung them before, lifetimes ago. ” However, there, beyond Theresa, I could tell no one. When I met Teresa Black Owl why I was there didn’t seem to matter as much. I met her one morning when she was brought to the central fire of Sacred Stone by a friend concerned about her lungs. Teresa is an older woman, now rather infamous for being the first grandmother arrested at Standing Rock, and was having a hard time breathing. The woman who brought her was in search of a nebulizer or something and left her with me. I asked if I could put my hands on her chest and back. When I did, the world opened up (as well as her lungs) in the way that it does for me, and her ancestors (among many others) came through. We could both feel them and from then on, she and I were like two peas in a pod. Later, I learned that are not only did she know the man who ran the Sun Dance I was sent to the year before, she had been to many and she and his Aunt Rita were childhood friends! Small world and no small coincidence, that. Having someone I could call friend ended the questioning about why I was there. We made an assumption (yes, I know) that Standing Rock would become permanent home. I took a break from the encampment for a few days, went to Montana and collected the rest of my things while managing to get head lice in the process, and then headed back to North Dakota for the long-haul that was the #NoDAPL protest and relocate to what I thought—and hoped—was to be permanent home.
I met interesting people, moved from one camp to another a couple of times, and tried to navigate the politics of what was unfolding and the on-the-ground things complicated by my Wakinyan introducing himself to another camper by bitching to her about how I was not getting the message “We told you back in October 2011!!“ I had to go back to my old Facebook posts to see what the fuck he was talking about and there it was, a time where I had followed the call of “The Messenger”. I did not know what he meant by it in 2011 and certainly did not in Standing Rock. He expressed his displeasure to Teresa as well by stomping around our tents like a heavy, angry old man, definitely not as graceful on the ground as he is in the clouds!
Directional dreams received before going to Standing Rock began to make some sense as they came to fruition while there. I remembered the dream where, before Geronimo gave me my pipe stem, I was knelt on the ground, weeping with gratitude and relief as I clutched prairie grass in my both of my hands. I also remembered the oddness of having that heavy, deep experience in front of me with the sound of jingle dresses and celebration to the right of me. That led me to the powwow at Wakpala, South Dakota. There, though I didn’t know it at the time, I met someone who later would be implicated in the Fuckery. He, like another man, was placed on my little past three times in a manner that I could not ignore or miss. However, I assumed with a literal path crossing was to get me to meet with them and they would be part of my support network while at Standing Rock. I later learned I was wrong; they were warnings for what was to come a year later.As Indian summer morphed into the full-on winter in the Dakotas I would sit my igloo-like a tent, feel the ground and the water move into and wrap around me, sharing themselves with me while, again, I questioned why I was there. I had been receiving messages from Ancestors about what were called ‘actions’—planned protest activity that I knew no one would listen to; their disapproval palpable and other options they had to give, viable. I had silent conversations with Them when other tribes would show up en masse to support the Standing Rock tribe, I let their tears of joy run from my eyes, and I sat with the understanding that this gathering, this group of tribes some representing from other places on the globe was Black Elk’s vision coming into being. Navigating the truth and lies of FBI and pipeline infiltrators, sexual violence including harrassment and assaults, rampant racism, constant aerial surveillance, violence masked as prayer and prayer turned into showtime, made me constantly angry and impotent. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to dispel lies shared as fact on social media and watched hypocrisy counter the public message and wondered what in the hell had happened to the rest of the country that had elected Donal Trump. I stayed on the roller coaster of mental and physical exhaustion for five and a half months until my health deteriorated to the point that it was putting others in danger. By the time I left in mid-December medical staff were visiting my tent at least once a day and doing so repeatedly exposed them to whatever it was I had. I reached the point where I knew that Standing Rock was not going to be home as much as I wanted it to and returned to Montana.
I knew nothing about the Fuckery while at Standing Rock. It never crossed my mind that as people were gathering in support of the Standing Rock tribe and against the Dakota Access Pipeline, those connected to organized crime and trafficking of all kinds would also gather to formalize prior agreements and broaden their scope of operations. I would not come to that knowing until ten months after I left and with that knowing, I finally learned why I was sent to Standing Rock. When I was interviewed by the FBI in September 2017, I told them that this network had been operating for decades but at Standing Rock, renewed and new agreements were solidified for those involved—under the cover of actions for freedom and sovereignty, people were organizing the opposite, the same people that were calling for the freedoms and sovereignty in the daylight and press.