A model for an independent Native nationCamp rises on Lower Brule Sioux Reservation
Monday, November 20, 2017
By Kevin Abourezk
@Kevin_Abourezk LOWER BRULE, South Dakota – Something called Maria Birch to this place. It was the same inner voice that convinced her to return to Standing Rock last fall after traveling there initially as a reporter for a small newspaper in Chamberlain, South Dakota. Her editor had asked her to travel to North Dakota to write about a group of men and women from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe who had joined tens of thousands of Native Americans and their allies to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. Birch jumped at the chance to report on the protest but told her editor: If I go to Standing Rock, I might not return. Since first learning about the protest, she had felt compelled to join the fight against greed and the destruction of natural resources. And while she returned home after first visiting Standing Rock, it wasn’t long before she was on the road north once again. This time, she stayed for several months, serving as the cook for the Kul Wicasa Camp inside the larger Oceti Sakowin Camp. “My life changed profoundly being at camp,” she said. “I can’t express how profoundly.” The 67-year-old former journalist turned activist shares her story while sitting inside a yurt – a circular tent covered in multiple layers of coverings and supported by wood latticework – on a windswept plateau a few miles from the Missouri River. A small herd of horses can be seen through an open door. Here at the Wiconi Un Tipi Camp near Lower Brule, Birch is the cook, the provider of warm meals and even warmer conversation. It’s a great responsibility that she takes seriously but also a great honor. “I’ve spent a lot of years cooking for large groups of people, but none as appreciative as the Kul Wicasa Camp last fall and here,” she said. “Everybody thanks me, everybody at every meal.”
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Indeed, Birch said she would like to improve accommodations inside the camp and is working with an alliance organization, Dakota Rural Action, to raise $30,000 for an arctic tent large enough to provide cooking and dining space in the camp. She said the tent would allow her to cook a greater variety of foods. Currently, the small tent the camp now uses for cooking has a dirt floor and holes in the ceiling that leak water during rainstorms. Wind blows dirt onto cooking utensils and extinguishes a gas flame on the stove, forcing Birch to clean before and after every meal she cooks. The tent lacks adequate insulation and foods freeze and thaw repeatedly as the stove heats the tent and then cools off. But Birch said she primarily wants a larger tent to give camp residents a place to gather. “We’ll be able to gather during meals and talk,” she said. The tent also would help her to better be able to feed large groups of people, such as the nearly 200 people she expected to visit the camp during a weekend gathering leading to the second signing of the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred against KXL and Tar Sands. As she prepared to make enough food for the tribal leaders invited to the weekend event at the camp and in nearby Lower Brule, Birch said she was thankful for the gift of serenity she’s learned while at the camp. “I know it’s going to be okay,” she said.
On a recent afternoon at the camp, Katrina Silk, a 29-year-old Standing Rock Sioux woman, kneeled on the ground and held a piece of rope in her hand. She pinched it together in order to weave it through small holes inside wood slats that will make up the latticework of the yurt she is trying to build. She’s dreamed of this for much of her life. A life free from the trappings of modern society. Genuine freedom. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” she said. She even brought her four children with her. She wants them to experience the kind of freedom she knew while fighting beside other water protectors in North Dakota. She wants to remind them of their true natures. “You’re born free, a free being on this earth,” she said.
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LaMere said that is the name of the only group of people who actually signed the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868. Therefore, it’s the only group that can be recognized as a separate and distinct nation, he believes. According to LaMere, other tribes, such as the Oglala Sioux Tribe or his tribe, were recognized only after enactment of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and depend on federal status in order to be considered true governments. He said in order to be sovereign Sioux people must first renounce their membership in the IRA-created tribes to which they belong in order join the Sioux Nation of Indians. Otherwise, they are simply American citizens with secondary membership in a tribe. The original first people of America didn’t have dual citizenship, he said. He describes the current state of American-tribal relations as that of an apartheid government toward an oppressed minority. To break free from that dysfunctional relationship, tribes must break free from America completely in order to be treated as equals, LaMere said. These ideas aren’t new, he said. However, he said, it hasn’t been easy trying to convince tribal leaders that the path to true sovereignty requires giving up federal recognition. And that requires a commitment to establishing communities that don’t require anything from mainstream America, he said. “With freedom comes responsibility because there has to be order,” he said.
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