​Potluck Yields Message of Protection, Unity

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

Warm and drizzly winter weather cloaked the community potluck dinner on Jan. 15 at the American Legion Hall in Sewanee, which welcomed two Lakota Sioux families entrenched in the Stand at Standing Rock.
All tables were full with between 75 and 100 people taking part in the event that boasted plenty of drink and food, such as rabbit and smoked sausage with rice, pizza, venison chili and kale salad. And like the food, the gathering had a feel of merging cultures.
Isaac Weston is one of the heads of camp at Oceti Sakowin near where Energy Transfer Partners plans to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River. Weston sat by himself before the program began, quiet, withdrawn, getting ready to be the main speaker of the evening.
Oceti Sakowin has been Weston’s home since August and being in a warm bed while in Sewanee was a nice change from sleeping on a cot in a teepee amongst at least four feet of snow and brutally cold temperatures. Protestors prefer the term “water protectors” and Weston said the resistance effort has changed him.
“That’s when the beginning of my new life started,” he said. “I was going to help revitalize the Lakota language but instead I stepped into this fight. It’s something that is calling me and something I’m going to keep doing.”
Weston planned to teach the Lakota language to children on the Pine Ridge Reservation before joining the effort to halt the pipeline from crossing the river the Lakota call “The Big Muddy.”
Opponents say the potential for an oil leak threatens the water supply for not only the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, but for millions of people, including other tribes and reservations further downstream. Energy Transfer Partners and supporters say the pipeline is safe, legal and critical for the nation’s energy needs.
As legal challenges loom and a change in the presidential administration raises questions about the future, the disputed section of the 1,171-mile crude oil pipeline remains in limbo after the Army Corps of Engineers ordered construction to halt in favor of more study.
Approximately 800 people remain at the camp, Weston noted, and they are currently relocating the campsite about a mile south onto the Standing Rock Reservation itself, in part because the current site is in a floodplain threatened by mounds of snow. The new camp will be self-sustaining with features such as solar energy and compost toilets, he added.
Frank Bullhead, Isaac’s father-in-law, said that a renewed drive for green energy is a major result of the stand against the pipeline. Bullhead lives in Standing Rock about 25 miles south of Oceti Sakowin. He said after leaving Sewanee, he and family members plan to visit Seattle and Arizona, continuing to share the message of protecting water.
“This water fight is for your sons, your grandsons, for them and their future,” he said prior to the event. “We’re fighting for your auntie, your sister and their kids, so we will have a better quality of water.”
When the event began, Weston shared stories of Lakota history and prophecy, saying that the gathering of the seven Sioux tribes to stop the snake that is the pipeline was foretold centuries ago. Weston wrote a song in Lakota for those at camp and translated lyrics include: “Protectors of the Earth take courage, future generations depend on you.”
Family members also danced in full regalia for those in attendance and Rochelle Bullhead, Frank’s wife, spoke, becoming emotional as she talked about her willingness to die for a just cause, and her willingness to give her life to protect not only the Sioux people but the people in the room.
Her husband also spoke to the crowd and told how an officer shot him in the back with a rubber bullet while he was protecting Rochelle during the protests.
Weston said the gathering of the tribes at Standing Rock is a wake-up call that Western ways aren’t working for Native Americans, where life is bleak on reservations and suicide rates are high. The gathering of tribes at Standing Rock is a call to return to the old ways for Native Americans, he said.
Chris Colane, a Sewanee resident, said she attended the potluck event because she wanted more education about Standing Rock.
“Not only did it inform me about the environmental issues but it also touched my heart about the spirituality and beliefs and lifestyle of the Native American culture and their willingness to stand up non-violently for something they strongly believe in,” she said. “And their purpose is to bring attention to water issues even if what they are standing up for will not be achieved. They’re still achieving their purpose of calling us each to have a desire to preserve our Mother Earth.”
Sewanee area friends provided hospitality for the families during their stay, and the visitors also gave presentations in Nashville and at The Farm in Summertown, Tenn.