Last November, I traveled to Standing Rock with my son and a friend, bringing a letter of solidarity from Sámi-Americans and a station wagon stuffed with donated cold weather supplies. We planned to stay a week, make supply runs to Bismark, and help serve Thanksgiving Dinner in the camp, which had grown to 2,000 people (it would swell to 10,000 in December). My son and I would also make a side trip to East Rainy Butte, where my Swedish-Sàmi grandfather once ran a cattle ranch. The drive from Seattle to Cannonball was 19 hours through some of the most beautiful country on earth.
Letter of Solidarity (pdf)
At the entrance to Oceti Sakowin, two solemn young men serving as sentries asked if we were visiting or staying. When we explained our mission, they smiled and said warmly, “welcome home.” A stately parade of flags snapped in the wind we entered camp, described as the largest gathering of Indigenous tribes ever recorded. Tears sprang to my eyes at the thought, and for the duration of our visit, would never be far away.
“Do you know the professor?” asked the sentry at the media tent, where anyone who wished to take photos had to apply for a pass. “He’s Sàmi.” To my surprise, not once did I need to explain the Sàmi at camp, thanks to Sara Gaup, Sofia Jannok and many others who had visited earlier. (Sámi advocacy would prove instrumental in persuading Norwegian and Swedish banks to divest from the pipeline.)
“Perhaps,” I said, wondering who the professor might be.
Inside the tent, in beautiful gakti and fur hat, was a man who smiled as he scanned our solidarity letter, recognizing some of the names. He introduced himself as Øyvind Ravna, a visiting law professor from Trømso. We saw each other again at the sacred fire a few times, but it was via Facebook that I learned Øyvind spent the awful night of November 20 on the bridge, documenting the abuse of peaceful water protectors via water cannons, teargas, and explosives — while I was holed up with my group at the nearby casino hotel, offering refuge, showers, and snacks to the injured.
One of the injured was a medic from Seattle named Victory, who consented to an interview by iPhone.
I encourage you to read Øyvind’s excellent first-hand account and legal analysis.