BY TONY SORCI

During the time I have spent at Standing Rock, I have found that something as simple as a peaceful paddle can make all the difference. It shows us where true power lies. The sun, the water, the wind, the moon: The raw elements here provide a constant reminder that all answers can be found in nature.

That peaceful paddle – as an act of non-violent resistance – has also proven to be a powerful tool. Being on the water draws attention, and I’m not talking about media attention. When I paddled down the Cannonball River, that action drew the attention of paid pipeline protectors up and down the banks. To protect the integrity of those involved in ongoing direct actions, I cannot speak to anything more specific than my act of passing over sacred water. But suffice it to say that action costs the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) money. Hitting them in the wallet is the only thing working right now.

Photo by Hickory Edwards

Pipeline construction security eyes peaceful paddlers on the Cannonball River. Photo by Hickory Edwards

Something else is happening here too. It’s an awakening. I’ve uncovered new family everywhere around me and discovered my ancestors are even closer than I thought. There is a strong native network being forged. Water is the connection. This cyclical force moves in and out of all living things, the same water that was here millions of years ago.

But as we continue to dam up and toxify our waterways, we poison our children’s veins. For years now, I’ve begun to fear that it wouldn’t be long until this poison reaches our hearts. The events of the recent election did not help. Instead, I felt helpless. So on Nov. 8, I asked ‘WWGD,’ or, what would grandma do? The answer was easy: Go to Standing Rock.

A recent paddle out on the Cannonball

A recent paddle out on the Cannonball

It’s here where I remembered who I am: Yah ta heé shí eh Tony Sorci ke eí todochinií, Diné. Roberta Blackgoat Shima sani. My name is Tony Sorci of the Bitter Water Clan, Navajo. Proud grandson of the legendary relocation resistor, Roberta Blackgoat from Big Mountain, Ariz.

My grandmother would understand my need to see this major and historic event for myself. My grandmother would be proud that I journeyed to the center of Turtle Island, to the biggest gathering of indigenous peoples from around the world with two goals in mind. The first was to exercise my right to protest nonviolently while taking direct action against DAPL progress via a peaceful paddle down the Cannonball River. The other aim was to simply say the following three prayers every day in the Cannonball River. I will keep saying them as hard as I can and as much as I can before January 1 (the DAPL construction deadline), so my energy and my prayers can ripple through the waters and reverberate throughout the universe. As the cold begins to bite and as they try so hard to crush our spirits, this connection to the water and to the world around us is something that can never be taken:

The author, beginning his day at Standing Rock with a trio of prayers in the frigid waters of the Cannonball River.

The author, beginning his day at Standing Rock with a trio of prayers in the frigid waters of the Cannonball River.

First, as I enter the water, I pray for a global change of consciousness in the 7 billion human beings living on Mother Earth so we can sustain life in an intelligent way. A mindful way. A peaceful way. I pray that we utilize our knowledge of new technology combined with old teachings to bring us future abundance. Renewable energy will lead to spiritual power. If that power lays dormant within you, it’s very much alive for many indigenous people. I pray that we choose to feed the right wolf our hearts, to nourish the loving, peaceful, kind wolf and to not feed the aggressive, violent one. I say thanks to the creator for having a good mind. A heé hee (thank you).

Next, I pray for the safety of our water protectors, especially the women and children that strongly stand defiant. Also, I pray for the eagles to return—the eagles that once soared prior to DAPL helicopters and planes that spy and pepper-spray us on the front lines. I send prayers for the wild Buffalo that DAPL corralled last month to break free. I pray for the fish that will soon return to these waters. I pray for the power to remain nonviolent—a hard but necessary path for the young warriors here, especially when we see results as violent as a blown-up arm. I pray for her limb and I thank the creator for my good health. A heé hee.

Finally, I pray for the DAPL workers constructing the black snake, those who employ them, and every mercenary hired and protected by big-money interests. I pray for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, for their rubber bullets, and for the mothers who misguided them to such an imbalance within their hearts. I pray for the officers who used tear gas on the elders who have nothing more to cry. I pray for their leader who allowed water cannons to subdue peaceful protesters in 28-degree weather with the same water they are trying to protect. I thank the creator for having a strong heart. A heé hee.

Lights on Turtle Island mark the advance of the Army Corps of Engineers. Photo: Suzanna Halbritter

Lights on Turtle Island mark the advance of the Army Corps of Engineers. Photo: Suzanna Halbritter

So to any paddlers reading this during the holiday season, whether you stand or kneel to the national anthem before your team’s big game, please remember the last four words of your national anthem: Home of the Brave. With your hand over your heart, looking at the flag, consider the red, the white, and the blue. What does it mean to you? To me, the red represents a sustainable red road which is the indigenous way of life, the white symbolizes a different, more sterile and shallow way of life, and, unfortunately in these trying days, the blue now represents the corruption of law enforcement. Blue should always be the water that can connect and not divide us.

Water is life.

— Tony Sorci participated in 2013’s Two Row Wampum paddle, and first wrote for C&K during his protest paddle from the Onondaga Nation to Philadelphia.

— Sorci noted that experienced paddlers and equipment are in great need before the water freezes. “Canoes were destroyed in last week’s protest,” he wrote. “I’d be glad to lead anyone on a peaceful paddle down the Cannonball.” For those on the Eastern Seaboard, he noted that The Carry-on is planning a benefit concert Monday, Dec. 12 at Brooklyn Bowl where 100 percent of the proceeds from ticket sales, T-shirts, hats and totes will directly benefit on-the-ground efforts at Standing Rock.

— Read more on paddling through North Dakota’s Standing Rock protest, the impact of energy production and the changing landscape of the upper Missouri River in North Dakota, as well as recent ‘kayaktivism’ efforts engaging indigenous paddlers on the Snake River.