What I Found in Standing Rock

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2016-12-12 00:03Z by Steven

What I Found in Standing Rock

The Players’ Tribune

Bronson Koenig, Guard
Wisconsin Badgers

Photos by Alexandra Hootnick/The Players’ Tribune

Near the edge of the Standing Rock camp in North Dakota, about 50 yards from a tributary of the Missouri River, there’s a basketball hoop. It’s one of those worn-out outdoor hoops that leans forward a little bit, almost as if the wind had bent it.

In September, I drove from my home state of Wisconsin to the Standing Rock reservation, land of the Hunkpapa Sioux. I got in after dark so I didn’t see the layout of the whole camp until the sun rose the next morning. When I unzipped my tent, I saw a valley full of Native people — thousands of people camping out in tents, RVs and teepees — from over 300 tribes. There were license plates from almost every state.

They’d come to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, an underground oil pipeline being constructed less than a half mile from the reservation. The tribe says the pipeline will plow through ancient burial grounds and could poison the reservation’s water supply, as well as the water supply of millions of people downriver.

In the morning air I smelled burning sage, the plant used during Native American spiritual ceremonies. A woman walked by with a shirt that read THIS IS OUR LAND, and a couple of kids on horses trotted past. Someone was giving directions to a communal kitchen and generators were humming nearby. I saw some flags flying upside down, the signal for distress. I could hear Sioux singers and the unmistakable thumping of drums. It sounded like a battle cry…

…I’m one of about 60 Native American students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a school with more than 30,000 undergrads, and one of only about 40 Native American Division I men’s college basketball players in the country. I’m not too surprised that almost no one at school knew much about the Ho-Chunk tribe. My whole life, I’ve had friends and classmates ask me the most basic questions about my heritage. Did I wear feathers? Do my parents run a casino? One high school classmate even admitted that he didn’t think Indian reservations still existed. Before I got to college, I had rarely ever heard a mention of Native American history in school — all I remember from 11th grade is some reading about Native American agriculture and a couple of paragraphs in a history book on the Trail of Tears, the forced march on which all those people died in the winter of 1838…

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