Standing Rock: Being an Ally


Standing Rock  Standing Rock, Part 2

I’m back home…and I’ve spent countless hours not really figuring out how to talk about my time at Standing Rock…I still don’t know how to talk about it, I’m still thinking about it…

I wrote a short piece for some friends on “Being an Ally”, and I figured I’d share it with you all as well.  Thoughts, questions, and feedback are welcome…


Being an ally might not mean what you think it does…

At Standing Rock, I learned pretty quick that no amount of education beforehand can give you an ally pass. Being an ally is as much about seeing and owning your mistakes as it is about avoiding those mistakes in the first place.

I screwed up on day one. I had decided not to go to an action…and after several folks communicated that “everyone needs to go” I changed my mind and went…it was a confusing action, it felt reckless in a way I wasn’t comfortable with, and I spent most of the time taking photos of cops and trying to figure out what was going on. I came away feeling confused.

The following morning there was some good discussion around tactics, but the primary concern was white people going to actions and then hanging back and taking photos while Native folks get pepper sprayed…that was unacceptable, and I was totally one of those white people…and I felt pretty shitty about it.

And that’s okay…I was able to learn from it and change my behavior and help other folks learn from my mistakes.

I get it, we all want to be good allies, and part of this has got to be owning our mistakes, owning our shit. Being an ally is about actions, not just intentions. America has been turning a blind eye to it’s colonizing ways for centuries, and if we turn a blind eye to our own colonizing ways we’re not only part of the problem but also distancing ourselves from the solution.

There’s so much I could say…so many angles on this…so much context that really aught to be part of this discussion…and so short of writing an essay here are a few parting thoughts, all from my own perspective of course…

– What are the indigenous struggles in your area?

– Read/watch indigenous news sources first, Amy Goodman is great and totally not Native.

– If you have an important question, consider praying on it for two days, and see if the answer finds you. (yup, two days, not two minutes)

– What is the most effective way for you to support Indigenous rights and struggles? Maybe it’s not the fun sexy thing? Be honest about your choices, even if it feels uncomfortable.

– How can you support Native folks who want to go to Standing Rock? Can you support them before supporting your non-native friends?

– There’s so so so many things I could say…so many things we could all say…try listening longer than feels comfortable.

And on that note…I’m going to reel myself back in. Please send me feedback or questions though!

Cheers, Simon

One thought on “Standing Rock: Being an Ally

  1. Hi Simon: Your thoughtful reflections are fascinating and a useful springboard for further contemplation and discussion. Thank you sharing whatever you have been able to articulate about a complex experience. I will offer a few observations here that may or may not be relevant but thank you for allowing input for consideration.

    As far as whites hanging back in an action and being reprimanded in the aftermath of the action: Having experienced a gambit of indifference, alienation, and profound acceptance within Native communities, I have a multifaceted view regarding this. I do not push my way in without invitation. I look for ways to serve unobtrusively. When in doubt I ask. But If I am not in a position to ask and feel confused or ambivalent about actions taking place, I do not override my intuition or experience no matter what group I hope to support. I consider that my right and responsibility even if my intentions are judged or misconstrued by fellow activists. (I can fully identify with electing to chronicle as a witness, any event that seems to be erratic or lacking coordination. This can be a great service.) I assume that many sensitive allies go out of their way not to rush to the front without prior agreement so that they will not be perceived as being competitive, domineering, or usurping of indigenous leadership. Training in best practices of nonviolent direct action techniques cannot be overstressed. Recognizing the potential of PTSD being seriously triggered in individuals in actions is also essential and should be addressed before the actions.

    Some of the actions in which disunity and escalation have occurred appear to have been spontaneous and outside the counsel of the elders of the Oceti Sakowen camp. It has been the misfortune of some sincere and well-grounded allies to have been mistakenly stereotyped as being there for the ride. White privilege does certainly manifest in a variety of ways but it is also sometimes wrongly projected onto individuals who are far more evolved. It has been my experience that the more spiritual and balanced the individual is, the less likely this projection occurs. So while the problem of unpacking white privilege is essential work, there is no obligation to internalize and carry shame. Correction is the need. (I had a friend who was admonished for breaking protocol and proceeding in a manner that a native elder felt was disrespectful. When the elder learned that this transgression had been done in ignorance, they explained that they were not wanting the person to be ashamed and punished but rather they were eldering in order to bring things into balance. They were interested in correction rather than shame.)

    You suggested we ask: “What are the indigenous struggles in your area?” I really think this is an important query. Water issues, for instance, are now unilaterally a critical issue impacting virtually every community. Indigenous issues are longstanding and still often quite invisible. You may already be familiar with this organization in Maine which, in part, is concerned with ally building

    You suggested: – “Read/watch indigenous news sources first, Amy Goodman is great and totally not Native.” That is an important point for sure The mainstream news typically is biased. Even alternative sources, too often, slant and omit information to further polarization. I try to survey as many first hand testimonies and video footage as possible to try and discern context. The temptation to oversimplify seems endemic. Investigative reporting done in the field (on the ground) by large news outlets has become drastically diminished over the past years. Citizen journalists with integrity become our lifeline.

    You advised:–” If you have an important question, consider praying on it for two days, and see if the answer finds you. (yup, two days, not two minutes).” This is a great point. Native elders we know allow for whatever time it takes to arrive at an authentic leading or decision that feels balanced. This process can seem to many a very long time as compared to by-the-clock orientations. Arrival at clarity and consensus requires whatever time it organically takes. And as for communicating with indigenous elders, it has been my experience that a head nod graciously indicates that they are “listening” but should not necessarily be construed to mean agreement. Do not presume. Ask. And if the response does not resonate with you, keep an open mind but do not override your own sensibilities. We are all learning.

    – “What is the most effective way for you to support Indigenous rights and struggles? Maybe it’s not the fun sexy thing? Be honest about your choices, even if it feels uncomfortable.” This is a great point. What are your strengths and practical skills? How and where can they be realistically offered? Are you willing to do mundane, background work without need of acknowledgement if the situation requires it?

    You commented: – “There’s so so so many things I could say…so many things we could all say…try listening longer than feels comfortable.” This is such a good point. We live in such a competitive culture it is hard not to race ahead to make one’s point. I still struggle with this. Particularly if you feel your voice has been unjustly marginalized in the past, it’s hard to believe there will be room for all to speak. That’s why talking circles are so helpful: no competition, no interruption. Also, productive exchanges require whatever time they take. An interrupted elder will not necessarily resume the point they were just beginning to develop. An unasked question may never be answered. A rushed conversation may never be continued to fruition.

    Thankyou Simon, for your great heart and your desire to serve.


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