Camp Oceti Kowin (Seven Sacred Campfires)
We pull into the gates at 2 a.m.. I stare up at the seemingly endless flags lining the edge of the camp and cracking and popping in the strong North Dakota winds.
Nine hours ago, we were walking the campus sidewalks of Lincoln, Nebraska. Nine hours ago, we were all just students. Now I'm not sure what we are, but I feel a shift in my identity.
A beam of light splits the darkness, shining directly into our vehicle. Two native men stand on the other side of the beam, peering inside.
Donations and supplies located at the front of camp
"Are you new campers?"
We nod, and I feel my nerves spike in anticipation. Will we be welcomed? Turned away? Interrogated? What does it take to enter this high stakes protest I've read and heard so much about? This piece of history so many people are dedicating their lives to?
They smile warmly, and without hesitation, the man in front eagerly reaches his hand to ours to introduce himself and the man beside him. They welcome us, asking all of our names and where we came from. Seemingly grateful to have a SUV full of random scruffy Nebraskan students to join their ranks. Seemingly grateful that we're here. And then they smudge are our with sage and gesture us in, telling us to set up camp wherever we wish.
I'm dumbfounded. That was it. That was all it took. We are driving through the flattened prairie grass, gazing at the array of tepees and tents lit up by our headlights. No barriers. No segregation. No questions asked.
I look around at the four other students in the car, and I can see it in their faces. I can see they feel the same strange warmth, excitement and curiosity I feel in my heart. We have been welcomed with open arms. They aren't worried about who we are or if we have anything to offer. They aren't worried we aren't Native. We are here, and to the people of the Oceti Sakowin camp, that's what counts.
My road trip buddies Enia, Luke, Jose, and Adam stop to watch the sunset on the way up to Standing Rock.