• Standing Rock Sioux - Saving the Water, Saving Mother Earth

    For this month’s newsletter, we interviewed IMU member Nasya Mancera, a retired Chicago Public School teacher. She lives in Pilsen with her husband, Jim Becker, a local musician. She is the mother of two grown children, and grandmother of one.


    In November, Nasya and Jim drove to North Dakota to support the Standing Rock Sioux in their stance against the construction of an oil pipeline underneath the Missouri River, which the Indigenous nations say would threaten their water supply and accelerate climate change.



    Q: What drew you to travel to Standing Rock?

    Nasya: It's a very simple answer: My heart. I know it sounds a little odd, but I have no other explanation. It was as if there was a calling, and that I needed to be there, as did my husband, Jim, who first alerted me to the situation. There seemed to be an energy that is transcending space and time, and I don't know how else to explain it.

    But while I was there, I saw and experienced many water ceremonies with prayer. There is a ritual to everything and a respect for Mother Earth and all nature. At 6 a.m., for example, people gathered around the main fire to pray, calling to ancestors to add strength to movement. I think they've been calling out to people from around the world.

    Also, while I was there, people would ask me what indigenous group I was from, and I would say that I identified with the Mexica [Me ji ka], the Indigenous people of the valley of Mexico. My family immigrated from Mexico when I was a child. Many people there were going back to their roots, reconnecting with their ancestors, even if generations had passed. For example, there was one young man from Colombia. Another man in our camp was originally from Peru. We had a woman from Hawaii there; and a young man from Nepal. All of them identified as indigenous. There seems to be a unifying call, almost as if our roots are calling us. Those who aren't indigenous are there because they feel it's important to do whatever they can to help this movement.

    This experience felt like taking ownership—taking back what has been taken away. We get so indoctrinated and enculturated to mainstream culture, that many of us have lost our roots—that authentic source, our authentic soul.

    Q: What surprised you the most about your trip?

    Nasya: We went to show our solidarity with the water protectors. We started out thinking that we were the ones who were giving, and ended up feeling as though we were given to.

    In essence we were thinking that we would contribute to the cause, but what was very surprising was that we got in return much more than we could ever have given. We walked away with renewed sense of being human, of being generous, and of being loving. People shared whatever they had, whether it was a skill, supplies, or food.

    For example, there was another young man from Peru in the camp next to us. The other people in his camp left, and he was without a tent. A guy drove by and asked us: ‘Do you need anything?’ My husband directed him to the young man from Peru, who was intending to stay the entire winter. So this man brought back a ten-person tent, big enough for a stove. He said, ‘We’re leaving today, please take this.’ The young man from Nepal, who was also leaving, gave the Peruvian his coat, hat and gloves, and said, ‘You need this more than I do.’

    Another day, two young men drove up in a van. They asked, ’Does anyone need lumber?’ They had driven all the way from Wisconsin because they had heard people in the camp needed firewood. They unloaded the lumber, then they turned around and drove back to Wisconsin. Two young woman drove up with a subzero sleeping bag that they ended up donating to the young man from Peru. We asked, ‘Who are you?” They said, ‘We’re just two sisters from L.A.’ The woman from Hawaii made soup out of her van, because that's what she could do. She fed everyone around her.

    If you needed something, people would give it to you. It was such a loving, no strings attached type of giving. It’s very much not what we're used to in city life, where we wonder, ‘Why are they being so nice to me?’ That’s not even a question there.

    Question: Tell us a little bit about camp life.

    Nasya: Every morning, at 6 a.m., people would gather and pray. This is when they were calling the spirits, the ancestors, anyone and everyone to join them. As hard as it was to get up—as it was coldest part of day, before the sun came up—I felt fortified. I felt that anything that would happen that day, would happen. There was no fear, no anxiety. I felt such an ease being involved in this group, involved in prayer. I came away feeling fortified. That was a gift.

    It is remarkable. One morning, a Huichol Indian—a member of an indigenous people of western central Mexico living in Sierra Madre—sang a prayer in his own language over the water, and blessed everyone there. To see an elder come and do this was so touching. I think this may be why so many of us have gravitated to this cause, the young and old. It’s a passing of energy.

    It’s interesting, the longer that I am away [from Standing Rock], these feelings dissipate. I’m not feeling the same energy, being back in our mainstream culture.

    Question: Were you ever afraid of being injured or arrested?

    Nasya: First of all, there is extensive prayer and training to prepare for what can happen. The women’s silent march, for example, started with a sweat lodge to set the intention, followed by three hours of training. Also, the organizers give you the option whether you want to be on the front lines, or near the back. The ones in front are those most at risk of jail or harm. The further back you are, the less chance you have of suffering any brutality. Also, because the police were so brutal, you sign waivers. You know exactly what you’re doing, and what you are getting into.

    But you still do it, because it’s right. Nothing special. It just is what has to be done. All the preparation, including the prayer, makes people there very strong and fearless. I didn’t feel any fear. Another woman and I were in the group of elders who were on the front lines of the women’s silent march, which culminated in a water ceremony that was held on the militarized side of the bridge. When the ceremony was through, she said, ‘You are such a strong woman.’ I said, ‘I don’t think I am. I just think this is where I belong.’ I never felt as though I were doing something out of the ordinary, or that this was something special. It just had to be done. She said, ‘I feel the same way.’


    Q: How did your meditation practice dovetail with what you experienced at Standing Rock?

    Nasya: The idea that I have from meditation that we are all one—that we’re all just energy, and connected. The indigenous live this on a daily basis. This is their culture, how they are raised. In this sense, the police are not their enemies; they are just doing their job. They believe that we are one with the water, with the air, and that all things are sacred. The water is sacred. The fire is sacred. It dovetails in that they talk about all these things are just energy. This is where I've learned to be with meditation; yet, they live it. They are born into this type of belief system that has a grand respect for all life. Nothing is taken for granted.


    Q: What can we all learn from the events at Standing Rock?

    Nasya: Standing Rock goes beyond water. They are trying to create an understanding of protecting Mother Earth, not just the water.

    Standing Rock also has to do with taking a stance on global warming, and how this whole thing impacts all living things. They are teaching us all about going beyond fossil fuels and looking at alternative ways to create energy. Why not solar? Why not wind? They are proposing a rethinking, going toward a more natural way of life. They are trying to help us rethink how we live our lives if we are going to pass on something to our children or grandchildren. And all this in spite of the fact that they have been brutalized. That they continue to be a peaceful and prayerful people is remarkable to me. They are conducting civil disobedience, yes, but in a peaceful manner. They are teaching us that you have to make a stand, make a statement, but you don’t have to be aggressive about it.


    Q: What are your plans regarding Standing Rock going forward?

    Nasya: Before going, I already had a Facebook account, mostly to keep in touch with long-distance friends. However, since I’ve gotten back, I’ve been posting stories about Standing Rock. It’s one thing I can do, to get as much information out there as possible. The other thing that Jim and I have done is to divest from the banks that are funding the pipeline. We are shifting our money. And as we left, one of the elders said, “Go and pray, and tell others to pray. Whichever way you do it, just pray.

    Even though President Obama declared an easement, many of those at Standing Rock do not trust this. The feeling around the camp is that as soon as Trump gains office, the oil owners will start up again. Because if they were really intending to stop, all the militarized police, razor wires, and tanks would be gone, and they are not. It’s not over.

    Those at the camps do want people to come, but contact the camp before you leave. They are saying that they need the people who come to be healthy and self-sufficient because of the harsh winter conditions. I know they need plumbers, electricians, carpenters.


    Question: If people can’t make it physically to Standing Rock, what can people do, both spiritually and materially, to support this cause?

    Nasya: There are quite a few places to donate or to see how you can help. The International Indigenous Youth Council (https://www.facebook.com/IIYCstandingrock/) includes the youth who initiated the movement. You can message them on their Facebook page. You can also donate to the Sacred Stone Camp through their page (https://www.facebook.com/CampOfTheSacredStone/). Other places to contact include the Oceti Sakowin Camp (http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org/), or the Sacred Rock Legal Defense Fund (https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/d19fAf) .


    Q: Did going to Standing Rock change or enhance your meditation practice?

    Nasya: My intention when I sit and meditate now is set in prayer. Not that I’m praying for one specific thing, I just keep in mind the struggle to protect the water and the thought of honoring Mother Earth. It’s not so much a prayer, but a thought. I know we’re not supposed to have things on our mind during meditation, so it’s just an intention. I now sit with an intention.



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