Cheryl Angel: Standing Peacefully Firm at Standing Rock
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Jun 10, 2017
Guest: Cheryl Angel Host: Rahul Brown Moderator: Colleen Choi
Rahul Brown: This week's theme is ‘Standing Tall at Standing Rock’. To me this means the capacity and ability to stand for the principles that Standing Rock was about. Coming from the space of protecting water and doing it from the authentic spirit of love in the face of something other than that. And we have the pleasure of having Colleen with us as our moderator who was also at Standing Rock. I'm sure Colleen that you saw a lot of people attempting to embody this. And Cheryl Angel is a particularly brilliant example of holding true to those principles. Are there any thoughts you'd like to lead us into before we kick off the conversation with Cheryl?
Colleen Choi: I was with Cheryl for two months at Standing Rock, and I lived with her. So I was able to observe her in everyday life not just the big things but the little things. Like how she would spend hours on end smudging people, or spend the whole day washing dishes, or go to the front lines to pray to police with water cannons shooting over her heads, to leading 800 people to the front lines and holding space for prayer. It's something that she's unwavering in and did day in and day out for months, and I'm so inspired by her and being with her changed me. So I feel so honored to be on this call with all of you and with Cheryl.
Rahul: I can see how that would really be a life-changing thing. So Colleen I will just hand it over to you to give a deeper intro.
Colleen: I first met Cheryl when we were doing a walk to the Turtle Island. It was a youth-led action and we were making a human medicine wheel And I just saw this woman running back and forth, serving the youth making sure everyone was safe amongst 600 people. And at one point we met and she just had so much warmth and kindness to her. And she smiled and said, “Do you want to live with me?” And I was like, “Yeah!”. So that was the start of it. And she has stood up against two pipelines. Standing Rock is the second one. Her real-life mission is to spread the message that ‘Water is Life’ and to protect water. How she does that is in ceremony and at camp, we start in ceremony and we end in ceremony, and so both of us felt it appropriate that since this call is also a ceremony, I’d love for Cheryl to start the ceremony for us.
Cheryl Angel: Thank you for that introduction both of you. I’m humbled. I feel like it’s somebody else that you’re speaking of who has done all these great things. So I'm standing here with you -- I have the chills just from hearing your good words, and I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this space with me, so I can share a message that's going to benefit not only the people, but it's going to begin a healing for the people, and to change how we relate to the earth, and how we treat the earth and how we can make a stand and how we recognize that it is a stand that needs to be made, by anybody who is standing on the earth, drinking water. So I always tell all the people I meet that standing up was a ceremony -- we have space, spiritual space for ceremonies, all the people that were in ceremony that came to that spot. So I would like to start with this song, because that's how we start ceremony. It's not a very long song, and I'll just sing one phrase, instead of the normal -- we usually do everything four times.
[Starts to sing]
Colleen: Thank you, Cheryl!
Cheryl Angel: You’re very welcome. Thank you.
Colleen: After that beautiful opening, it brings to heart the question of where your deep spirituality comes from, how was it planted in you so deeply?
Cheryl: There are so many people that I would like to say thank you that made this life possible. But it was the people who I really got to just watch, how they lived their life, and hear their story about their life, and that's how I got to where I’m at. It was by watching other people around me, and listening to their story and understanding that relationship that they had to protect the earth, and to accept me as worthy for holding a space. So I try when I meet people to transmit to them their worthiness, and their powerfulness and I want to empower them to, you know, look at where they are and where they're standing and how beautiful it is, and how much is at risk of being lost, if they don't stand up. When I was born, it was it was a very traumatic event -- it wasn't just a regular birth. My mother had lost a son, a full term baby in childbirth, they saved her life, but she had heart disease so they told her to come back and they would have this heart surgery for her. Back in those days, they called it open heart surgery, and the only place it was done was in Omaha, Nebraska, in a heart facility there. So she went back, went home.
Her and my dad were deeply affected by the loss of their son and when it was time for her to go back and get prepared to have this open-heart surgery, she was pregnant. And they told her you need to abort this child, you will die, your heart is so bad, you will both die. There's no way we can guarantee either one of your safety. And so she went home and she told my dad, and then they decided together that they were going to use prayer and they were going to pray that both of us would survive. And that's what they did -- they prayed and they prayed and they prayed, and then when she was having labor, then she went back to the hospital. But they had already known that she was in danger, it was a high risk pregnancy so when they got there, they called the heart doctors and they called everybody who was on staff that could possibly, you know, save her, and save me, and they did --they saved both of us. I was born and she didn't die but she was so, so weak that she was immediately transferred. They had to make a spot for her in Omaha so that she could have this heart surgery, and so in the meantime, my dad took me home to the Badlands in South Dakota where I got to meet my my grandmother.
It was there I started learning about nature. She spoke Lakota to me. I was in a crib way out in the middle of the grasslands in a cabin. So the window was open and I learned from a very small age about being alone because it was me, her and my dad. And my first recollection of life is the smell of Spring and rain coming through that window. Because I was born in the winter time, but I can remember Spring coming -- that essence, and seeing the grass blow in the wind, it looked to me like waterways, but they were gold, and for me they were so soothing. And my dad worked out in the field, so they had devised a plan on how to take care of me, and it involved this bell.
This bell was hung outside the cabin and it was tied to a string, and I was inside the cabin in a crib, and so when I needed attention, I would grab the string and pull on it. And the bell would ring and at first, my grandmother would come in from outside and take care of me. And then she passed after that first winter. And so that second winter, I was alone and by that Spring, I could walk around. So I would ring this bell, and this horse would come and tend to me.
My first babysitter was literally a horse, and my horse was like a mother, she would tend to me best she could and then if she couldn't console me, she would run to the fields and look for my dad and bring him back, and he would take care of me. So my first experiences were having the wind come in that window, watching all the seasons change from the window, having an animal soothe and take care of me, and eventually my mom was released from the hospital when I was about 2 and I returned to my family. And it was hard for me because I was the outsider. I wasn't this brand new baby that people wrapped their arms around on my mom's side, I had many older siblings and I was the youngest. So I was like the neighbor's kid or the cousin or the niece, who was brought home one day and they said, "Here's your sister." And everybody looked at me like, "Really, that's our sister?".
Thankfully, we moved back to the reservation. I met my mom's elders. And they took pity on me, they could see that I was the youngest and that I was alone, and they told me stories of when they were on horseback, how they crossed rivers, where they would set up a camp. Stories of what happened along the way as they were moving camp. This is people who were born in the 1800s and they wanted to share these stories. So they told stories, a lot of them included how they treated animals. How people got their names from animals. The relationships with the winds. The winds have names. The plants have names and purposes and duty. The Plant Nation is a Healing nation. We need to protect the land so that our environments become healthy, because that's how you cure a community -- by keeping the land healthy, by caring for the plants and using them as medicine, being one with Nature. That's what I was taught when I was little. That's why I want to protect water. That's my life calling because water sustains all life, starting with the Plant Nation then moving onto all the animals, than humans. We can't live without water. Nothing can. So that's my basis for loving the world and protecting the water and seeing our relatives -- these animals are our relatives. We need to live in harmony with them and protect their habitat too. We can't just erase them because we need that land. And same goes with plants -- we're using all this herbicide which are killing the plants. If there's an illness in the community, the Creator has set up a system such that the plants that grow in that neighborhood will try it's best to wash it out with rain, then filter it out with plants and then grow these plants that will heal people. That's how powerful the Mother we live on called Earth is. We are provided for, if we just live with Nature and remember that we are just one nation on this globe of several hundred thousand different species. We are just one.
Colleen: This deep connection with the animals and with water -- what inspired you to fight against two pipelines and devote all of your being to this?
Cheryl Angel: Those teachings that were instilled in me, I carried them with me. And I met teachers. Other outside people from the communities who would have workshops. I went to school on the reservation and graduated from a tribal college in South Dakota and then I got married, I left the reservation and met other tribal people in other places. Powerful women indigenous speakers who talked about the sacredness of life, and that's the one thing that has kept me alive and has kept me in ceremony in a sacred spot. I didn't have aunties. My mom did pass away before she got to see my children. That was a big heartache for me. I didn't have grandparents, because my mom's sisters had passed away, my mom's mom’s sisters had passed away. It was a hard time for Native women. And when I looked around me, everybody had uncles, aunties, grandmas, grandpas. And because my mom's family had lost two generations of women, I didn't have aunties or grandmas. So all these other people came in. When I heard people talking about the power of women and the power of life, I listened intently to their message because I could feel it. And I had these children that depended solely on me for everything. And that's how our world is. Our world depends upon us to protect it and if we protect the world, it will protect us.
My children kept me sober. I was scared of what would happen, if I left them and went drinking with my friends. This fear for their safety and of them being too far from me, that's what kept me sane and sober. This love I had for my kids. If they were somewhere else, I was in fear for their safety. There are abuses in homes all over the planet. Children are being neglected. They are not being fed. Parents have to leave them, sometimes with strangers, in order to work and to make money for that family. Maybe one of them is in the hospital, and they have to leave their children with somebody and they have to trust whoever is closest to them. That's the climate we live in and sometimes it turns out terrible. So this fear that something would happen to my children kept them close to me, and not having anyone else to support me kept me on top of my game, just so I could make sure they had food, water and clothing. We were a tight-knit circle. And then there's this thing that happened -- the Oglala Aquifer was underneath our reservation and most of Nebraska, but when that pipeline was going to be built, it was going to be close to that aquifer and on our tribal land. So we put up a camp right there, and we were going to say not on our land, not on our aquifer because we understand the sacredness of life. At that time our tribe was sending out messages and letting everybody know, because we have ceremonies every summer to celebrate life and how sacred water is and it can't be contaminated, and this pipeline was a threat to that. Not just for us, but all the people in Nebraska, the farmers and the animals.
And so when the camp was set up, I learned everything about water protection and how to fight a pipeline. It was called the Rosebud Tribe Spiritual Camp. I moved out there because I felt the calling and my son went out there and I had my first grandson out there. And I wanted water for him, to be able to play in the creeks and streams that I played in. I wanted the water to be clean for him. That water was in danger. That's why I ended up out there and my son ended up out there.
Then I had a revelation. I saw this thing happen right in front of my eyes. I don't know how to explain it -- we went shopping, we had been absent from our homes, and so we went shopping and we had left our family, a girlfriend watching the baby and we were at the camp and got her everything she needed for another month. And as I went through the door pushing the cart, I saw this image of my grandson hanging by his arm from the trunk of the car, and I blinked my eyes and my heart jumped and I started running. And then I looked right in front of me and there's the car and my grandson isn't hanging from his arm, and I am thinking what was that? But still my spirit was moving, my momentum was still moving, and as soon as I got halfway between this door and the car, the cart slipped -- my grandson stuck his arm out to grab something, and he grabbed the car and my daughter-in-law slammed the trunk, so he was hanging there. And I'd seen it just seconds before. We popped open the trunk. The only thing we had in the car -- he was bleeding, his fingers were bent in the wrong direction, and I was thinking he needs to get to a hospital.
The only thing we had with us was water, so I grabbed the water and started praying. And I said, "Creator, please don't let my grandson lose his hand because men can't work without their hands. They need their hands to take care of the people." I poured this water into the palm of his hands because that's all that I could do. And then his hand began to look normal. So I wrapped it up, gave him to his mom and we were ready to go and then he started screaming again. So I jumped back out and started praying again and poured it till there was no more water left, and by then his fingers were straight, they were still puffy and colored but they looked normal again. So I carefully wrapped them up and gave him to his mom. We had spent all our money. But he was still in pain and screaming that he was in pain. So we drove to McDonald's and grabbed all of the change out of the car and bought him an ice cream cone and a cup of ice water. And I put his hands in that ice-water and we drove to the hospital because his fingers were broken. He wanted to pull his hand out of the cup, so we unwrapped that little cloth, and he wasn’t even two years old, he showed his hand to me and there was his hand, and his fingers weren’t bent and the swelling was gone and they weren’t scraped and bruised any more. And when I saw that, I was so thankful. I started crying and I made a pledge then and there. I said, “Creator, Thank you, Thank you.” And I said I would protect water to the end of my days, even if it took my life, because I had been shown that water can heal.
So I know the power of water because I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. It heals. So water is magical. It can do what we need it to do. But we have to protect it - we can’t let it be contaminated. We can’t let pipelines threaten our water supply. We need to drink that, the Plant Nation needs that, the Animal Nation needs that. For me it’s a common sense statement, but our spirits need to rise up. And protect that water. Because if our spirits don’t do it, then it’s not going to be protected. It needs to be a spiritual movement. We need to get on that front line and not be afraid to stand there, until we can ensure that our water is protected for life. So I do this for life basically.
Colleen: I remember I met both of your children -- Happi and Elias and I remember hearing the story of how Happi was one of the first ones to lock himself to the machine at Standing Rock. Can you share more about that and what you went through as a mother, not just a water-protector?
Cheryl Angel: Happi came to the Rosebud Spiritual Camp in the Spring of the second year and at that time, it was cold and our resources were being drained and people were tired and they were going to temporarily close the camp until Spring was done. And we were going to have our annual celebration and open it back up. When I went to the people talking to those who said they were going to close the camp, my heart jumped, "We cannot close this camp". So I made a pledge -- I said I'll go out there in the middle of the cornfield, in the middle of nowhere, you don't have to use any resources, except keep the electricity and water on and I will go out there and take care of the camp.
We had people from nearly 100 different countries coming to that camp. Well, less than a hundred, but I can't remember the number anymore. But it was a pretty big number from different countries. People had come to pledge their support for the camp. And so these people were still coming, and so I didn't want the camp to close down because I wanted to let them know that it doesn't matter what, we will be there to receive you, and we will be there to give you the information you need to stand up and protect your water.
And so I did, and I had Happi go out there with me, because I couldn't be out there alone. And he said, "Well, mom, I don't know about that." And I said, "Just come, please." I had to beg him. But he came. That was his first experience at the camp. It was a solitary one. He was out there. He'd be out there, then I'd be in town, then I'd be up out there, but there was somebody always at camp. And then, sure enough, more people came and then we didn't have to be out there by ourselves. And then more people came and the local people came back, and so everything was good. And that was his experience until the Dakota access pipeline started up, and then I asked him again. I said, "Son, can you come with me? We need you at this camp." And he said, "Is it going to be like Keystone?" I said, "It's going to be a little different because there's going to be a lot more people for one thing, but it's the same thing. We're going to be living in teepees, and we're going to be praying out there, and we are going to be protecting the water. And we’re going to be disseminating information.
So he said, "Ok. I'll go do it." And then a transformation happened within him. Before we went to the camp, he went to the training on how to take care of horses, horse-handling training. Very, very important that we connect. I tell the story of how he connected with these horses. So a week of training, then at the end of the week, I think they were on a ten mile trail ride. So he had learned what he needed to how to safely handle a horse. The very next week, we met. On that Friday, he was done. We met again. And then we went to another horse camp with the Nakoto horses. And they taught him how to handle a wild horse. In three days, you can, with love and with that spiritual intent, these horses will communicate with you and they understand what it is you're asking of them, as long as you treat them honorably and honestly, because they can read your intent. That's how smart these horses are. So he was there for a week -- they tell you how horses are, so you can change your behavior, because horses don't have to change. Humans have to change how they treat horses. So that was what the training was for. We both went. And then from there we went to another gathering. We went to a spiritual sundance gathering. And then from there we went to another ceremony. So for four weeks, we were preparing to get to Standing Rock. I mean we drove up there in between these places, in these events, but still we were in training and when we got there, I left them there, and said, "Okay."
I had to work for a month. So on weekend I'd go, and he was there a month, manning the teepee that we had set up for the Rosewood people. And the camp was growing. The children were running, and it was on their run to D.C., that he had to stay and man the camp because most everybody from camp was leaving. So he did. He did. And in that time, we called people to help us, so other campers are showing up. He met people from the Oglala nation and that's where his dad is from. That is where my dad is from. And he learned about direct action. He learned about, you know, ceremony. And then when I was up at Pe’Sla taking care of these horses, because that's why we were in training, because horses were coming to us. And so they came to Pe'Sla, we had ceremony with them. And one of the promises that I have to keep in having these horses is every four days, I have ceremony. I have a four day ceremony with them every single month, and I take new people to them. So I was up doing that. He was at the camp.
And then I got a text message early in the morning, and someone said to me, "If that was my son, I would be crying." And I was thinking, "What are they talking about?" It was someone from camp. So I drove up on the hill, at Pe'Sla where I could get a signal and be with the horses, and then I just got tons of images. People started sending me things. And there was a live feed going on out there, and then videos. And there was my son locked onto one of those excavation equipments and they were singing songs for him. And he was singing "Mni Wiconi” [Lakota for ‘Water is Life’]. And I was so scared, I would cry. And then I would pray for his safety. And then I would calm down. And then somebody would send another video, or another video would pop up. They don't know how to extract him. The people are going to hurt him. You know. He's going to lose an arm. And all these people and these images were just all over Facebook. And so I spent maybe five hours up on that hill. I would be scared, and then I would pray, and then I would say, "Creator." And Creator would let me know everything's going to be ok.
And then a lawyer called me. And then, you know, people from the camps are calling me directly. And they started giving me updates. But it was so emotional for me. I just cried my heart out because I thought, you know, they were going to rip off his arms. And then they were going to saw them off. But Creator every time I asked him for help, he would calm me down. I would let all of that fear go away in prayer and then I would be calm again. And so at one point, I was so excited and I was so worried, I started the car, and I was going to leave. I was five hours away from camp. I was going to leave. I put the car in drive, stepped on the gas. Bam! I heard this really huge, huge, loud noise, and I thought it was my radiator, but it wasn't. I had a major blowout. I had a blowout in my front tire. I ran over a rock. And so from that point on, I was stuck there. So I sat there for for hours and listening, going back and forth. And what he had done, I was so afraid of his life, because I knew that the people weren't going to treat him right -- the law enforcement -- but they did their best. I mean they did their jobs. They did what they were asked to do.
The people came and supported him. And from that moment on, and that was on August 31st, because of the live streams and because of the Facebook videos, that action woke up all of the activists who were protecting water for decades. Because the clean water act that came from activists. So these activists were waiting. Well, they weren't waiting, but they were all busy protecting water in their own little groups. But when that video went out, they coalesced. They all decided -- we are going to Standing Rock, and we're going to help them protect the water because they're calling us. So on that day, a message was sent all over Facebook and all the water activists showed up. They started coming in, in droves. So that was the beginning of the message that was sent out to the world. We're serious. We will do whatever we need to do. If we have to put our our lives on the line, we will do that and when he was on the line, I was so afraid for his life that I just cried, and I just prayed and prayed and cried.
Eventually, I got off the hill. Some guy came up out of nowhere, out of nowhere. Get this, after it was all over, and he was jailed, and they were having a candlelight vigil outside the jail chanting, "Release Happi." They did release him. So after was all over, I was going to leave the mountain, the mountain top because I was at Pe'Sla, a very sacred place where we have had ceremony for tens of thousands of years. I was going to leave that place and I started the car, and I start driving. And then what happened. Then I remembered I had a flat, and the sun was going down, and I was like two to three miles away from, you know, the place where I was staying at. So I was thinking -- I was trying to plan out a route, of where I was going to walk, to get back. And I was thinking, "Well, the car will probably be safe up here." But anyway and then after he was taken down and he was safe, I prayed to Creator. And I said, "Creator, you have given me so much and you answered my prayers. I'm not going to ask for anything else today, not anything else."
And then I finished my prayer, started my car, and then bam! I remembered I had the flat -- couldn't go anywhere. So I didn't even want to pray for help, because I didn't even want to ask again, because I had given my word that I wasn't going to ask for any more help. And I was going to be happy with that day, the way it ended. And so I sat there and I was trying to devise this plan, because once I left that spot, I wouldn't have phone service. And then I could hear a car coming and I looked around, and sure enough, off of the next hill over, there was a vehicle coming down the hill. But the road it was on turned left and would go farther away from me, so I was thinking, "I wonder if I should jump out and holler and wave or whatever?" And I said, "No, I'll just wait to see what happens." And it ended up, that truck pulled up right behind me, and it was a water protector from the Keystone KXL camp -- one of the main protectors showed up, out of nowhere. And he pulled up beside me and he says, "Cheryl, what are you doing out here?"
I wanted to say that you have answered my prayer but I didn’t say that because I had taken a vow that day that I wasn’t going to ask for anything else. So he said it instead! He said, "Looks like I'm here to answer your prayer!". And he was totally right. He had answered a sub-conscious prayer. I knew I needed help, but I wasn't going to ask Creator and I wasn't going to pray for helpers. I just told him, "Thank you for everything. I'm not going to ask for anything else". So it wasn't my prayer. It was my need, certainly. But it was the prayers of all the people who have ever prayed for those who need help and who feel like there isn't a way to turn. It's all those prayers because, I was out there and I didn't know which way to go and I did need help. And lo and behold, the pickup pulls up and a water-protector jumps out and says "Sure, I'll change your tyre. No problem!" So that's why I have such a deep faith...
Colleen: Speaking of prayer, I want to know what guides you. What is this constant thread of prayer that guides you, and this light inside of you that brings you to lead 800 people in a march, or does something small -- like help someone or something. I just feel that every single thing you do, regardless of what it is, it has this same feeling - a very 'careful' feeling. I'd love to hear more about what guides you, what is this fire inside of you?
Cheryl: Uhmm..i think it was because i didn't have that big support system of mom and dad and uncle and aunt and grandpa and grandma. But when I was really little, I was told, "Don't forget, you are from Two-Kettle. Don't forget when you are out." 'Cos when we were little kids, we would go down to the creeks. Before we left, that's what they would say "Don't forget! You are from Two-Kettle. Don't forget that when you are with each other, you have to take care of each other. And when one of you is in trouble, all of you have to help that person. If one of you wants to do something wrong, all of you have to stop them from doing that wrong thing. If one of you is doing something that might put all of you in danger, then all of you have to stop that from happening, because you have to depend upon yourself and take care of each other when you are in this group." So that's what we did. We learnt how to take care of each other. We learnt how to stop each other from acting in a wrong way and we learnt how to keep each other out of harm. And if we were in harm, we learnt how to protect each other, because we were little kids out in the wilderness, the wild wilderness, on our own and we were allowed to do that. To travel as a group and explore wherever we wanted. So that's what we did every day, but everyday we had the same speech: "Remember you are from Two-Kettle. Remember to protect each other. Remember to not let nobody do anything wrong and don't let anybody harm anybody else." So those were our basic rules and everyday we were reminded. And then there's the other talk -- the other talk was this -- "If you ever think you are alone, you are not! You are never ever alone. Creator's always there, there's animals there, there's land there, water there, plantation. You are never ever alone. So ask for what it is that you need because you are never ever alone." I ended up, growing up alone. But I remembered what they said -- Creator would always be there to help me. And so, I learnt how to pray even in the most difficult, painful, life-threatening moments of my life. Because my life -- I have been kidnapped, people have tried to kill me on more than one occasion -- it was people who said they loved me, and that was the part that literally just broke my heart. But I was always praying.
In those times of danger and those times when I was being assaulted and when I was being beaten, I would always remember my mom and I would think, "If today's the day I'm going to die, then I'm going to go to my mom in a peaceful way. I'm not going to be screaming and crying and begging for my life." I'm going to stand there in prayer because Creator is with me, will always be with me. And so that time of my life eventually passed. I wasn't in danger anymore and I found safety. But it was in prayer. And I would always pray, "Creator, take me someplace good where i can serve, or I can do something good." No matter how hard my life was, that was my prayer -- Creator please, take me someplace good, where I can do something good. Because as humans, that's basically what we are meant to be for one another. We are meant to create safe spaces for one another and protect those safe spaces and we are meant to serve one another in the best way that we can to protect them. So that was my prayer and that has been my daily prayer for decades. Whenever I am in doubt, whenever I am fearful, I just -- and especially every morning -- I pray, “Creator take me someplace good”. “Let me do something good today to help the people”.
Colleen: What I found so inspiring is when you talked about the Nagi, the seventh direction and your relationship and all of our relationships with the Nagi. Can you explain that more?
Cheryl: Yes. The first time I shared this story about the people having a Nagi -- because that is the seventh direction -- we pray to the four directions and then we pray to the Creator who is above, our Father. Then the land, our Mother below, that is the six directions. It is a west, north, east, south, and then it's the Creator above and then it's the Mother below us, and then we pray to the seventh direction which is our internal spirit that is connected to Creator. That is our Nagi. When we allow our Nagi to lead us -- because it is connected to Creator -- there isn't anyplace bad it will take us. That was my prayer because I wanted, when I say, "Creator, take me someplace good", I am directing my internal spirit - my Nagi - to follow whichever where Creator tells me to go. Our Nagi speaks to us and we just don't listen to it. Men call it a gut feeling. "I have this gut feeling". Well, that is their Nagi trying to tell them what not to do, or to do. So, people have to listen to their gut feeling. For women, they call it intuition. Our men have intuition too. But they explain it as a gut feeling. So, our intuition is actually our Nagi. Hinting to us, sending us bodily responses - because we carry it with us - of how to act. So this nagi is the power that we have that we need to grow. So our spirit can lead us easier. Because we're on a human path. We believe freedom is having the choice of a job, getting a job, living in rich community, doing the work that we do and maybe driving a car and owning a home. We all think that is freedom. But the real freedom is a spiritual freedom that can let all of that go, and do good things. Do really good things that are spirit-led. They can still involve all those things, but the spirit has to take them to that spot and they have to connect with that spirit and talk to that spirit and recognize it. Because we want it to grow. That is why as Lakota, we have all these ceremonies. They are for our nagi. They are to keep us healthy. To keep us on the right path. So we always talk about the "Red Road" and the "Black Road" and we need to be on the "Red Road". Not the "Black Road" because that is filled with fear and suffering, the personal choices and wants.
Colleen: What really moved me at Standing Rock was it was very matriarchal, which is something I had not experienced before. I learned so much about the importance of being a woman to Mother Earth and to society. I would love to hear about what women mean to Mother Earth in your culture and feminine, as a powerful indigenous leader. How do you see women leading today?
Cheryl: Women have been leading for a very long time. Because, first of all, we are Creators of life. Just like Mother Earth is a Creator of life and a nurturer of life and water is a sustainer of life. Women, we bring life to this world and as such, we are water carriers. We carry life in water. Just like the Earth does. The Earth sustains this whole planet with water. So, we are an extension of that. We embody, symbolically and physically, an Earth. So, we stand upon the Earth as water-protectors because that is our job. We are water-carriers and we are water-protectors. Because we protect life. So that's as simply as I can say that. But there are ceremonies. There are water ceremonies that we conducted over and over at Standing Rock, and are conducting everywhere on the globe. Every town we pray with water, because water heals. Water is an essential connector of all life.
That’s basically what it is. We are water carriers. And it’s our duty to protect that land for all women. There’s a way of instruction and leadership in our tribes, and it has to do with Creation stories and the rules of the men and the women. So in the beginning there was just one Creator. One immense. One energy Creator. But eventually Creator wanted someone else to share that power. So he opened himself up, but once he did that, there was no stopping the flow from him. At the end of all of this flow of all of his energies, he was hard and he was brittle. But he was surrounded by all of the power that was within him, was now without him. And he looked at this hard brittle thing and he had pity on it, and then it spoke and it said, “I’m bleeding to death here. I’m a rock!” And immediately he responded, and he created the sun, and then pretty soon she was baking on one side and freezing on the other, and so he created the moon and all the stars. And she was still dry and brittle, and then he created the rain. But the whole way I’m telling this story is really simple. And this is how we rule our family lives and our society is the way the story was told. There was only one thing in the beginning and from that one thing came two things, a female and a masculine essence. And when the female said I’m hard as a rock, I’m cold and brittle, he responded and created the sun. And that’s how we run our families. The women are in charge of saying what’s needed and the men are in charge of protecting and providing for the women, and that’s based on the creation of life.
So if you go back to the videos and you look at any of the videos of Standing Rock, when there was a powerful action -- there was a man who had been infiltrating the camps and had brought a rifle -- so when the raid came, they could say the camp had a weapon. He was driving on the road to get to camp and was identified as an outsider who had a weapon. So people got on the road and tried to stop him but he just plowed through them -- they got out of the way safely. We had radio, so we radioed that he was coming down the road, so they put the cars up on the road, then he tried to swerve and go down into a ditch but there was another vehicle -- a security vehicle that chased him down and rammed his car off the road, so he had to get out. And he grabbed his gun and ran, and in the video, you can see him running with the rifle, and the women were saying, “Don’t let him go. Surround him. Stop him.” And even we were there standing, so the men that heard that call -- they ran after him with no weapons, with open hands and surrounded him. And he was in the river, and one of them approached him with no weapons or anything and had his hands up and told him to not harm people. And to let go of that gun. And eventually he was disarmed and he was taken into custody. But the whole power of that incident was the women saying, “Don’t let him leave. Surround him.” And the men responded. There were many stories of direct action when the women said “Stop” or “Stand” or “Move” or “Help”. And the most inspiring thing I ever saw happen at Standing Rock happened the night when we were being water-cannoned, and I was in ceremony and I was on the front line, but I wasn’t in front of the tank. I didn’t want to stand in front of a machine, I would rather go down face to face with their guns. I was having ceremony and singing and I told them that we would find them new jobs and to have faith in us and that they were our family, and that I wanted them to join us and be water protectors because we needed them. So while they were shooting at us, I was out there praying and delivering this message. And we were standing in peace.
Colleen: In below freezing temperatures, I’d like to add
Cheryl: Oh, yeah. It was like a war zone. But that is where prayer is needed. It’s needed on the front lines and for the people with weapons to know that we’re their family. They are shooting their family and there is an alternative way. So that’s why I am always on the front line because that’s where the prayer and the ceremony is needed. That’s where I find myself. On this night they had soaked everybody, and everybody was freezing to death. And then cars coming down the hill to that spot were picking up people who were soaked and freezing and cars were coming in and out, there were medics all over taking care of the people. But the story I wanted to talk about -- they had started this fire because people were soaking wet./ and the fire was to warm the people and I walked over to it.
By that time, I had been knocked down by the water-cannon, my shoes were full of water, and my feet were freezing. I walked over and one guy said, “Can I help you?” And I said, “Can you take off my shoes?” They were pouring the water out of one shoe, when the water-cannon hit us. They were trying to put out the fire. So all the men stood up like a shield and I’m not kidding -- they were blasted for more than a minute, till they couldn’t stand up any more. And the water hit the flames and steam came up and there was me and this one guy who was still standing from Sacred Stone and this shiny thing flew by, and I reached over and I grabbed it. And I said, “Will this protect the fire?” And he said, “Only if we hold it up like a shield.” So we knelt down and held it up and they were trying to knock us down. They had the water right on our backs, but we still knelt there in front of the fire and we held up the shield and they were pushing us closer to the fire and it was hissing and giving off steam and we couldn’t see anything and we couldn't breathe anymore, so we both got up. They thought they had put it out -- we couldn’t see anything, but I could hear a woman saying, “Gather dry wood; we need dry wood.” I could hear her saying that, and when the steam went away and I was standing, next to the wire at the front line. I turned around and went back towards the opposite direction, because by then I was so heavy with water, I must have gained 20 pounds and I could barely walk, I was totally drenched. I started making my way back to the fire and what I saw was unbelievable. When the steam moved away, she was saying, “Grab the logs, grab the logs.” So men ran over to the fire, pulled the logs out of the fire and there were embers, there were glowing embers and already there was a new pile of wood, and they went running with these logs and when the wind hit them they were like matchsticks. Boom, boom, boom, I saw fire - just like matches at the end of these logs. And they stuck them into the dry wood that she had been calling for, and within a matter of three minutes, it was another huge fire blazing. And it was a woman who led that action.
And so the people went to that fire and of course, they are smart and they had put it just right out of the range of where the water can't put out that fire. That was amazing, that was the most miraculous thing I had ever seen. It was from the woman's voice, so as women, our power is recognizing the needs of the family and of the community and we need to remember that and honor our men because those are the ones who respond and those are the ones who provide and protect.
Rahul: Cheryl, thank you so much for sharing the story and of the power of women and community. And speaking of community, we are at the top of the hour. Callers can press star six and get on to the queue or you can also ask question by sending email to email@example.com and one of us will ask that. I know that Pancho was interested in asking about the connection between nonviolence and Gandhi and your tradition of, kind of, standing up from a similar space -- can you talk a little about that?
Cheryl: That is a deep question and a very important one. People have to reform and understand the power that they wield, and they are not going to be able to do that, until they recognize their Nagi. That is their spirit. Spirits are part of creator. There are millions of Nagis out there so they can actually unite, and it is hard to describe. But, for example, when we had our silent march, women-led silent march on the bridge, I talked about creating this space and holding this space, that the women need to have the space where our spirits could sit in peace and meditate for peace and protection. But in order for us to hold that spiritual space, we needed the men to be called upon to protect us and they have to have their Nagis in the right space. For most people who are meditating, if they meditate into that place where you understand where you’re going to stand, no one is going to move you. This satyagraha, this force is already within us, but we don’t recognize it or empower this spiritual force, and that’s what creates change in human beings. When we recognize just how more powerful we are and how more powerful we can be when we are united is amazing. We have that space on the bridge with silent prayer with women all lying down and the opposition was overwhelmed and shocked because the majority of them were non-native. We were all having prayer and were in ceremony and I told them told them right to their face, “We are having ceremony and because of proximity, you are in the ceremony and ceremony is in you”. So you could see the people with military uniforms wanting to back off that front line, because they didn’t want to be in ceremony with us. But they were in ceremony anyway because they couldn’t get off that front-line.
People call it a love force and and I guess that's a good way to put it because it's the love for peace and love for the safety of your fellow man, and the commonality to share whatever knowledge we have in between the common man. I hope that helps understand but yeah so we all have a Nagi and that's where our most powerful feelings come from and our most spiritual empowerment comes from.
Rahul: Sure! Pancho, are you there?
Pancho: I wish you could all see our smiling faces here. It's, it's been great to listen to how Colleen and you Cheryl are connecting to the depth of this moment. There is so much, so much I would like to ask. Well, the first thing is that I love you very much. And that we're using these means to prioritize a movement and I want to ask you about that. Right now Cheryl, how would you, you have this vision and this intuition that this is beyond the Standing Rock, and that one of the powerful things that you were feeling when we were there in camps, and connecting with people that you felt that millions and millions of people were with you and were with us. And that you were imagining this indigenous uprising and guidance, so there's something along the lines of the roots where we're coming from, but then you take it to the next level and you say that we all are indigenous to this planet. We're all indigenous to Mother Earth and then you came to the Bay Area and then you spoke with students from U.C. Berkeley and you were talking to Gill tribe or were talking to some land-protectors and most of them are white folks and they were moved to tears when you were connecting to them and to tell them how they were land protectors that was their responsibility now they were born here and even though most of the indigenous folk have been decimated due to cultural and physical genocide, but they're they're here now and it is their responsibility to take care of the land. And they took it and they love it, and then you went down to Stanford, a private university and did the same and the kids and youth connected again. And not only that and you went to the part of the planet that we call Mexico and I think that's where I want to stop. You were connecting with these indigenous folks that have been in that community for forty years and they got inspired by the water protectors of Standing Rock, by Happi and but all the people that were putting their lives in the line and they decided to make a camp, a natural building house blocking the power lines that create a hydro-electric but without the power lines we can’t do anything and today is the day that house with an orchard, with corn and with squash and with beans -- the three sisters are holding strong, they're blocking that power line inspired by Standing Rock and you were in that place and people were grateful for what you were doing, so I just want to say -- if you were able to tell a message to the water protectors of the world and the land-protectors of the Earth right now, what would you tell them?
Cheryl: I would tell them that it's really a simple speech and they're halfway to where they're need to be and I'm halfway to where I need to be too. Whenever activists who have been actively protecting the land and tribal territories and their own communities across the globe, we have activists -- when they become spiritual, they move from just being an activist to a spiritual activist and when people who lead in prayer -- I’m going to call them spiritualists because there are so many inter-denominational faiths on this, on this planet, but there's a beauty there of its own, but whenever they use their prayer and their spiritualism and when they move that into becoming an activist who will stand in a nonviolent manner, then we have everything. We have the activists who have learned how to become spiritual because they're watching spiritual people become active, and spiritual people will learn how to become activists because they're watching activists. So those are the two things that we need -- those two groups because that's what I saw as the dividing line in Standing Rock. We have all the activists -- they've been active, actively protecting and in all kinds of ways, any ways that they could think of except spiritually and then we have all the spiritualists who are protecting the planet with prayers, for tens of thousands of years with their prayers, but they haven't been active -- so when you get them both together, to stand together, then you have all of the power that you need to stop anything and that's what is happening.
Spiritualist are becoming activists and activists are becoming spiritualists and that group of people are leading in non-violent, direct action standing up in prayer to stop the destruction of our planet because that's what's happening. They're destroying our water. Our water is in danger and they're taking away land that tribal people have used to maintain their sovereignty, to feed themselves, to clothe themselves, to shelter themselves. That's the most powerful movement, it's the most natural movement on the planet. Naturally, people want to protect their family with love. Naturally, they want to preserve the land that they lived off and protect it because that's where the medicine grows -- a healthy environment means a healthy community, and across the globe we have so many illnesses -- cancer, heart disease, diabetes and it's because we're not living in a natural state in our environment. Our environment is being plowed up, so many bad things are happening to the earth. My message is you've got to have faith, continue standing in a nonviolent manner, put the call out -- that’s all we need, send messengers out because that's what we used to do a long time ago, we send them a message and they'd start running. So Standing Rock right now, all the messengers have been deployed, they're all running to different parts of the globe, in the country and they're saying “Stand up, stand up wherever you're standing” because the land that you are standing on that was where our tribe lived and they lived in harmony with nature. Honor that tribe, recognize, find out who that tribe is, go to them and say we're here, we'll stand with you to protect this land, protect this water because now we're the new occupants that's our responsibility. That's the message that needs to go out there wherever you're standing protect that water, protect that land and it doesn't matter what faith you are, what color you are, if you have feet on the ground and you drink water then you protect that land and protect that water. So in Mexico right now there's a woman, Maria de Jesus who has stood up to protect her land and her people, all Mexican people
Pancho: There are seventy one indigenous people who are supporting Maria de Jesus. I'm so happy that you're bringing these revolutionary love, this angle now.
Cheryl: Women have always been on the sustainers and nurturers of life and men have always stood up to protect the women and the children, and worked to provide for them. That's the most natural relationship that you can have. So it's natural for a woman to stand up and tell the country -- stop digging up, stop excavating, stop harming the water, quit polluting the land, let our schools continue to teach in the most natural way that they can. Let us be people and that's for everybody, for life. She understands what life is and she wants a good life for all the people that stand for whatever they are standing, especially in Mexico. I support her one hundred percent. We need someone like her running for President in the United States and in all these other countries because that's the lesson and lesson is being taught at Standing Rock and that’s women-led direct actions will protect the water and will defend the land and resources that all these interested people, these capitalists that want to make money and they're making it off tribal land, off tribal resources. That land is not their land. They just want to lease, dig up the land, contaminate the water and then take the resource and sell it and become rich. They don't care about the health and the safety of the community or the people because they have no love for them. But women, we have love for plants or family or the land and we have the love of our family and love of men to support us. So everywhere in the world, women need to stand up. It's our, it's our job. It's our role to say -- protect us, we're water carriers, we have to stand and protect the water, so protect us while we protect.
Rahul: We do have questions came in on line.
Albert: Thank you!: Thank you for sharing with us the beautiful energies of compassion. Your voice carries the universal wisdom of love. Albert, from up in the Sierra Mountains
Rahul: My question that I have for you that prayer is actually deeply central to everything that you've done and to your entire journey from the beginning of your lie. And I'm curious to understand a little bit more about what prayer really means to you. From what I understand, it felt like it is simply asking the Creator for help. But I’m curious if it’s more than that for you
Cheryl: Yes, it is. In my culture we have several ceremonies and songs -- so a lot of it is songs. If you hear a tribal person singing, they're usually praying for the people, they're having a ceremony. So my life's been about ceremony and some of it wasn't good ceremony. But I was always standing in prayer because that's what I was told when I was little, you stand in prayer. Because you're part of this creation and the spirit and the Creator who created everything, he gave us a piece of himself so whenever they say oh I created you in the likeness of myself, he's not talking about our four arms and our two legs. In that statement and maybe scholars will pick this up and religious people will finally understand what that statement really means, but he said he created mankind in the likeness of himself. He wasn't talking about body, head, eyes and arms. He was talking about implanting his spirit inside of us. So he gave of himself to create this planet. He gave upon himself to plant the spirit within us. That's revolutionary. That spirit that he gave to us. So basically when I talk to my Nagi, that’s the Nagi I was talking about, he implants a Nagi into every single human being that's born. We all have it. Doesn't matter where we're, what we have but we are connected to the creator. The nagi can speak to him and it can speak to, it can connect to another person's nagi and that's why we sometimes when we meet someone and we automatically connect with them, we like each other, we find out we have the same goals and maybe even some of our children have the same names, we like the same color, the same boots. It's our Nagis are attracted to one another and recognise each other because we're all part of the Creator, we could never be separate. People think we're separate because we live on a continent, people think we're separate because we pray in a different way but we're not. We're all part of creator and he gave us a piece of nagi and it's like having a pizza and cutting up that pizza into as many slices as you can get and everybody gets a piece of that pizza and it's all the same pizza. So basically we're all the same, we come from the same creator, we have the same spirit. We just recognise it in different forms and I recognise it in my child or ceremonies, I was lucky. And every tribe has generally ceremonies too, but it's just that reaching out to creator. It's like me really, it's like plugging back into -- if you're a machine or electrical car, in order for you to work, you have to be plugged in, so we have to plug in, and we have to reconnect with the creator and the easiest way for me to do it is just to start talking.
Rahul: Beautiful. We have got a comment from online
Victoria: Thank you Cheryl. I am so moved to hear you call on the women to speak what's needed to protect the land and to protect the water. From your perspective, where are the spiritual activists most needed now, this summer? Thank you again, Victoria
Cheryl: You know every congregation needs a spirit-led movement to protect the land and water. Every congregation, every community -- that's where it's happening. Last week, just a few days ago I was in D.C. at the Union Theological Seminary and I gave a short speech on the rituals and ceremonies that are needed in water protection and environmental activism.
And we created the ceremony that morning. We had all these almost one hundred different interfaiths there in New York City and we put flowers in a circle, the petals and we put food in center and we circled around there. I sang. We all prayed for the water. We had a ceremony there, water ceremony and later on that week, then everybody came up and what they had done is in their belief system, they had found passages that supported the love of the earth and the protection of the earth. So every congregation, I don't care if you're in a synagogue or you're a theologian -- it doesn't matter where you're at, the ministers need to recognize in their scriptures it says protect the land and the water and there are scriptures all over. And people got up and they shared all the scriptures that they have found. That was there for me, it was unbelievable! Because it's always been there. The religious movements have always been instructed to protect their land and the water but they just haven't done it, so it's happening, it should be happening in your church. If it's not, I think you can contact the union theology seminary and ask for the scriptures and you can pass them right along to your pastor and say -- see you need to be a spiritual activist if you're going to protect the community, because the community needs to be healthy and it won't be healthy until the environment is healthy and the environment won't be happy unless we stand up to protect it.
Rahul: I love that. From a purely pragmatic perspective the pipeline ended up getting built at Standing Rock. So what was the lesson in all of the prayers and ceremonies. What happened there?
Cheryl: The lesson in this ceremony is that to continue to pray, to continue to stand. This is what it is, right, when it comes down to it -- one man cannot dictate over the entire country. We need the entire country to stand up and show him the wrongs of his thinking. That pipeline is proof that we’re insane as a government because we're going to put in instruments, pipelines that can literally damage drinking water for millions, millions of people. So that capitalism, that plan, was just basically, was just for money. It has been for money and the other thing is that the Bakken oil fields where all of this oil is coming out of, they’re nearly dry. They're nearly dry now, that pipeline was never ever needed. It was just needed so somebody could make some money, so we're up against a money institution and we're consumers, we're capitalists that's how we were raised, to be consumers, to be capitalists. But we can change that by changing our behavior. I'm on a goal -- and in five years, fifty percent of all fossil fuel usage will be gone. I'll probably be on actually or probably be more than that, I think I'm already at fifty percent from a year ago. I don't use fossil fuels as much as I used to but we have to change our behavior and stop being consumerist and insist on a better product, insist on green energy, and refuse to use fossil fuels because if nobody buys that, then nobody's going to want to sell it. And there won't be any digging up, and it's in this infrastructure, this whole administration in our country has been to build this infrastructure with people who get rich on fossil fuels will get richer, and we need to stop being a part of that system actively. We need to go into green energy, so that's just the, the DAPL is just the image of just how crazy and how off-center and and how badly we're going in the wrong direction. So yeah, that's the lesson -- the whole country is run, being led by one man who's off center and is misleading the whole country.
Rahul: Hmm, final question and I would like to close with that. The final question is how we, the broader ServiceSpace community can support your work?
Cheryl: I think, you know, my work, I feel like my work is really, really small and I feel like the people are really, really huge and I need to get out there and continue telling the people, to all the spiritual people to become activists because there's, there's millions of people praying for Standing Rock. Those millions of people that are praying, they need to stand up and become active. They need to be on that front line of prayer and do it in a nonviolent way because that's the power that we need, so if you want to support me you can go to -- because I travel all over the place, wherever people call, wherever they want to stand up in defense of running water, I made a vow to protect water for my life, so I will do my best to get to where I am called to talk, to lead, and just to stand there, even if it's doing dishes, I'll do dishes. Wherever I am needed, I will go. I do have an account for travel which basically resembles firstname.lastname@example.org. But I'm going to be honest and tell you that my strength not only comes from creator, but it comes from just this herd of horses that was given, that was gifted to me that I pray with. I pray with horses and I watch these horses and I have a relationship with these horses and somehow I need to support them. It takes money to support horses. People don't know this about me but I'm dependent on those horses and I love those horses, like my new family.
Just had three new foals and, you know, they're my new family so I have to work to support them and provide a safe place for them to live and that's a whole another story, but it's connected to water. So if someone wants to support my work, they can donate to my PayPal, because yes I do need money to survive just like everybody else and prayers -- please continue praying. Create your own water ceremony and your own prayer, down at your own river that needs healing. Do it in front of a building where the key people who are the E.P.A. Do it to the E.P.A. Anywhere there's water being drawn and go there and have water ceremony. Invite all the people who pray to come pray with you, to come stand with you. Anywhere, because water is everywhere and it's being drained everywhere, so start your own ritual, gather your own people and pray.
Rahul: Thank you, Cheryl!
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