Late last summer, I was compelled to go to Standing Rock. I guess over 50,000 people had that same spiritual call to Standing Rock. I really did not know why I was there, it just happened. Everyone in the camp was experiencing real freedom for their first time in their lives—it was nothing less than exhilarating. The morning prayers, the spiritual leaders sending prayers of protection for everyone, and the sense of pride was like nothing I have seen in 45 years. We were living like our ancestors, praying and protecting our land and water.
The camp was busy and everyone (except one lazy guy) was helping in every way. I went to work near the kitchen tent, helping build shelves for the semi-trailer converted into a freezer/cooler. All of sudden there was a great commotion as a pick-up pulled in with a buffalo on a trailer. Everyone gathered and was taking pictures. That was nice except that as an experienced old timer, I knew we had to take care of the meat and hide immediately. I took charge, directing the skinning and boning of the buffalo—after it had been blessed of course. Someone pulled over a tarp and they were about to drop the taniga (tripe) on the tarp when I intervened and asked a group of young Lakota women if they knew how to clean guts. Two hands went up and they took the taniga down to the river to be cleaned.
Every minute in camp was special, and the people acted like close relatives supporting each other and treating everyone in a good way. I conducted a wedding and adoption both in the same day.
The very first morning, I saw a little five-year-old boy playing around the semi-trailer where I was working. I spoke to him and he was a little shy. Over those first few hours, I would see a woman come from the cook shack desperately looking for the child. He was always around, but as a little boy he was not always where he was supposed to be. Because I was outside most of the time, I started keeping an eye on him. After a couple days, the little guy and I bonded. I built him a little fort under the trailer for him to play in and he would check in with me before he wandered away from my view. On the second day, one of my relative’s little boys came to play with him. I introduced them, had them shake hands, and I made them cousins. The little guy loved that. They both called me Grandpa, and I loved that.
The day before I was leaving to go home, the mother and the little boy walked slowly by our camp and the mother asked if she could speak to me privately, away from our camp. I went to her and she started to cry. She said that she was leaving but wanted to thank me for treating the little guy with such kindness and making him a relative. She went on to say that he had no relatives and that he was abandoned when he was born. She had taken him in and had raised him. She said that he kept saying how happy he was to have a grandpa and a cousin. She thanked me again and walked slowly away. I also turned away, so they couldn’t see me cry. I will always remember the little guy and his mom. I don’t know their names, but I hope that one day I may see them again.
The next day, I had to leave for home and then on to Yellowstone National Park. While in Wyoming, I was asked if I could serve as a “talking head” for a documentary on the history of the Bozeman Trail. I spoke eloquently for our people because this was once part of our homeland. When I left Yellowstone, I took the northeast entrance and was astounded to see the Big Horn Mountains. Something was pulling me to the Big Horns, much like what I had experienced before going to Standing Rock. And then all of sudden it was there. A sign directing me to the medicine wheel. I had never been there before and parked my truck to walk the 1½ miles to this special place. There was about a foot of snow on the ground. Little did I realize how unprepared I was for the experience.
I reached the medicine wheel coming in from the west side. I stopped and all of sudden I started to cry. I really cried hard. As I prayed, my tears poured down. I moved from the West to the North, continuing to pray and cry; and then on to the East, more tears and prayers, and then on to the South. As I returned to the West, the whole world changed. A mist of fog came from below, and white mist of fog came from the sky. I kept praying and crying, and then all of a sudden the ground below cleared and I could see the whole world. And then I looked to the sky and I could see the whole universe. And then they spoke to me. I knew them, they were the Thunder Beings from the West. They said, “The time to save the world is NOW! We can’t wait any longer. For seven generations the Sacred Mother Earth has been treated badly, and now we have seven generations to heal the Earth but WE MUST START NOW!
I was stilling crying and praying when they told me to go and tell everyone what must happen.
For a time, I was in shock and did not know what to do. And then I began putting it all together. Standing Rock happened for a reason, it was the beginning of a new time and way for the people. We have alliances with all people of color, and we have spiritual people from all religions of the world coming together to pray, and we will save our Mother Earth, NOW. In a Good Way.
Richard Williams is the past president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund.