In the summer of 2016 I went on a roadtrip through the Great Sioux Nation of the United States, looking for clarity and connection. I didn’t know I would find a cause, a reason, something far bigger than myself. Something that would bring me back to Standing Rock again and again.I will be posting more about my experience and the water protectors but for now here is a small slice of this movement.

Winnipeg Free Press reporter Melissa Martin followed one of my journeys to the Oceti Sakowin here is her article.

Jean du Toit PHOTOArlea at Standing Rock.
Jean du Toit PHOTO Arlea at Standing Rock.


Finding clarity on Facebook Hill

For Winnipeg protester at Standing Rock, the issue is larger than just one pipeline

By: Melissa Martin Posted: 11/15/2016 5:32 PM

Winnipeg artist Arlea Ashcroft travelled to Standing Rock to join protesters in peaceful demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Under the light of a not-quite supermoon, Arlea Ashcroft clambered up the swell of Facebook Hill and tapped into her phone.

It was Saturday night on the south edge of North Dakota, on a 9,200-square-kilometre parcel of land that was once indivisible with a vast and unbroken Great Sioux Nation. Today, it remains Lakota and Dakota territory: the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

“The horses run free here,” Ashcroft wrote in a post to her 1,600 Facebook friends. “And so do the spirits of the people.”

Beneath the hill where the Winnipeg artist was sitting — dubbed Facebook Hill in honour of its data reception — the Oceti Sakowin prayer camp sprawled along the banks where the Cannonball River flows into the Missouri.

The November wind smelled like sage and cedar branches — and like smoke from the sacred fire that burns day and night at the camp’s centre. Its musk would linger on Ashcroft’s clothes days after she left North Dakota.

That night in the camp, founded to resist the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, Neil Young wandered past teepees and tents with his guitar. People followed as he walked, like “a Pied Piper thing” Ashcroft thought. She, too, followed for a while.

Then she split off from Young and joined the hundreds walking to Turtle Island, where the National Indigenous Youth Council was holding a candlelight vigil. It was a surreal moment.

“I was like, as much as I love that Neil Young is here, I gotta go to the vigil,” she laughed.

Media organizations prize photos of tense standoffs with police. This is the rest of the scene at the heart of the movement: it is gentle, vivid and peaceful. Ashcroft’s post about horses was literal. Outside the tent where she slept for the weekend, horses grazed.

“Everything is approached with love,” Ashcroft said on Sunday, her last day at Standing Rock. “It’s almost shocking. You think of all the wrongs that have been done, and yet there’s this massive band of people that come together to just pray.”

Arlea Ashcroft photo    Standing Rock
Arlea Ashcroft photo Standing Rock

That is what she came to Standing Rock to discover, though she did not quite know that until she was there. At first, she felt the pull mostly as an aching. She just wanted to be there. She wanted, she told her friends, to go stand with her people.

This is a story about circles and healing. Ashcroft was born in 1967, and adopted as an infant. She grew up in Transcona, in a time where everyone’s dad worked for the railway. Almost every family she knew looked like hers; few were indigenous.

In 1982, Ashcroft received a letter about her birth parents. That was when she learned that her biological father was French and Sioux. Her mom bought her a Hawaiian-style Barbie, because it had long dark hair. It was a way of showing love.

Over the years, Ashcroft sought out ways to connect with her heritage. She began to explore indigeneity in her art. She built a community of friends, many of them Métis and First Nations.

Yet it wasn’t until a few months ago, on a summer road trip across America, that she felt the call. In the Dakotas, she looked out over the hills and the plains, onto the land that was once pledged to the Great Sioux Nation. It felt, she said, like home.

On the side of the road, she saw signs in protest of the pipeline. She wondered what it was — and then she went out and learned.

Fast-forward to November, and Ashcroft was ready. She packed a car for Oceti Sakowin, a tent city of 3,000 to 5,000 people. It sprung up in April to oppose a pipeline that would burrow through sacred Sioux sites and under the Missouri.

The camp’s rhythms embraced her. There were prayers and ceremonies in the morning; direct actions to face down pipeline machinery by the day. The whole time, she heard the sound of chainsaws as people cut firewood to dig in for the winter.

She was there on a Saturday morning in Mandan, near where the trucks are held. Her group was on its way to a prayer ceremony when a man slowly drove a vehicle through their ranks, raised a handgun and fired several shots in the air.

Video of the encounter would later spread around the world. After the truck left, the ceremony continued without incident. “It’s energizing and it’s terrifying,” Ashcroft said, but there was something else she noticed: the group stayed calm.

“The thing that surprises me constantly is the amount of love and peace and prayer and compassion, and the lack of hate that’s here,” she said. “It’s just people trying to live their lives on the land. It’s simple.”

Arlea Ashcroft photo- sign made at Standing Rock
Arlea Ashcroft photo – sign made at Standing Rock

Ashcroft tied her sign, which reads ‘Winnipeg Stands With Standing Rock,’ to a fence on the grounds that is visible from the nearby highway.

On the rise of Facebook Hill, she thought a little of Winnipeg. The first night Ashcroft arrived at the camp, she made a beeline for the art tent: paint and canvas are what she understands. She made a sign.

It read, “Winnipeg Stands With Standing Rock.” When she left on Monday, she tied the sign to a fence, where it can be seen from the highway.

She thought about healing and about the solidarity flags that flutter over the camp. She thought about what happens when people stand together.

“I wish everyone who is having a hard time in Winnipeg could go there,” she said. “There is power in peace. There is so much power in peaceful protest and that the indigenous way of life can be done. It’s a beautiful thing.”

This is what stands between Winnipeg and Standing Rock: about 700 kilometres, a border and some cultural detritus. What links our city and the tent city in the hills: history, land and the unalterable facts of what happened on these territories.

“This isn’t just a protest,” Ashcroft said, as the Dakota winds whipped past her nose. “This is not just protesting a pipeline. This is protesting the treatment of people and their way of life and their treatment for centuries. It’s really humbling.”


‘It’s also our fight’: Winnipeg art show raises money for Standing Rock

Artist Arlea Ashcroft says the pipeline fight is coming to Canada

CBC News Posted: Dec 11, 2016 10:21 AM CT Last Updated: Dec 11, 2016 10:21 AM CT

Winnipeg artists gathered to sell their wares and show solidarity with Standing Rock on Saturday.

“Art is known as a solidifying tool, it’s something that unites people together, it’s a way to peacefully protest and it’s also a healing tool,” said Métis artist Arlea Ashcroft.

The art sale at Fourth Projects on McDermot Avenue showcased works from more than 45 Winnipeg-based artists ranging from paintings, prints, crafts and ceramics. All of the money raised will be sent to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Dakota Access Pipeline donation fund.

Ashcroft has been to the Standing Rock camps in North Dakota three times and was present a week ago when word spread that the pipeline construction had been halted.

Last Sunday, a spokesperson for the Department of the Army, a federal agency under the U.S. Defence Department, said the administration will not allow the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline to be built under Lake Oahe, a reservoir near the reservation.

Ashcroft said there was disbelief followed by celebrations. However, she added “there is a little bit of weariness that the fight is not over.”

“It’s one step in the right direction but it doesn’t mean that the journey is over yet,” she said.

Arlea Ashcroft

Artist Arlea Ashcroft has been to the Standing Rock camps in North Dakota three times. (CBC)

Thousands of people have gone to the camps in the area to join their voices in opposition of the pipeline.

Ashcroft said, in the artist community in Winnipeg, they wanted to continue to show their support.

“[It’s about] proximity. It’s creativity. It’s the fact that in Canada we are going to be fighting the same fight with Kinder Morgan … it’s also our fight,” she said.

At the end of November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed off on two major pipelines — Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and Enbridge’s Line 3.

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