I grew up next to Standing Rock. But this past year changed my life forever.

This story is from Cody Hall, a Lakota from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation and former media spokesperson for Red Warrior Camp, as told to Upworthy. It has been edited for content and clarity.

I was there during the siege on sacred ground, when the Dakota Access Pipeline workers came with their earthmovers.

They pushed the earth out, and they dug up rock effigies — what we know as sacred markers of our burial grounds. They pushed everything aside and erased our history. Those meant a lot to us in our Lakota culture, and it was devastating.


I’m a water protector from the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation, next to the Standing Rock Sioux. We are the descendants of Chief Spotted Elk, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull — great chiefs and warriors who weren't afraid to put their lives on the line. But my ancestors always walked with a chanupa (ceremonial pipe) in one hand and a skull cracker in the other. That meant "I’m gonna come to you in peace, in prayer, because I have my chanupa. But if you have to fight? I’ll fight."

‌Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.‌

I was there when a young person on a horse approached the police.

A cop shot the horse with rubber bullets. Then they shot the water protector too.

People were scuffling and shoving on both sides. Law enforcement were pushing some of the water protectors back, and then the water protectors were pushing the cops back. One police officer accidentally popped off a tear gas canister near me. It hit the ground at a 45-degree angle, then ricocheted off the road and bounced into the sky where it burst all over us. I also felt the shock wave from a flashbang, or stun grenade. It sent my body into a panic, a fight-or-flight state.

To me, these are strategies used to provoke us, to make us respond without reason so they can say, "Well, that person was fighting us!" Of course I'm fighting you after that. I'm fighting to protect my safety and the safety of others because we're human beings with feelings and fears and we're going to react, no matter how much we try to stay grounded.

The police force was something we predicted could have happened that day. We tried to prepare ourselves for that mentally. But it's not the same as when you actually go through it. That’s not something you can practice for.

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.

I even went to jail for the cause.

As a leader in the movement, I was an easy target at the beginning. Then I made myself a bigger target when I was seen on camera with Amy Goodman when they brought out the attack dogs on Labor Day weekend. People throughout the world saw the atrocities.

A few days later, I was driving a journalist back to Bismarck to catch their flight, and all of a sudden, the cops pulled me over and arrested me.

I sat in jail for four days. They eventually said it was for "criminal trespassing," but I think that's a bogus charge.

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.

When I look at most of these police officers, though, I can tell they’re listening.

I can see it in their eyes: They’re thinking about this work we’re doing. They hear our plight. They also have a job to do, and I empathize with that. You can tell some of them are stuck in a hard place: "Well, I've got to follow these orders but I'm not cool at all with this."

Unfortunately, you can't make them drop their gun and all their gear on the spot and suddenly say, "I can't do this to people. I’m going to go stand with them." But maybe they’ll go home and talk to their families and say, "Hey I’m not going to go back to that." If that happens, I've done my part. We've changed their minds.

‌Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.‌

After my arrest, I kept on doing what I always did: providing aid to people.

I stepped away from the action-oriented camp after their tone had changed to a more militant approach. And a lot of people weren't comfortable with that. So I said, "Best of luck to you guys, but I’m going to stay on my course."

Now, I run supplies. I bring in sleeping bags. I disperse volunteers. I help coordinate support from groups like Greenpeace or the veterans when they came in. Whatever people need. That, to me, is rewarding.

‌Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.‌

It’s been nine months since the camp first started filling up with supporters.

At that time, there was tall grass and it was green, and the Dakota Access Pipeline was first making headlines. I remember feeling a deep connection with people and the planet back in April. I remember knowing that this fight was the right thing to do.

The first people to make their homes there came from different reservations. But many, like me, were part of the Oceti Sakowin, the seven bands of the Lakota and the Dakota people. There was this feeling of, "We’re here. We’re going to assert our authority that these are our lands. We’re going to live off our own system. And we’re going to live just like how our ancestors did."

‌Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.

Some people have said they've never felt more alive than they do here. That feeling still persists, even though there’s snow on the ground now.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Recently, we won a small victory: There's a re-route planned.

It’s a small concession, but something to celebrate.

Still, we are not leaving this camp we've created. We need to stay on our guard. Energy Transfer Partners isn't going to move their equipment, and they released a statement that says they're not giving up. They’ll have to pay a reported $50,000 fine for every day they keep construction going, but I worry they'll do it anyway, so they can push the pipeline through.

Eventually that pipeline will burst. They always do. I wonder: Who's at fault when that happens? Who's at risk? The answer, for me, is: "All of us."

When oil leaks onto land, suppose it takes about 1,000 years for the soil to be OK at top level, where the plants are OK for the animals to eat from again. I don’t know about you, but 1,000 years is a long time for us.

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.

We’ll stay here because the pressure is needed, and the fight isn’t over.

This struggle has brought global attention to Native American issues and the environment on a huge level. This moment in time will be a reminder that a group of people can stand up for change. A group of people can take a corporation on. Maybe that group of people can even win.

It’s unlikely that something like this will never happen again in my lifetime, and it’s really cool to be part of it. To witness it. To feel this vibe. The sleeping giant is awake now.

More

A new Harriet Tubman statue sculpted by Emmy and Academy award-winner Wesley Wofford has been revealed, and its symbolism is moving to say the least.

Harriet Tubman was the best known "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses that helped thousands of enslaved black Americans make their way to freedom in the north in the early-to-mid 1800s. Tubman herself escaped slavery in 1849, then kept returning to the Underground Railroad, risking her life to help lead others to freedom. She worked as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and after the war dedicated her life to helping formerly enslaved people try to escape poverty.

Keep Reading Show less
Heroes

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Kenneth Goldsmith / Twitter

The Hillary Clinton email scandal was a major right-wing talking point during the 2016 election that aimed to create an air of suspicion around the candidate.

The media played right into it turning Clinton — one of the most qualified candidates to ever run for the office — appear just as unworthy of the presidency as Trump, a vulgar, politically-inexperienced pathological liar.

The controversy surrounded Clinton's use of a private email account in which over 30,000 emails were sent during her time as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. An FBI interrogation found there were 110 confidential emails sent from her private account.

Clinton was never criminally charged, however FBI director James Comey said she was "extremely careless."

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

WE Teachers
True
Walgreens