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.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
True

Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

Keep Reading Show less
Wikiimages by Pixabay, Dr. Jacqueline Antonovich/Twitter

The 1776 Report isn't just bad, it's historically bad, in every way possible.

When journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones published her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project for The New York Times, some backlash was inevitable. Instead of telling the story of America's creation through the eyes of the colonial architects of our system of government, Hannah-Jones retold it through the eyes of the enslaved Africans who were forced to help build the nation without reaping the benefits of democracy. Though a couple of historical inaccuracies have had to be clarified and corrected, the 1619 Project is groundbreaking, in that it helps give voice to a history that has long been overlooked and underrepresented in our education system.

The 1776 Report, in turn, is a blaring call to return to the whitewashed curriculums that silence that voice.

In September of last year, President Trump blasted the 1619 Project, which he called "toxic propaganda" and "ideological poison" that "will destroy our country." He subsequently created a commission to tell the story of America's founding the way he wanted it told—in the form of a "patriotic education" with all of the dog whistles that that phrase entails.

Mission accomplished, sort of.

Keep Reading Show less
True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.