As I’ve recently written my interest in participating in the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March seemed a logic next step for a series of life experiences related to environmental activism and beginning connections with Native Americans.
Having just retired from my career at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, I had the time to walk for eight days. But at 66 years of age, I wondered if I would be physically up to the task. I have been a runner all my life. But I was fortunate a friend of mine, Stan Sanders, urged me to practice walking prior to the March and that turned out to be wise advice. I’m not sure I would have been able to complete the March without those days of training. As he knew, and I quickly found out, walking is more difficult than running. That is probably partly because it takes so much longer to cover the same distance by walking than running.
Then there was the really long packing list that was, thankfully, provided. Not having done much camping in recent years, I had to acquire most of the things on that list. I eventually came up with a tent, sleeping bag, mess kit, wool socks, walking shoes, etc. Everything had to fit into 2 duffel bags (which I had trouble finding–turns out they were in the luggage section in the store).
I set up the tent indoors for practice. I had troubling finding the instructions, eventually discovering they had been sown into the bag that held the tent. Once I found that I was impressed with how easy it was to set up and tear down the tent. I got a lot of practice during the March, often in somewhat difficult circumstances, including in the wind and/or rain, and sometimes in the dark.
Friday evening, August 31, we gathered at Union Park in Des Moines the evening before the March began. Mom, who drove me to the campsite, helped me set the tent up. About an hour later we discovered we had set up in the wrong place and had to move our tents. I learned you could just pick the tent up and carry it to the new location with the help of another person. This was one of the first chances we had to begin to know each other, and come together as a community. Miriam also helped by giving me some material to tie onto the lines of the tent, which weren’t very visible and several of us tripped over.
Over the course of the evening people trickled into the park and set up their tents. Most of us didn’t know each other at this point. I knew Ed Fallon, Peter Clay (another Quaker), and Miriam. Miriam and I had met in 2013 when we walked 12 miles from Scattergood Friends School to Iowa City as part of a Climate Conference. Miriam also walked across the United States on the Great March for Climate Action in 2014, that Ed Fallon had also organized.
In preparation for this March, I read what I could find online about plans for this March, and about the Climate Justice Unity March last year. I discovered that the pipeline company had spread lies about that March, and there was a situation involving harassment of the Marchers that even included some gunshots. That turned out to be a wonderful story about the power of nonviolence as shown in this video:
We gathered in the park’s shelter and introduced ourselves to the gathered group. Then had our first meal together. We learned about the gear truck, a large rented box truck with shelves that had been built against one side to hold our gear between campsites. We also learned about the solar panel/battery system that would provide electricity at our stops. Last but not least, we learned about the “shit, shower and shave” shed on wheels that had two compost toilets and two solar showers.
We were then addressed by Manape Lamere, one of the five headsmen at Standing Rock. I imagine because of those incidents during last year’s March, arrangements had been made for Manape, Alton Onefeather, and Lakasha Yooxot Likipt, to provide security for us as we marched. Manape reviewed the code of nonviolence that we had agreed to. He said we should not engage with anyone who was antagonistic during the March, instead to let him deal with the situation. It was a comfort to know about this and we all appreciated the efforts of the security team. Manape drove a truck near us, monitoring traffic, weather and obstructions coming our way. The three communicated with walkie-talkies.
Manape told us they were providing security and safety so that we could accomplish our sacred journey.
Many of the Native Americans who would be marching with us were at Iowa Citizens For Community Improvement creating the art, signs and banners, for the March (example below).
Another lesson I learned was to have everything setup for the night while it is still light out. Our meeting ended around 9:15 by which time it was completely dark. I spent a lot of time searching through the two duffel bags for things.
The weather forecast was for rain every day of the week. Fortunately it cleared up at the end of the week, but the first several days were a true weather challenge. It had been raining off and on during this first evening. The weather radar showed large areas of strong storms approaching. I fell asleep right away, but was awakened by thunder, lightning and pouring rain about 3 am. I was pleasantly surprised at how well my little two man tent weathered the storm and remained dry inside. I used my cell phone to record the sound of the rain and thunder.
We got up around 6 am, and I had my first experience taking the tent down in wind and rain. It looked like this was going to be an interesting week.