The First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March began on September 1, 2018. I’m looking back on that now, September 20-21, 2018. I had no idea then how trans-formative the March would be, in many different ways.
I think most of us had many questions and concerns about what was about to happen. Most of the people who gradually gathered at Union Park the night before the March began seemed to know some people, but many were strangers to each other. So there were questions about what backgrounds these people came from and what their personalities were. Would we get along or would there be frictions? There were obviously cultural differences between the Native Americans and those who weren’t.
Some of us weren’t experienced campers and had to learn how to put up and take down our tents, prepare for sleep, re-pack and keep everything organized. I was challenged right away with putting up and then taking down my tent in wind and rain, and being in the tent during a severe thunderstorm. Once I found the tent was staying dry and wouldn’t blow away during that first storm, I enjoyed hearing the rain beat down and the thunder and lightning, even though it was 3 a.m.
Although I planned to process photos and write a least a short blog post each day, I found there often wasn’t much free time to do so. I took an average of about 100 photos a day, and didn’t want to get too far behind in processing them. I would edit the photos first, then write the blog post, where the photos helped tell the story. There were some late nights and early mornings doing that. Finding a place to use the laptop and having Internet access was sometimes a challenge. One of the first questions many of us asked at each new site was whether there was Internet service, and what the WiFi password was.
It was interesting to see the reactions, including my own, to not having any Internet or cell phone service when we were at Pilot Mound. The reactions did not include complaining. I began to notice this as the week went on and was really impressed by the lack of complaints. We all took everything in stride. The attitude was that we were here to complete this journey together, difficulties were expected, and complaining wouldn’t help. When I researched smudging with burning sage, I learned the purpose was to remove negative energy and attract positive energy. It worked. The burning sage was offered to each of us and one way we shared and learned about each other. Similarly there were chances to help put up or take down the tipi. I’d never seen that done before.
Keeping the battery of the laptop and phone charged was a challenge as well, though the portable solar system helped. I also had a portable battery pack along. It was disconcerting to awaken a time or two when the phone was dead and not know what time it was.
I imagine I wasn’t the only one who wondered if I had the stamina to walk at least 10 miles a day, day after day, or if I would get blisters. Many of us, including me, did. I also worried about developing migraine headaches, which are often triggered by dehydration and/or inadequate sleep, both of which seemed likely to happen on the March. I was really grateful I didn’t have a single headache during the March. We all seemed to be conscious of the need to drink a lot of water.
After taking down our tents and getting our gear into the gear truck that first night, a quick breakfast, and packing a lunch, we carpooled to the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) for the press conference announcing the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. Then we carpooled back to Union Park, and walked a short distance to Birdland Park, on the Des Moines River. The reporter for the Des Moines Register and news crew from WHO TV (NBC) who had been at the IUB came to the park, too. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2018/09/01/group-march-100-miles-protest-dakota-access-pipeline/1173974002/
We gathered in a circle. Ed made some remarks about beginning the March, then Ako Abdul-Samad gave a wonderful blessing. Manape LaMere sang. He has a very powerful voice. That, and the song Regina Tsosie sang earlier at the IUB, and the Native dress began my introduction to the lives of the Native Americans I would be with for the next eight days.
Finally, the March began, going on the trails along the swollen Des Moines River and then into Des Moines and Ankeny neighborhoods.
The sun came out after a couple of hours. With the high humidity from evaporating rain water, the heat index climbed to around 90 degrees.
As we walked, we naturally paired off, and began to get to know each other, asking questions and sharing stories. At first these were short, tentative conversations. But as we got used to the flow of this, with the many hours we spent together, these conversations became longer and deeper. And over the days of marching, we began to build on what we had previously learned from each person, getting to know each other better, more deeply. After each stop different groupings of people naturally paired up to talk and listen to each other. With around 12-20 people marching at a time, each of us eventually talked with every other person, and the conversations lasted longer, were deeper and often more animated. We became comfortable enough to inject humor, but also to broach more intense subjects. A few days into the March, my new friend Matt Lone Bear said, “this is a great walk because people actually talk with each other.” These conversations, and walking and working together helped us develop friendships and community.
The first day of 13.3 miles combined with the heat and humidity was challenging. I wonder how many others were sharing my thoughts about how rough this week might turn out to be.