by Marie Beaty
As I sat with Dr. Helen Hudgens, music of all sorts permeated the walls of her office in Hanson Hall. Somehow it felt totally appropriate as the Associate Professor of Music spoke of the energy in the Standing Rock camp: “A lot of dancing and a lot of drumming,” she laughed, “My ears are still ringing.” Hudgens recently returned from camping in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.
When asked about her time spent in the camp, Hudgens described it as “profound.” Despite what seems like a hopeless situation, the atmosphere is one of “resolve, patience, and deep joy." All seven Sioux tribes have come together under one cause – a union that hasn’t happened since 1850. Hundreds of tribal banners line the central road to the camp. Hudgens received permission to hang North Park’s banner among the others.
In conversations with others, Hudgens met indigenous people from across the globe. Many wanted their children to see this historic event, and teach them that “as Indians, we can be proud of something.” Some were cautious about joining at first because of the image opponents have painted of the camp: violent and angry. Contrary to this stigma, the elders forbid weapons of any kind, as well as drugs and alcohol. Hudgens shared a list of rules that the camp lives by, including this: they are proud to stand with no masks. “They don’t want to hide their faces,” she clarified, “and are unafraid to have people know exactly who they are.” Indigenous people and allies (non-natives) are present simply to pray to the Great Spirit for wisdom and empowerment. According to Hudgens, the elders of the camp reminded everyone: “this is a ceremony, so act accordingly. They have gathered to pray and protest peacefully."
Hudgens was one of many allies in the Standing Rock camp. “[Standing Rock] sent out a call saying, ‘Natives, allies, come stand with us,’” explained Hudgens. An entire delegation of Black Lives Matter from New York City is camping long-term. In a youth-led march across Liberty Memorial Bridge in Bismarck, Hudgens recalls how it was “very reminiscent of the Civil Rights March in Selma.” Each participant made a ceremonial offering of tobacco to the river and stopped halfway across as speakers addressed the crowd. One representative of the BLM delegation touched on these similarities: “It’s not surprising that people who were stolen from their land are in solidarity with those whose land is being stolen.” On the impact of the protest, Hudgens stated: “It’s incredibly historic. The story’s not done here even if they get ruled against.”