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By: Doniga Markegard

Just two months ago, Erik, our nine-year-old son Larry and I, traveled to Slow Food Terra Madre in Turin, Italy where indigenous wisdom was held as a pillar of the conference. Following the first night of Terra Madre, we drove back through the crowded streets of Turin with Winona LaDuke of the Anishinaabe people, who represented the Slow Food Turtle Island delegation. As Erik drove the small car and I navigated, Winona caught us up on the happenings at Standing Rock. She explained that at that time in September, 75 people had been arrested. By the beginning of December, the number was more than five hundred. Our son Larry sounded perplexed as he asked her why they were arrested for doing something good. With a soft laugh, she explained that sometimes the laws aren’t right. They don’t always protect Mother Earth. Oil companies are aggressive, she went on to explain. People were arrested because they were standing up for Mother Earth. I could practically hear the gears of our nine-year-olds brain trying to comprehend this information as we wove in and out of cars.

Both Erik and I have strong ties to the Dakotas and the Lakota people having spent time in ceremony and on reservations. As ranchers, we stand with the people of Standing Rock to protect the sacred. There is still so much for us to learn from indigenous tribes as we go about our work of stewarding lands and feeding people. If we are to produce food and withstand the most pressing threat to our world — climate change — then all of the wisdom of those who lived close to the earth, treating each species as their relatives, must be brought to the forefront of our living systems.

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So Erik decided to go and physically stand with Standing Rock. We had put out an email to our Markegard Family Grass-Fed San Francisco Bay Area customers and collected $16,000 dollars to purchase the supplies on the list of needs for the camps at Standing Rock. Then Erik got in a U-haul and drove off.

From an eagle’s-eye view, the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Fires) Camp near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, was laid out in the shape of a buffalo skull, with the Missouri River as a backdrop. It had been nearly one hundred and fifty years since the Native American tribes of the region had gathered, so they marked this historical event by setting up their teepees in this symbolic manner, to honor the buffalo.

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The indigenous people at the camp recited the outcome of history all too well. Gold in the Black Hills drove broken treaties and forced confinement of Native Americans to reservations and off of their traditional hunting ground in the mid-nineteenth century. They drew similarities between this oil pipeline threatening their water supply and their civil rights, to battles in the 19th century, where people in power, without a connection to the earth, came in with an ethos of greed and extraction.

Winona Kasto Traditional Foods Kitchen fed the hundreds of water protectors. Food was cooked every day in a 50-gallon pot over a fire. Deer jerky, corn hung from rafters, and herbs laid out in dehydrators were all used in the preparation of meals.

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Driving through, Erik began the work of dispersing the bounty: wall tents, arctic sleeping bags, wood stoves, heaters, kitchen supplies, winter clothes, and more to assist the Spirit Riders and their horses. As a rancher, Erik immediately found kinship with the horses and their riders. Placed at the tip of the buffalo horn, the Hunkpati or Crow Creek tribe formed the camp of Spirit Riders. Thirteen young men, all with horses, were part of a larger group of Spirit Riders who rode every year in memory of their chiefs and holy men that were hung in the largest one-day mass execution in US history on December 26, 1862. You can listen to the full interview Erik did with Greg Grey Cloud, Spirit Rider manager here: http://www.markegardfamily.com/standing-rock/.

As Erik worked with the Spirit Riders to create a windbreak for their horses, remarkably, within the first few hours of beginning the construction of the shelter, the horses began to gather. The timing could not have been better. Freezing temperatures combined with a wind chill surfaced that night, winds that would send any animal to seek out shelter. 

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Standing Rock reminds us that traditional wisdom combined with appropriate renewable energy technology is the only answer to move forward in a world where people in power remain driven by profit alone. They are giants, but we are millions. It is only by the movement of these millions that we will create a future where our children and many generations to come will have the privilege of drinking from streams and rivers of pure water, walking on an intact prairie or old growth forest, and knowing that it was their relatives who made it all possible.

 Erik and Doniga Markegard are ranchers in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find them through their website at Markegard Family Grass-Fed. Doniga will also be publishing a book in late 2017 about how her connection to nature has led her to living a fulfilled, meaningful life. Doniga will also be speaking at EcoFarm in January 2017. All photo credits: Erik Markegard