5 Of Heart and Logistics

Ruby Chacón

Originally published on Mujeres Talk on December 6, 2016


Painting of participants with arms linked at Standing Rock camp.
“And Justice For All.” Painting by Julian and Ruby Chacón. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As we were leaving Standing Rock the winds were 20 miles an hour and we were in the middle of a blizzard. The night before the wind blew in snow and wet our sleeping bags, we had to sleep in the car. We woke up to seeing our tent blown over, and white snow circling in the air. If you took off your gloves for a second you would feel a bitter pain from the cold. I thought about the people who were brave enough to stay long-term.

tents, shelters, and teepees across plains
Photo by Ruby Chacón of Standing Rock camp in November 2016. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As we were driving away, and as my battery on my phone charged, I saw voicemail from my mom. The first few were of worry. I didn’t have battery to check in and didn’t remember numbers except for my sister’s number, so I called her on Lili’s phone to tell her to send the message out that we were okay. She forgot to call my mom! I called my mom right away and after she got over the worry, she tells me my cousin Julian died a few days earlier. When I hung up the phone I sat silently in the back seat. Julian lived in the Citifront apartments where Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts is housed, a non-profit I co founded. He had an accident in his 20’s and was a paraplegic. I had painted him a couple of times. The painting I’m sharing seems so appropriate during these times that I share with you about Standing Rock. After the initial shock that he died, I felt the tears wanting to release. I held them back. I looked out the window, at the land, thinking of the people. At that moment, I felt my grandpa Jacobo’s embrace, caressing my hair the way he did when he was alive. I felt safe and loved by him. I felt our spirits unite and felt a strong purpose. I couldn’t stay in Standing Rock but I can use my talents in art. We all have our roles to play but inaction won’t help anyone. I heard that message strongly. “Use your skills to do something for others.”

snow falling heavily over teepees and tents
Photo by Ruby Chacón of Standing Rock camp in late November 2016. CC BY-NC-NC 2.0

I remained silent in the back seat looking out and thinking about the people who stay at Standing Rock and remembered their stories. My reason to go there came from my own pain and injustices I saw around me that slowly kills the people I love. Sometimes I feel powerless and want to find a way to use my skill to heal the oppression, the lack of opportunity, the slow death of the spirit. When I heard those in camp and their stories, I thought “they all shared a struggle on the outside, some sort of pain and they found their lives had meaning when they felt empowered to take action.” Doing nothing is not an option. People quit their jobs to fight for the cause. What bravery! I couldn’t say I would do the same. “If I couldn’t stay like these champions, what could I do?” I thought. What are their needs? How could we be most useful? What could we take back to the outside to bring awareness?

list of items needed at camp
Photo of handwritten note of Standing Rock needs by Ruby Chacón. CC BY-NC-NC 2.0

I heard them when they said “think about us who will be living in 10 inches of snow, what would we need?” I went to the donation tent and asked the person there to write a list of what is lacking in donations (see pic for that list). In the meantime, Jarred, Lilli and I initially were going to co-create an art piece (which we did conceptualize; I will post later once it’s done and ask for a call to action with this piece, but more on that later), but we found that there were stronger needs like building a yurt before the snow came, carrying in and setting up medical supplies, reorganizing the art tent so artists could later come and make use of it and not be in chaos, and help serve food. As we did all this while we listened, a lot. Some of what I heard were the following:

  1. They are burdened by donations that are sent in by people cleaning out their closets. Please only send useful donations. Think about living outside in the winter.
  2. There are no addresses for each camp so when donations that are meant for a particular camp gets sent they automatically go to Sacred Stone. Sacred Stone is in the safe zone (on the reservation). They are not distributed to the other camps located in the unsafe zone or to those who put themselves on the front lines. I’m attaching a card with information where you could send donations. You might want to consider other smaller camps with even less resources.
  3. Another way to get them donations is to send with someone who is going there. Cash and cash cards are most useful so they can get exactly what they need. They don’t have access at the moment to the GoFundMe account so it’s not useful for the immediate needs.
  4. The local Target and Bizmarck are against the movement and making it hard for them to buy supplies. Lowes was also a problem until people from the outside started calling in. You can do what you think is appropriate. I personally don’t feel I want to shop at those places.
  5. The military is on the side of DAPL. You can hear the helicopters, you see drones (on both sides) constantly flying around. They are using terrorist tactics that are very inhumane to get the people out. They are spraying chemicals in the air (mind you there are also families with children in the camps), we heard they closed in one camp with barbed wire (there is a worry they will do the same to the other camps and they won’t have a way to get supplies on the outside), you all heard about the water cannons, the sounds that deafen the ears, etc.
  6. Think about those staying long term, there are no showers. Sometimes people will donate a room at the casino for them to shower. Also think about what they will do once they leave. Where will they get jobs and housing to start again? We all need to come together to take care of them. If you know people in a position to hire or house while they get on their feet? People come from all over. I saw a lot of people from Chicago, LA, Northern California, SLC and Logan, UT, and places in the Midwest.
  7. If you decide to go there, go with a purpose of being useful.


Ruby Chacón is a Utah Chicana artist who recognizes the long history of interaction between Chicana/o and Native American peoples. Chacón currently lives in Sacramento, California. For more information on her art visit her website.

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