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A small gathering in support of Standing Rock fills the air with drum beats, sage and hope

  • Opposers to the Dakota Access oil pipeline, including Cindy Young (center), gather around the mother drum during a rally outside the State House in downtown Concord on Thursday evening. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • NHTI students Jeremy Landers of Berlin and Erin Stearns of Bedford joined an anti-DAPL rally in downtown Concord on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. The pair happened upon the event by chance. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Opposers to the Dakota Access oil pipeline rallied outside the State House in downtown Concord on Thursday evening, Dec. 1, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Opposers to the Dakota Access oil pipeline rallied outside the State House in downtown Concord on Thursday evening, Dec. 1, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 12/1/2016 10:57:29 PM

The drum beat, rhythmic, soothing, symbolic, sustained them, as did the chanting that went along with it.

It was vital, helping Cindy Young, the organizer of a group that stands firm with the Native Americans suffering in North Dakota, cope with the disappointment that only 17 people and a dog encircled her during a prayer group.

She had hoped for 150, perhaps more.

“What did Forest Gump say?” Young asked during the ceremony Thursday night in front of the State House. “You never know what you’re going to get, right? But I’m still proud of the ones here. We’re putting out good energy for a good cause.”

The cause featured the New Hampshire Water Protectors, Young’s brainchild to show support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s painful, passionate movement to stop the building of an oil-carrying, 1,170-mile pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois.

Opposition began last April, near a North Dakota town called Cannon Ball. Tribe members worried about their water supply, given the sometimes fragile nature of pipelines and the fact that it runs under the Missouri River. Sacred Native American burial grounds and land once used by their forefathers to hunt would be threatened, too, they said.

Since then, more than 300 tribes have joined the fight, along with non-native Americans whose day jobs as lawyers and filmmakers and medical professionals have not kept them from pushing to be heard. The number of people camping in the area now reaches into the thousands.

And on Dec. 17, Young and a friend will join the group out there. Young, who lives in Alexandria and works for a printing company, can finally follow a path she says she must follow.

She’s giving up her Christmas tree and her ham dinner with her daughter and granddaughter, both of whom live in Tilton, to sleep in a tent in the North Dakota cold. She’ll turn 60 there, on New Year’s Eve.

“I’ve been energetically pulled there for months, and I’m finally aligned with time off from work during the holidays,” Young said. “I spoke to my family and they are supportive of it, and it is going to happen.”

It’ll happen with Theresa Chick, a Maine homemaker who told me she’s earned the Native American nickname of Stonewalker, meaning one who walks with grandfathers, or ancestors.

“The spirits gave me that name,” Stonewalker told me. “This is a human issue. This is our water, what sustains life.”

It was that kind of night, filled with the smell of burning sage, colored shawls and signs that read, “We stand with Standing Rock. No DAPL.”

The acronym refers to the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, which, to the people I met Thursday night, is the devil’s tool, built by the evil billion-dollar monster known as the Energy Transfer Partners.

Bruce Pratt Jr. of Dorchester, a 38-year-old musician, stood on the street corner, guitar strapped to his back, and lamented over the treatment of Native Americans on the North Dakota front lines.

Reports of fire hoses dousing protesters in freezing night temperatures, rubber bullets bouncing off them, dozens of injuries and hundreds of arrests have fueled passions nationwide for months.

“Any citizen peacefully protesting makes it important that we stop the brutality effort against these innocent protesters,” Pratt told me. “There is so much history about the abuse of Native Americans that we have an obligation. Big money corporations is what this is all about.”

“Deplorable, disrespectful, disgusting,” added Pattie Robinson of Penacook, who said she’s “Native American by heart,” and who’s studied with various tribe members around the state.

“I believe what they believe,” she told me.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in the trenches tell a different story, one of rioting and unruly behavior and trespassing, giving them no choice but to make arrests and defend themselves.

Young opened her mind to this possibility, telling me, “You do run the risk with people with different agendas at protests to have people who don’t respect or understand the traditions of tribes. The leadership is doing the best they can to help encourage people to do this from a peaceful perspective.”

Paige Abbott of Salem was having none of it, insisting that the police were to blame for any and all violence that has occurred.

“People going into the camp are advised about the reasoning as to why there is no anger or aggression,” Abbott said. “By doing that, they are saying that no matter what, it’s the water that’s important, it’s the earth that’s important.”

That said, fewer people had enough passion to attend than Young expected. The group’s last meeting, she said, attracted about 150 in the rain. This time the bank clock read 48 degrees, and it was dry.

After the circular prayer, four people, in rotating fashion, sat and pounded a big drum that Young had gotten from New Mexico, made from a tree and covered in buffalo hide. It served as the event’s foundation, with others surrounding the group and hitting smaller, hand-held drums and shaking maracas.

Lon Jackman of Manchester, whose ancestry goes back to the Oregon-based Klamath Tribes, wore a red bandana and patterned poncho. He read lyrics on a music stand for the Buffalo Chant, Bear Chant, Eagle Chant and Hummingbird Chant.

“We are one with the infinite son,” they said in unison, “forever and ever and ever.”

The pounding on the central “Mother” drum got harder, louder, vibrating my chest cavity but, strangely, feeling comfortable, even reassuring, Young said the sound represented a heart beat.

I asked about her trip on the 17th, a journey without a clear vision of what lies ahead.

“I feel aligned to do it,” she told me. “I don’t have fear, which is a good thing.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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