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(Many Paths)
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Ponca Elder 'Stands For Standing Rock'
by Lisa Snell, Native Oklahoma Magazine
Casey Camp-Horinek shows where a Morton County, S.D., police officer numbered her before detaining her in the basement of their jail on Oct. 22. (Photo by Lisa Snell)

TULSA – She orders her coffee black and indulges in a thick slice of carrot cake, which she agrees would best be enjoyed outside near the fire pit blazing on the patio of this mid-town Tulsa coffee shop. Casey Camp-Horinek, Ponca, has made the more than hour long drive south into the city from her rural home near Marland. She's here to talk about getting arrested, of all things, and to speak at a peaceful rally a little later downtown.

Arrested? Yes. A few weeks earlier, this near 70-year-old woman got herself zip-tied and locked in a basement. Her offense? She was praying and wouldn't move.

She holds up her arm. The number 138 is written in black marker between her wrist and elbow. She laughs.

"Standing Rock 138. My new Indian name!"

She smiles behind the rim of her white coffee mug as she takes a sip.

"I've kept it darkened in so I can show people what they did to us," she says.

"They" are the private security and police forces employed by the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the state of North Dakota to deter and control the crowd of Water Protectors assembled at a construction site near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The pipeline is mostly complete, except for a section that would delve under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir near the reservation. The tribe fears a leak would contaminate not only their drinking water, but the water of millions living downstream. Protests have been ongoing near the site of the proposed reservoir crossing and to date, about 500 people have been arrested – and Camp-Horinek is one of them.

As she sits in a metal patio chair sipping her coffee, the image is incongruous with her new arrest record. Her black, long-sleeved T-shirt is embellished with the graphic of a traditional water bird and the Ponca words for Water is Life.

She's wearing deep turquoise colored moccasins her daughter made for her beneath a ribbon skirt patterned with turtles and geometric designs. A young woman passing by compliments her on her beaded earrings, unaware that this woman wearing the great earrings will most likely be on the news later.

A long time Native rights activist, environmentalist and actress, she is the traditional Drumkeeper for the Ponca Pa-tha-ta, the women's Scalp Dance Society. In 2008, she was a delegate of the Indigenous Environmental Network and chosen to speak at the United Nations Permanent Forum on indigenous Issues and present IEN's global platform regarding the environment and Native rights.

This evening, she is in Tulsa to address a "Standing for Standing Rock" rally, an event organized by community members to show their support for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and the Water Protectors camped near the DAPL construction site.

Camp-Horinek has a long relationship with that part of the world. She and her family has been traveling to Sun Dance at Crow Dog's Paradise near the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, for the last 44 years.

"Right after [the] Wounded Knee [occupation in 1973] my three brothers made a relationship with Leonard (Crow Dog) and over time, our family grew to a 43-tent camp. We call it the Oklahoma Camp," she says.

She credits the Sun Dance with her spiritual connection to the earth and all things upon it.

"Ultimately, when one Sun Dances, one is sacrificing without food and without water and praying 24/7 that week that you are there. In doing so, one begins to understand not only in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense as well, the necessity for the sun to rise every day – for us to have another day. And the importance of the sun to give us the energy for everything that involves the cycle, the sacred cycle of life. One understands the rhythms of the moon and the strength of the Earth Herself and the fact that She provides for us the foods that we eat," she says.

Water is essential to this cycle.

"You get the truest understanding of what water does for us when you connect on the physical level of your mouth getting cottony and your body dehydrating. Then you can truly pray for the essence of water itself," she says.

She and her family was on the road toward home from the Sun Dance when she received a call from her son, Mekasi Camp-Horinek, informing her of the call to action from Standing Rock. They had 48 hours before the pipeline company moved in. According to Casey, by August 10, the camps were organized into direct actions – they stood in roadways and erected barriers, blocking DAPL from entering Army Corps of Engineers land or Standing Rock Sioux Treaty Territory.

"I don't think any of us realized at that moment that any of us were taking part in a historical moment of change, not just within Indigenous America," she said. "This has grown into the statement you see today, with hundreds of different nations involved – not just Red Nations – but nations around the world. You see that slogan everywhere, "Water is Life," because that consciousness has caught fire," she says.

The slogan was prominent Nov. 10 at the downtown Tulsa rally held in Veteran's Park. Individuals and families gathered around the Drum and lofted signs decrying the pipeline, big oil corporations and pollution. People chanted "Water is Life!"

Camp-Horinek steps up to the microphone. She has been introduced as the 'Native Rosa Parks.'

She smiles a little at this and announces that her hero is her mother.

"I know I speak with her voice, with her heart, with her spirit. And with what she wanted me to do to carry on," she

Casey Camp-Horinek is surrounded by children as she addresses a rally in support of Standing Rock Nov. 10 in downtown Tulsa.

She calls the children to the center of the semi-circle the crowd facing her has loosely formed to best hear her words. "It is because of you that we are here. Let yourselves be seen. Let us honor you in the best possible way," she calls out. "I'm a mother. A grandmother, a great-grandmother and hopefully I'll be a great-great while I'm still here."

Her hands sweep around the circle of children surrounding her.

"These are the reasons we are all here tonight. This is the strength of the Nations to come."

Camp-Horinek then tells of her arrest on Oct. 22. She was at Standing Rock for a Tribal Historic Preservation meeting. She and other tribal officers arrived at the protest site to observe and told officers who they were and why they were there. They were told where to safely gather to watch. Within an hour, she says, there were military tanks on the hill, snipers everywhere and All- Terrain Vehicles racing through the gathered Water Protectors.

Camp-Horinek says an elder with set broken fingers called out for a prayer.

"'We need a woman with a Pipe to stand in prayer here as they come.'"

"As it was, I was standing there with my Sacred Pipe so I knew it was me. I knew that I had that honor. And they came at us like Custer's 7th cavalry," she says.

Pepper spray, tear gas, percussion bombs and sound cannons were all deployed.

"I stood with my Pipe in a sacred way and sang songs and prayed as they came. And I was only one of thousands. As they came, they divided as if water around a stone, and flowed past us as the men and women bent over the Sacred Pipe and protected me. All of those things were happening around me and I was being sprayed and maced and smoked and bombed, and I could feel nothing because of the prayers of all of you and the prayers of the people up there being so very incredibly strong through the sacred pipe and we endured. All of us endured," she says.

Camp-Horinek was among more than 140 arrested, ziptied and numbered that night.

"It was a remarkable and powerful feeling. Then the fools put us where are strength was. They put us down on Mother Earth and told us to sit here," she says.

Instead of feeling defeat, she found humor. The police had put her next to her sister-in-law who had been with her brother at Wounded Knee. She jokes that gave them the opportunity to "catch up" since "it seemed we would have plenty of time to talk."

Her gentle humor saw her through the ordeal and her strength will see her through the days ahead for the fight is not over.

"What do you do when the water is under attack?" She cries to the crowd. "... what do you do for the future generation's life?"

"Fight back!" The children reply. "Fight back!"

"Prayer will lead us in the struggle. We are warriors of the future. We are warriors of the generations of the past. We have arrived and we are ready. We are Protectors, not Protestors ... we are the prayer warriors ... and together we stand," she says. Water is life.

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