The Avid Fan Goes to Standing Rock

By Alice Toler

Salt Lake blogger Ryan Keating stands witness to the Water Protectors.

Who wouldn’t want to be an avid fan? Ryan Keating, semiprofessional polymath and progressive voice, is all about losing insecurity and gaining motivation to make a difference in the world. On Tuesday, November 2 this year, he piled donations of blankets, chocolate, tobacco and hundreds of dollars in cash into his Subaru and drove the 15 hour haul from Salt Lake City to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, intent on supporting the Water Protectors who stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline project. We sat down with Keating to get his report on what he found there:

CATALYST: What was the scene like when you arrived?

Ryan Keating: I left at 8 in the morning and arrived at the gate at midnight. You have to check in at the gate, because unfortunately there are people who go to Standing Rock thinking it’s like a festival. They have to turn people away at the gate who are in festival gear! Other than that, they are mostly checking for alcohol. No alcohol, drugs or weapons are  allowed at the camp. The central camp reminded me a lot of Burning Man—there’s a lot of construction going on, so they can get through the winter there, and people are building domes and so on. There was absolutely no garbage anywhere, which is also like Burning Man.

Tell me about your first day there.

I got woken up by a call for people to rally and go to Turtle Island, this island in the river which is the shortest river crossing between the camp and the pipeline site. There was a makeshift bridge to cross, with about 75 cops in full riot gear on the other side, and about 500 of us on our side of the river. We were so close you could see facial expressions. It was very peaceful—people were chanting and praying, and people would cross the bridge to go up to the officers and come back. This went on for a couple of hours, intense but low key, until a police boat came. They put a chain on the bridge and pulled it apart. The police began shooting rubber bullets at people and macing them. At that point a bunch of people jumped into the water and started swimming across—and it was cold!

The police were very casual. They’d be chatting with the people, and then just suddenly start macing them—it was surreal. There was no push or angry confrontation [from the Water Protectors].

So you went to put scenes like this on record?

Yeah. When I was leaving Salt Lake, my posts on social media really got a lot of attention—it spread like wildfire. Fox News even reached out to me to do an interview. It was like a tsunami of “meant to be!”

It was so weird to be somewhere where these state troopers were creating and participating in corporate imperialism on U.S. native soil, at the expense of a peaceful, prayerful native community. I know [natives] have been dealing with this since forever, and this is just their reality, but it was eye opening [for me].

I started writing about four years ago when I lived in Philadelphia, but I do a lot of other things as well. I substitute teach at some of the schools, I rent out my house, and I’ll drive for Lyft or Uber. I also have a wellness business called Keating Bodyworks. It’s all catering to this flexibility in my life so I can go where I’m called, like Standing Rock. I also went to the Democratic National Convention this year.

Tell me about the tattoos on your hands. What do they mean?

[For me] it performs the same effect as meditations with positive mantras. It’s a visible reminder to myself but it also works with other people—as a man, sometimes you can be automatically looked at as threatening, and I want people to know I’m a peaceful person. It also helps with having heart-centered communication with people.

Was there a lot of heart-centered communication at Standing Rock?

Yes, there were a couple of incredibly powerful scenes. At one point about 1,000 clergy members turned up and spoke. They stood in a big circle—Buddhist, Jewish, Christian—you don’t see people come together on religious grounds like that much. [I got to have] really inspiring conversations with religious leaders, which was rare and cool for me.

The most uplifting was a march and parade of about 50 to 70 political leaders of various Native American nations who came on horseback  into center camp, to Native American drumming. They went around the circle and spoke of introspective, peaceful approaches to life and their cause in a calm, casual manner that allowed for space and time for reflection and thought. No media or pictures were allowed for this event, but someone sent in camera drones that drowned out the speakers. The leaders just stopped speaking and waited till the drones went away.

They spoke about their values, what they stood for:

Warriors of love don’t have to be angry to be brave.

Courage is the ability to overcome reactionary emotions.

There needs to be a big effort to keep fear from overtaking us. Negative emotions can spread like wildfire.

Many are watching us all the time, including children and peers, and we need to constantly be teaching them and showing others how to be.

The strongest statement I connected to most of all: Resentment can have traumatizing effects.  If we move beyond resentment, our life is better, and also the life of the one we felt resentment for who may have wronged us.

Background and resources

Do the tribes have cause for concern?  Wikipedia provides links to 593 articles about hundreds of pipeline accidents that have happened in the United States just in the 21st century:

Did the tribes speak up in a timely manner? “Our concerns were clearly articulated directly to [the DAPL] in a meeting on Sept. 30, 2014,” writes Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II. “We have released that audio recording from our council meeting where DAPL and the North Dakota Public Service Commission came to us with this route.” The recording can be heard on the the Standing Rock Water Protectors website, which also provides statements of support from Native American tribes; history of the conflict; documentation and more.   standwithstanding­

What next? On November 26, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notified the Water Protectors that as of December 5, they will close access to the camp, allowing for a “free speech zone” on nearby Army Corps lands.

Mother Jones, an independent nonprofit organization and magazine for investigative reporting, puts forth a reliable timeline of what has transpired regarding Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Check it out here: River

Meantime, in Iowa….The Dakota Pipeline Project traverses 18 counties in Iowa, corn capitol of the world. The Des Moines Register reported in August that farmers were concerned that the loam and clay beneath the topsoil were being removed in such a way as to cause longterm damage for subsequent crops. What initially looked like good compensation for disturbing the soil ($20,000 per acre) is meager compared to earnings lost from soil as compromised as this may be. Iowa State University field agronomist Paul Kassel said he understands why farmers are worried; “This is not a problem that can be mitigated easily.”

Ryan Keating’s Avid Fan blog:

This article was originally published on November 30, 2016.