The Road To Standing Rock

The journey up to Standing Rock was unlike any I had gone on.  For once, here in the country I grew up in, I was an open book.  I had traveled in a similar way in South America just months prior, but never here.  I was always bound by some combination of job/rent/band/relationship/etc/etc.  But now, nothing. 

I had just spent the summer farming and doing irrigation work in Navajo Nation, and come September, my seasonal work was up.  Then, it was a month in my home studio scoring a film.  During that time, I started to learn more about Standing Rock - that there was a gathering of tribes unlike any in the nation’s history, people were singing songs day and night, and the cause of the gathering was to protect the water. I also knew that I needed to come up to the plains and see the bison - an animal that had, up to that point, loomed largely in my imagination.  I was searching for the spirit in a country that now seems like its trying to abolish, demonize it, build tracks over it, and pave roads over it to give way to new sounds, new sights, new smells, new money, new everything.

I came up slowly from the south, first making my trip back to the Mecca of red rock parks in southern Utah.  I landed in Salt Lake City, where I was called to lay transcendental pedal steel on a song that Francis Ford Coppola was making for his grandson (I couldn’t make that up).   Then, I made my way to Antelope Island and saw the first herd of bison I’d ever seen in my life. 

To me, they have a power unlike any other animal.  They are giant and majestic, they are docile and quiet, but cross them and they will come at you with a speed and force you wouldn’t believe. Looking at them, you can catch a glimpse into the past of American history and understand that it’s a miracle that they are alive today.

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When I got to Wyoming, amongst the rolling hills and tall prairie grasses, it started to dawn on me where I was going.  I could not have possibly guessed what would be on the other side and what I would do there - how I would fit in, how I could help, how I would legitimize being there and being white, how long I would be there, if I would get arrested, if I would freeze, if I would get to hear Native songs, and so on and so on.  

Along the way, I heard a song on the radio that I will never forget. A peaceful, perfect, western swing that seemed to fit the landscape of the plains and the turbulence of transformation like a glove. It came and went mysteriously, signifying what lay ahead of me. 

It was in this way, like a snake shedding his skin, that I pulled up to the gates of Sacred Stone Spirit Camp in the late hours of October 9th, Indigenous People’s Day.  Quietly and with hardly a word to anyone, I set up my tent on the fertile Earth, my new home. 

Alex Simon