Until the Grass Grows and The River Flows
Documentary photographer Mico Toledo traveled to Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota to document the unprecedented gathering of more than 200 Native American tribes and the rise of a new Indian movement. The images capture portraits of the self proclaimed "water protectors" indigenous and non-indigenous people from all round the US and the world opposing the construction of The Black Snake, a 3.8 billion dollar oil pipeline project expected to cross disputed sacred Sioux lands and the vital waters of the Missouri river.
First published as "The Faces of Standing Rock" the project name has evolved finding a deeper meaning within the context of Native American's struggles. The project documents their portraits, but by doing so also finds in their eyes and their stories reflections of centuries of systematic oppression and genocide. Recently back from a second trip from Standing Rock a new titled emerged "Until the Grass Grows and The River Flows". This new title references to a line in Native American treaties commonly used to definite an infinite passage of time and the idea of honouring treaties ad eternum.
The name plays not only to the idea that under the anthropocene rivers and grass might not have an indefinite time frame anymore but also alludes to the fact that many of the agreements and treaties made with the US governments were and are systematically broken whenever a valuable resource was found. First land, then prized fur, then gold and now oil. The native American concept of honouring treaties and the infinite cycle of grass growing and water flowing seems to be outdated.
In recent days Trump's administration back turning Obama's ruling, approved the easement giving a go ahead for DAPL pipeline to be completed, finally crossing the Missouri River just north of the reservation. The controversial approval was already expected by many water protectors and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. La Donna Brave Bull Allard, founder of Sacred Stone Camp put an announcement on Facebook Live calling all water protectors. The call was heard as this week the camp is once again flooded with many supporters, activists and veterans, returning to protect sacred water and sacred land.
Mico got back two weeks ago from his second journey to North Dakota to continue this story. The result, the portraits and some of the stories he heard will be featured over the next few weeks in a photo journal. "I wrote 7 short stories to accompany the photographs because those are the ones that resonated with me more. I tried to focus on the ones that actually have a deeper meaning to me. The photos depict different water protectors' stories, both from native and non-native background and show the power of the diversity within this movement."
2.0 Rissa Madelyn Williams
Rissa is a peacetime veteran and a rainbow hair aficionado. Her husband is a combat veteran and served in Desert Storm. She’s one of the only few people from Bismarck actively opposing the pipeline. On her spare time she volunteers at Oceti Oyate camp and makes groovy shirt designs for water protectors.
The day we’ve met Rissa was at Bismarck Court Hall to support Michael Rattler, a fellow protector on his trial. I was surprised to see a military veteran from ND with progressive views and she told me most people that go to wars come back with a different mind set, with an open heart, after seeing so much pain. Her hair describes what a wonderful light she is in such dark times.
3.0 James Mcginley
James Mcginley is from Washing, DC. He’s in the camp since September last year and drives a solar powered tricycle around camp. James is a regular fixture at Oceti Oyate and Rosebud camp and he’s easily recognisable from a distant. He bears heavy tattoos on his face with these words “Starving Stop. Killing Stop. Loving Star.” When I told him I liked his tattoos he said he’s not proud of them, but they carry an important message that needs to be told. James has been raised as a Christian but told me he’s no fan of any organised religion. He believes unconditional universal love will cure all the diseases of the world.
4.0 Rez kid
Eriberto, aka Batman is a security man at Sacred Stone Camp. We’ve met at Sacred Stone Camp last October, although I didn’t see him this year. People come and go from Standing Rock and even though I’ve met some familiar faces I definitely missed some people I connected with last time.
Eriberto came all the way from Mexico to support his brothers on the opposition of the pipeline. He told me he wasn’t proud or aware of his native ancestors until he came here. He found purpose and belonging here at Sacred Stone. He flashed his gold rings and chains at my camera and told me bling and gold is really important in his culture and he was really proud of wearing gold and being Native.
Eriberto, aka Batman is a security man at Sacred Stone Camp. We’ve met at Sacred Stone Camp last October, although I didn’t see him this year. People come and go from Standing Rock and even though I’ve met some familiar faces I definitely missed some people I connected with last time. Eriberto came all the way from Mexico to support his brothers on the opposition of the pipeline.
He told me he wasn’t proud or aware of his native ancestors until he came here. He found purpose and belonging here at Sacred Stone. He flashed his gold rings and chains at my camera and told me bling and gold is really important in his culture and he was really proud of wearing gold and being Native.
6.0 Stuart Flores
Stuart Flores is a Native Maya. He and his girlfriend Tasha come all the way from Florida where they have been fighting another pipeline, The Sabal Trail Pipeline. They have been on and off in Standing Rock since late September.
I’ve met Stuart outside the courthouse in Bismarck where he was denied of going in because of his dog. Stuart has PTSD and the dog is part of his treatment. Even though he has the official papers for his four legged companion the court officials were adamant in not letting him in to support the trial of a fellow water protector. He waited for the verdict and chanted and prayed in circles, while a group of white supremacist harassed them outside court.
7.0 Sacred Stone
Inyan Wakangapi Wakpa, or the River that Makes the Sacred Stones is Missouri’s river original indigenous name. The river somehow makes round soft stones that wash ashore. Stones like this one held by Delwin Fiddler, ceremony man and keeper of the white buffalo calf pipe from Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Delwin told me this stone rolled uphill towards his brother together with other six tones while he prayed on top of a hill. The seven stones are considered sacred and a presentation of the Seven Councils Fire and the gathering of the first seven nations.