Folk legend Neil Young was inspired by the Standing Rock Sioux stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline to write “Indian Giver,” a music video he posted last Sunday and has shared thousands of times around the world.
Young, a supporter of Native American causes and an environmentalist, sings, “There’s a battle raging on the sacred land, Our brothers and sisters had to take a stand,” with a repetitive chorus line, “I wish somebody would share the news.”
Young posted the music video, with footage from the pipeline protests and police action, without comment. It features shots of him driving his renewable-fueled car, lip syncing, “The pipeline crosses our farms and through our water, At the cost of our sons and daughters.”
He is not the only artist moved by the events of the past six weeks, when thousands of Native Americans from tribes around the country and the world have come to live with Standing Rock Sioux in tent and teepee encampments near the Cannonball and Missouri rivers. The camps are centers for prayer, ceremony and communal living aimed at protecting the water and sacred sites, while direct action on the pipeline has led to the arrests of 70 men and women since active protesting started Aug. 10.
Joan Baez, another folk legend, appeared at the encampment without notice or fanfare Sept. 11 and sang the John Lennon song “Imagine” during the Sunday evening campfire. Frank Waln, a Lakota rapper from the Rosebud Sioux tribe, recorded “Hear My Cry” and sings “One time, for my people one time, This is our time, this is our shine.” Nature-based songwriter Nahko Bear performed at the Red Warrior Camp Sept. 8.
And then there is Charles Rencountre, a sculptor living in Santa Fe, N.M., who arrived at the Sacred Stones camp last week to create his personal tribute to the tribes’ stand. He was not asked to come, he was simply moved to bring his tools and his heart to the work.
Rencountre turns off a generator and lifts the protective glass mask covering his face to explain his project. He first extends a pleasant greeting and comments on the beauty of working outside, on a golden late summer day, with no clock other than the sun to separate work from sleep.
On a high hill overlooking the original spirit camp, he is building a sculpture titled “Not Afraid to Look,” a large abstract form of a man sitting, arms crossed over his raised knees, while he gazes implacably forward. The direction he faces, this man is not afraid to look, is toward the Cannonball River and beyond, where pipeline equipment is visible on high bluffs a mile away.
Inspiration for the sitting figure comes from an old pipe, with a small figure of a Native American on the pipe stem facing toward the bowl carved into the shape of a white man.
“He was not afraid, this humble little guy staring down the force taking over his world,” said Rencountre of a view he also shares, though the forces are different in these times. “I’m opposed to the fact that they’re not looking at alternative sources of energy. This is not sustainable to the rivers and to the land. This pipeline is not the answer."
The sculpture will be a replica of one he made earlier for display at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art at Santa Fe. The rebar and concrete will withstand the North Dakota weather, and it will be painted red when finished.
“This piece is appropriate for here. It had to be at the spirit camp, here with the people,” he said.
He has a history on the Missouri River, a many-times-great-grandmother was taken hostage and traded to Pierre Chouteau, a Missouri River supplier for the American Fur Co. His Native American roots are with the Lakota at Lower Brule, S.D.
“It means a lot to me to gift this to my people, here along the river,” he said. “For most artists, it’s about selling art to the elite, and it’s in private homes where no one sees it. This is public art, it belongs to the world.”
He expects — if weather cooperates — the sculpture will be complete sometime next week. No one knows how long the Sacred Stones spirit camps will be occupied. Weather-resistant structures for food storage and other uses are being built for the winter soon and many say they are in for however long it takes.
The sculpture, made of concrete to last a long time, will be there, too, not afraid to look at whatever happens next.