By Jane Wells

Joyce, a retired mental health nurse from Detroit Lakes Minnesota is Native American from the White Earth Nation. She just returned from Cannon Ball North Dakota where she served in the medical tents at Standing Rock, taking care of water protectors trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. We have had the privilege of receiving her direct accounts on what it is like to provide medical care to the water protectors. Many protectors are trained in peaceful direct action and yet they are brutally targeted by an ever-more militarized police force. They go out to protect the water rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and return wounded. Here is a glimpse of what it’s like just beyond the front lines, told in Joyce’s own beautiful words:

“I just left Standing Rock Main Camp at 5 AM. I left with the promise of returning. Patients came in for post assault treatment and were ready to go back to the front line. WARRIORS. EMOTIONS RAMPANT. Mine. We saw 3 gunshots. All rubber bullets/beanbags. 20 or more cases of hypothermia. Many sprayed. Skin washes. Eyes. Asthma. Strep. Injuries, etc. LAND OF THE BRAVE. Amen.

The medic tent is like being on a MASH set. It’s a very small space. It has a wood stove the in center of the room. Two cots. Boxes of supplies. Staff includes a doctor if lucky. Paramedics. Nurses like me. ER Staff. Medics work well with herbal treatments. Herbs for soaks. Skin treatments and teas for many maladies. We treat hypothermia. Skin washes to cleanse from being sprayed with mace and pepper spray. We saw three bullet hits. Rubber bullets and bean bags.

Night time at camp. Bright starry sky. Smoke from fires circling throughout. One night at about 3 AM a drum started its healing beat. Singing. Drone of circling plane trying to annoy us with its nightly routine. Native sounds overpower. Very beautiful.

Working at camp site near the medic tent I met and heard stories from people from all over the country. All on journeys that led them to this place at this time. I had a patient that had been at camp 4 days without methadone. Sick from withdrawal. I told her she had to find a way home today. We as a team helped. She left and like others she will be back.

Medic tent worked well with herbal tent, at one point a truck pulled up to medic tent and dropped off a young blonde blue-eyed girl. I knew in 10 seconds that she was in trouble. She was gently making hand gestures suddenly expressing fear in her eyes and body. Another medic was with us. We got tea from the herbal tent knowing the tea would relax our patient. When asked when she had eaten last it had been a day before. We gave her soup. She would go back and forth from her world to ours. She would gently touch us. She gave me a card. Insisted on me reading it to her. Just me. I read it. The girl was, in our eyes and our assessment, was experiencing mental health issues. She was sent to the local hospital via ambulance.

The medic tent has staff that have been here since day one. They are so flexible. They have to be. So many cooks in the kitchen. Knowledgeable. Caring. Each with Skills. I felt proud to be a part of this. Medical people from all over the country come to help.

We can be instantly thrown into action. I am amazed at how strangers blend into being medics. One purpose. Treating people that we don’t know. We ask about allergies. We have no medical history.. but we obtain what we need to treat safely. At times we work without power. In a dark small tent. I have seen things I have never seen before. When the warriors passed our medic tent on their way to the Front Line we stood and proudly let them know that we are with them. Overwhelmed. Emotional. Knowing they were weaponless. Determined to go in peace. But they will come back to us with wounds. Gunshots. Sprayed. Hypothermic. But no broken SPIRITS.

We treat them and when we are done their unbroken spirit wants to go right back. Shooting bullets of peace at police and DAPL. I, as an elder with health problems- I did what I could and left the heavy lifting to the young and healthy. I went on my own guilt trip. The team never added to that. I became flexible and self forgiving. Because of the small space we had I would be outside the tent policing who could go in and verbally triage. If I could I would wrap wounds. I felt so safe. We had two doctors on hand. Paramedics who are trained for situations like this. ER techs. Nurses. I am so humbled these medics are donating huge amounts of time to serve other water protectors. 

I shared a split second moment of what’s happening. There are always rumors swirling through camp. The police are coming to camp to tell us to go home or to jail. It was about ten at night. Suddenly sirens were in camp. It was over fast- it was only an ambulance leaving.

What was great was being acknowledged as a seasoned medic. Being a retired mental health nurse worked well for me. I feel that all walks from the health world were shown respect and appreciation. I will always appreciate the humor of medics after a long day. The tents prepared to come to Standing Rock if the need arises. Medic tent/general medicine. Alternative herbal therapy. Minerals and spices. Mental health tent. Women’s health. Midwifery. So thankful for all.”

Joyce appeared in 3 Generations’ film, Native Silence, a solemn account of the legacy of forced adoption on Native American children, torn from their tribal communities and placed in foster care and boarding schools. Her story is available on the website of 3 Generations. We remain grateful to Joyce and all her fellow volunteers.


Also available on The Huffington Post.

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