Standing Rock

A Poem by Paul Chubbuck

Leonard Crow Dog, a Lakota elder and highly-regarded activist, left, places his hand over Gen. Wesley Clark Jr.’s head during a forgiveness ceremony for veterans at the Four Prairie Knights Casino & Resort on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

Sand Creek
Wounded Knee
The Trail of Tears

The betrayal and the murder of innocents echo loudly across wood and plain,
for those with ears to hear.

Even today, blood spills in many ways and places.
Can healing happen between our Peoples?

Custer will not rise from his grave to apologize.
If Colonel Chivington rose, I fear he would continue his slaughter.

My Great-grandfather sailed from Germany to claim Kansas farmland in 1880.
He killed not one Indian.
The U.S. Calvary had cleared those plains for white settlement a decade before.

Is the money in my bank sullied from that acreage 130 years later?
Surely not my sin.

How many times have we said,
it wasn’t me
I didn’t do it
not all men are like that
I’m not a racist
I’m not a rapist
I don’t use white privilege
All lives matter
I’m a sensitive man

Ok, that’s all true,
we’re off the hook,
we slip innocently through the keyhole,
sidestep the shame one more time.

Who then will answer for the pain?
Who will make amends?
Who will bow to the relentless grief?

Something happened this week at Standing Rock.
It wasn’t about a pipeline,
or a protest,
or who won or lost.

White warriors knelt humbly before the Elders.
They atoned for centuries of evil against Native People.

Like me, these veterans were not behind the cannon at Wounded Knee.
Like you, they did not distribute smallpox blankets.

Yet, with tears and no excuses, they said,
“we took your land,
we took your children,
we’ve hurt you in so many ways
but we’ve come to say that we are sorry.”

The elders granted forgiveness…and blessing.
The healing began.

How can this be?
Can we claim the power to atone for causing other’s suffering
even when we did not do the deed,
were not present, or even alive?
What is possible here?
Can we help to heal the harm beyond our personal misdeeds,
even as our own grievances lay unaddressed, our own wounds still raw?

Who will begin the cycle?

The warriors showed us it is possible.
The power of their act rippled across the world like a spring breeze.

But let us not make of this a technique,
no workshops please,
or, worse still, a new religion.

It is too sacred for that.

Let us, instead, search our hearts
to find what suffering we might ease,
the time, the act, the person.

Surely, if we listen inwardly,
it will not take long for each of us to find
the redress it is ours to deliver,

It is that place where our own tears fall.



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Paul Chubbuck is a practicing psychotherapist in Fort Collins, CO, using Somatic Experiencing® to help people release trauma, abuse, and loss. He may be reached at 970-493-2958 or through his website at

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