Olivia "Olive" Bias
PETITE SUNDANCE WARRIOR: Olivia “Olive” Bias grew up “dirt poor” in rural Wes Virginia. “It was a toxic environment decimated by the working mines and the industrial military complex.”
Eastern Cherokee mixed with Sicilian, Greek, and Wanka Tanka (Sacred Mystery) she left her Appalachian backwoods and was led by the “Great Spirit” to a medicine woman in Mexico. That leap of faith initiated her spiritual journey and immersed her into the ways of the Wi Wanyang Wacipi, a Lakota name for Sundance which is the ultimate act of offering one’s life and flesh. “A life of service”.
I met Olive and her fellow sisters on a cold December day in Standing Rock, North Dakota. They braved the elements to peacefully protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Over 20,000 people from all tribes and nations gathered in solidarity to defend clean water and the rights of indigenous people to protect the sanctity of their own land. The sisters were warm and welcoming when I took a photograph of them which drew me to their plight. They were moving to a new tent that provided better insulation so I pitched in to help. I gave them the remaining propane tanks that I had brought to help heat and light up frozen tents.
AFTER A FEW DAYS of sleeping in my truck with the engine running, I figured it would be cheaper, definitely warmer, to take a room in the nearby Casino. The cold had driven many campers to the same conclusion and the Hotel Casino became the popular place at which to gather, eat, bathe & recover in while tapping into the free wi-fi. Naturally, I invited my friends to share in the modern conveniences. A few days later, just after I returned to my room, Olive texted and asked if she and Mesiah Sweetgrass could accept my invitation. The catch was that they also needed a ride. So I drove the 15 miles back to the camp and along the way, I saw a van from a TV station, pulled into a side road near a vantage point I’d spotted earlier. This was critical information as I had hesitated taking a panel truck off the road, into snow for obvious reasons. Seeing the minivan gave me an affirming reassurance.
After picking Olive and Sweetgrass, I asked if they wouldn’t mind if I stopped for a picture. They were nervous when I took a deviation from the highway but relieved when the off-road-drive was short and gladly waited as I braved the cold and hiked over to evaluate the sight.
It was a distant view, so far away that not many photographers took it seriously. The storm that passed cleared the air and left fresh snow that reflected the golden rays of a fading sun. I was amazed! Elated, realizing the magnitude of the gift, how everything preceding was deliverance to this moment of stunning affirmation.
In the fading light, I took pictures quickly. Walked back to the truck then drove the sisters to the Casino. They said they had a ride back so I gave them the extra plastic key and pointed them to the room.
“I see a time of seven generations, when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred tree of life and the whole earth will become one circle again. In that day, those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things, and the young white ones will come, to those of my people to ask for wisdom. I salute the light within their eyes where the whole universe dwells, for when you are at the center within you and I am at the place within me, we are as one.” — Crazy Horse
Front and back of the WATER IS LIFE Warrior poster. 2008 people consented to be listed on the poster. Over 800 protestors were arrested. Those injured or arrested are listed in bold while many more elected not to be listed in fear of repercussion.
“For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another life. The warrior for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who can not provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.” — Sitting Bull
Lakota Spiritualism and Lakota Resistance are perfectly symbolized by the characteristics of Chief Sitting Bull and the legendary warrior Chief Crazy Horse. Much of their extraordinary legacy are preserved within the sacred lore and oral history of the Lakota peoples. Unlike Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse’s fierce resistance to the encroaching settlers left no known photograph, signature or gravestone to inscribe his legacy. His spoken words, passed as oral history, were only documented in written form in 1930’s and then, in controversy… The message that was attributed to him conflicted with his very nature. This highly unusual and out-of-character statement (see quote under video) was said to have spoken by Crazy Horse as he sat smoking the Sacred Pipe with Chief Sitting Bull, 4 days before he was ‘assassinated’ at Fort Robinson, Nebraska.
One hundred and forty years later, the transcendence of these words became prophetic with Standing Rock. People of all nations and colors came together as ‘one’, as Water Protectors.
I NEVER SAW OLIVE or Sweetgrass again but stayed in touch with them via text. Olive was arrested, held in a cage for two days then released without charge. Unfazed she stayed in the cold until the camp was raided and destroyed by the militarized police. She shifted her service to support the hundreds of Water Protectors charged with “civil disobedience”. They became marred by costly delays that seemed to be designed to prolong their punishment and uncertainty. She married Michael “Rattler” Markus who was one of the protectors charged for building a fire at the camp’s barricade. After two years of legal harassment, he was sentenced to 3 years and became one of four protestors imprisoned for their involvement at Standing Rock.
That photograph I took was made into three posters. After Rattler went to prison, she continued to rally support. She was instrumental in channeling the profits of the poster sales into donations. They supplement a little of the commissary expenses for the imprisoned protestors.
Last I knew she was still in Bismarck, ND. I try not to ask too many questions knowing how threatened they were from the snooping authorities. I’m certain she will continue to carve out her Sundance Warrior’s life.
The circle of life within the Native American community is indeed filled with extraordinary moments of inspiration. They are created by people living out their lives of sacrifice and in quiet desperation.
If you want to support Olive and those imprisoned , please order this highly-discounted WATER IS LIFE poster and help DEFEND THE SACRED.
©JOHN CHAO All rights reserved