Olive, Sweetgrass and Felicia, three warm and jolly Water Protectors approached me on their way to relocate to a warmer tent. This sweet encounter offset the 20-below North Dakota winter that greeted me upon my arrival at Standing Rock.

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Olivia "Olive" Bias


Pettite Sundance Warrior: Olivia “Olive” Bias was was born in Appalachia, “I grew up in poor, rural West Virginia and saw how state-sanctioned ecocide has become a pandemic we must resist by all means,” Bias said.

Her ancestry combined Eastern Cherokee mixed with Sicilian, Greek, and Wanka Tanka (Sacred Mystery). Olive left the Appalachian backwoods and was led by the “Great Spirit” to an elderly woman in Mexico. That leap of faith initiated a 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 “genderqueer” Olive and their fellow “Two-Spirit” comrades shortly after I arrived. They were moving to a new tent with better insulation for the 20-below temperature. Their welcoming overture inspired me to photograph and to pitch in with help. I gave them the remaining propane tanks to help heat and light their new tent.

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The location from where the poster photograph of Standing Rock was taken.

After a few days of sleeping in my truck with the engine running, I figured it would be cheaper and warmer to take a room in the nearby casino. The cold had driven many campers to the same conclusion. The hotel-casino became a hub to sleep, eat, bathe, and recover while tapping into the free Wi-Fi. Naturally, I invited my new friends to access hot showers. A few days later, shortly after I returned to the room, Olive texted with Mesiah Sweetgrass accepting 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 spotted earlier. This tip was crucial; I had discounted taking my massive panel truck into the snow, and sighting the van was instant assurance.

After picking up Olive and Sweetgrass, I asked if they wouldn’t mind if I stopped for a picture. They were apprehensive about the deviation and quickly relieved when the off-road-drive was short. They gladly waited in the warm cab as I appraised the scene.

It was a distant view, too far away to interest most photographers. The storm that had just passed left crystal clear air and fresh snow that reflected rare golden rays from a fading sun. I stood amazed! The magnitude of the timing, the randomness of meeting Olive and Sweetgrass, the call and the drive back to pick them up, were all part of a deliverance for this moment.

In the fading light, I took pictures quickly, knowing the window was brief. When it disappeared — I walked back to the truck for the drive. 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

Standing Rock, December 15, 2016: I did not come to photograph but was gifted this amazing moment never to be seen again.

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 via text. Olive was arrested three-times, held in cages for days. With a total of seven charges, Olive defended Olive by doing his/her own paralegal work. When militarized police destroyed the camp, Olive shifted the fight to the many pending Federal cases and became part of the NoDPL Political Prisoner Support Committee. Those arrested were marred by costly delays designed to prolong their punishment. With a role on the committee, Olive took charge and supported the four that ended up serving prison time. One of them was Michael “Rattler” Markus, who was falsely charged for building a fire at the camp’s barricade. After two years of legal harassment, he was sentenced to three years in prison, another was  Red Fawn, who received a four year sentence for the possession of a pistol owned by her lover who was later indentified as an FBI informant.

That photograph I took of the camp turned into three posters. Together with the help of Olive, we were able to channel profits from the poster into donations for supplemental commissary funds for the four incarcerated protestors.

Last I knew Olive was still in Bismarck, North Dakota. I try not to ask too many questions knowing how threatened they were from the snooping authorities. I’m confident Olive will continue to carve out their Sundance Warrior’s life. The circle of water protesters is full of peaceful warriors like Olive, living in service, sacrifice, and often, heroically, in quiet desperation.

ENTER HERE to purchase any of the WATER IS LIFE products and support those imprisoned

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