Mai’a Williams: With my Daughter at Standing Rock

I can’t tell you how to pick yourself up from despair. I can’t assure you that everything is going to be okay. All I can tell you is that white boy empire will eventually destroy everything you love, unless we fight it.


We Fight Joyfully

by Mai’a Williams

A couple of weeks ago my 9-year-old daughter and I were in Standing Rock, ND, fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens to build an oil pipeline underneath the Missouri River and other essential waterways. There are thousands of people camping in the cold North Dakota nights in order to stop a pipeline that threatens the water of 18 millions of people. The odds were never in the favor of the Native folk who have been protecting our water for months. Now that Donald Trump will be our next president, the odds are much worse against the water protectors.

Trump has between $500,000 and $1 million USD invested in Energy Transfer Partners, the company that is funding DAPL.

I was standing in front of the sacred fire, with Black and Indigenous folk, at the main camp before sunrise with hundreds of people, wrapped in down and wool coats, praying together, gathering strength. As the day became light, most of the warriors got into trucks and cars and drove to front lines of the pipeline and faced armed police in military riot gear. They prayed loudly on the land for their future and their ancestors they are protecting. For the warriors who were imprisoned by the North Dakota police at that moment. For all of us.

15032501_10153867952021556_659281268_nIn moments of deep existential crisis, many of us feel so deeply that we cannot write, instead we are called to act, to go into the neighborhoods, the streets to demand that anything that stands in the way of our survival, our children’s, our community’s survival must fall.

In these times of political change, all I can tell you, is that human beings are miraculous. Change happens slowly, slowly then all at once.

In Standing Rock. people give their very skin and bone for freedom, to live on their land with dignity and purpose.

After returning from Standing Rock, people questioned if I should have brought my daughter so close to the protests, to the front lines, the police blockades, the frenzied chaos. I tell them about the multi-tent Lakota homeschool that is set up at the center of main camp.  How grateful the elders were to see children playing soccer in the sun.  What does safety look like for people who look like us? Brown and black girls living on the edges and in the center of white boy empire?


White people did this. White women did this. They voted for Donald Trump. I don’t give a fuck why they did it. Fuck white feminism and everyone who rides with it. Fuck pantsuit nation.  Black women voted 94 percent for Hillary Clinton, while remaining very critical of her political choices, her husband, her policies. Black women have once again done the complex, emotional labor of saving white women, when white women can’t even come out in vote in their own best interests.

I can’t tell you how to pick yourself up from despair. I can’t assure you that everything is going to be okay. All I can tell you is that white boy empire will eventually destroy everything you love, unless we fight it.

On election day 2016, DAPL, in defiance of Obama’s requests, said it will not halt the pipe line construction and will begin drilling under the river in less than two weeks. My friends in Standing Rock are literally in the pathway of a machine that is determined to run them over and put in jeopardy our water supply, our health, and the health of the natural world.

It has always been Black, Indigenous mamas who do the work of affirming life, of taking care of us all, creating new ecologies, ensuring our survival, generation into generation. We have always believed that the work of life is more important than the luxury of desperation. Revolution happens slowly slowly and then all at once.

This is what I have whispered to my daughter since she was in utero.


I can’t console people who desperately believe against all evidence that peaceful, non-violent revolution is possible in the midst of white boy empire. For those of us who have fought on the edges and at the center of empire against the rapacious, bullying forces that are intent on destroying everything we hold dear, peaceful revolution sounds like Disney fairytales. We live in Grimm’s book of frightened children and Bluebeard’s secret rooms.

All I can tell you is that we have always fought, using prayer as a weapon, protecting water with chants, bodies, visions. With strategy, with joy.

This is what I tell my daughter. We fight joyfully. Yes. But, we fight.


6112i22T-KL._UY200_Mai’a Williams is a visionary healer and media maker.  She has lived and worked in the Middle East, southern Mexico and east Africa with refugee and displaced women under the threat of violence, also she has organized and accompanied communities and persons within the US/Canadian urban landscape, engaging in issues including: race, working poor, sex work, prisons, drug addiction, police brutality, and queer rights. Living in Cairo, Egypt, she is a freelance writer, poet, journalist, zinester, photographer, multi-media performer, and outlaw midwife. She co-edited Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines out now from PM Press.

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