In a line of barely-awake, Starbucks-craving New Yorkers, Floris White Bull is a vision in her Native American Dress.
She's only an afternoon away from the premiere of Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock, a film debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival in which she both narrates and features, and tells the story behind the struggles at Standing Rock against the famed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
Waiting for our coffees, she tells me that after our interview she's headed to a rally to protest the DAPL, amid the pouring rain on a gloomy Saturday, before she leaves for the evening's red carpet soirée.
White Bull was chosen as one of the subjects of the documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox after a fortuitous meeting in Iowa. White Bull was in attendance to show support for a friend who had begun a blockade in her town against the prospect of the DAPL cutting through their land.
Fox had been accumulating footage for the documentary while penning an accompanying script which he planned to narrate. But after hearing White Bull speak at the protest he asked if she would take over the narration.
White Bull was by then a seasoned veteran speaking on behalf of the Sioux Tribe and Standing Rock's cause. Having chosen a degree in Energy Technology and then minoring in American Studies, she was well-acquainted with the effects of the DAPL on the land and the muddy future that would await those living off the water supply in the region if the legislation was pushed through.
"What's happening today in energy development is that there's a disregard for people's ties to the land."
-Floris White Bull
Her father, who raised her and her siblings by himself, had been a forward thinker when it came to clean energy. When he passed away, White Bull was adamant to pursue a dream of his. "The best way to honour a person is to follow one of their dreams to fruition," she says. White Bull was painfully aware of the ramifications of such a pipeline once the plans were disclosed. The pipeline and protecting the land it would run through would become her life's work.
Floris White BullInitially, neither side thought the standoff would last as long as it did. "You're facing a billion-dollar company and I lived on my [college] stipend - me and my [five] children," she remarks, continuing, "the feeling of helplessness I felt was unbelievably overwhelming."
Having been taken to prison after what is now known as "The Treaty Camp Raid," White Bull had real experience of the degradation and disrespect with which the local police force treated her people and those who stood with them with.
Floris White Bull and partner Mikasi at Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock premiers at Tribeca Film Festival
The unrest at Standing Rock was not the first time the Native tribes had clashed with the local police department or government. In the 1950's, Congress passed an act to construct dams in Dakota, the result of which would mean the river around the tribes' land would flood. Local tribes were left with no option other than moving further upland, and without any notice. "They came in and moved the people at gun point," White Bull's grandparent's generation said. "When the officiating priest was trying to identify the bodies as they were digging up our relatives to pull them out and get them out of that area - they weren't able to identify everyone they pulled out. So in my community in our cemetery now there's a whole space that's just marked unknown."
They weren't, however, able to get everyone out of their graves before the work started and now, White Bull says, when the water level drops, those bodies will sometimes rise to the surface.
"That's our history with the army corp of engineers. Just that - but it's just a slice. And that was just an act passed by Congress - just the flick of a pen, and how much it inflicted on us," White Bull remarks.
The pain suffered by the tribes at that time was emulated once again on the first day of Donald Trump's presidency, during which he signed an executive order for the DAPL to move forward.
“These are pipelines we don't even need," says White Bull. And is resolute that it's the billionaires that are the only people who are going to benefit from it. The regular person's oil costs are not going to plummet from the implementation of these new lines, she explains. “These billionaires are completely out of touch with the common people," she comments. "And don't understand what they're doing."
Looking back at the support the tribe received from the world, White Bull says, "it was an amazing convergence of all these different aspects of community." She continues: "It created a space for all of us to come together. Different religions, different races, it was truly beyond more than any of us could have ever asked for."
Given Trump's order of business, the future of Standing Rock remains uneasy. But although oil is currently flowing through the pipes, White Bull holds out hope for a future repeal of the order and a cessation of the line. “As we speak there is oil flowing through that pipeline," she says, "that doesn't mean this is done. We can still shut it down."
“A lot us are going through PTSD from what happened right now," she says. It wasn't something she ever expected, but admits that while they were not in a "conventional" type of warzone, that she saw things regular people should not see on a day-to-day basis. "A lot of things I see, normal people aren't meant to see things like that." Once the executive order was signed, her cousin, a military veteran who served in Iraq, warned her she would now succumb to feelings of boredom the likes of which she could have never imagined. And it's taken a toll on her mentally.
Going forward, White Bull intends to focus and concentrate her efforts on clean energy, while her partner fights upcoming pipelines in Oklahoma. She's shocked by the massive investments banks are making in these pipelines instead of in clean, renewable energy - where, regardless of what any politician believes, the future of the world's energy lies. Oil spills damaging the environment occur everyday. “Clean energy, is not supposed to be a dirty word," she comments, while lamenting the loss of the water source for which she has devoted the last year of her life.
Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, April 22nd, and can be watched here for a small donation.
Sometimes the person you have to stand up to is you! There I was, rewatching the Miss Universe 2019 competition. Which I do for inspiration from time to time. (No, seriously!) There is something about seeing women on stage, in full-on glam mode, and speaking with confident assuredness that really lights my fire!
I have seen this Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa win this crown so many times before, but something about this particular viewing, her delivery or her words, touched something inside me a little differently. At that moment, I truly believed, with complete conviction, that she lives what she speaks.
The announcement was made, the audience cheered, and the crown was awarded. The light was dazzling,, she looked stunning, almost blessed. The judges made the right call with 2019's queen.
Reflecting On Myself
Suddenly, the YouTube video ended. And I was left looking at a black screen. In the darkness of that screen, I saw my reflection and I began assessing what I saw, asking myself, "What have I been doing with my life?" It may seem like an overly dramatic question, but at that moment, I had to ask myself seriously… What have you done? The fact that I couldn't come up with a solid, confident answer gave my inner-cynic license to quickly spiral into self-criticism.
This went on for quite some time, until I got up. I stood up and walked to my mirror to have some serious one-on-one "Queen Talk." I needed to get out of that self-critical mindset, and I know that physical movement is something that help disrupt a way of thinking. I needed to remind myself of who I really was. The negative feelings I was experiencing at that moment were not reality.
Here are a few reminders for whenever you need some Queen Talk!
1.) Comparison is truly the thief of joy.
This saying feels like a cliché. That is, until it's applicable to you. At that moment, this "cliché, becomes self-evident. Comparing myself to someone on a stage with years of experience in an area I know nothing about is not only unfair but straight-up mean. A part of my comparison comes from me wondering, "Would I have the ability, if put in that position, to perform at such a level?" The answer is totally and without question, yes. I excel in the field I work in now, and I know that if I put that same energy towards something else, with practice, I could do just as well. No joy can come from comparing yourself to someone in a completely different field!
2.) Never forget the blessings that have been bestowed upon you.
Every single day, I am blessed to have the opportunity to wake up with all ten fingers and toes and choose to create the kind of life I want to live. There is so much power in that alone, but sometimes it's easy to take it for granted. Let us not forget those who are unable to make that same decision every day of their lives.
3.) Appreciate how far you have come!
I've been very intentional for some time to be kinder and gentler to myself. I need to realize that I am human. Being human means that I will not know everything, and I will continue to make mistakes.But I must let go of the need to always be right. I feel empowered when I can see the growth that I've made, regardless of the mistakes that may come in the future. I don't react to every little thing that bothers me, because I have learned boundaries when it comes to dealing with others and myself. I truly value my time and my energy, and, for that, I am proud.
4.) You Can Be Who You Want To Be
If you can see it in your mind, you can achieve it in reality. I saw myself when I looked at the women on stage, when she smiled, the way she talked, her elegant walk. For a moment, in my self-criticism spiral, I forgot that we are all connected. Debasish Mridha has said "I may not know you, but I don't see any difference between you and me. I see myself in you; we are one." I will not sit in the mentality of lack, there is more than enough opportunity and good fortune to go around for everyone. Her win was not a loss for me, but it can be a nudge from the universe for me to go ahead and dream big!
This Queen Talk was not easy. There may have been some tissues and tears involved but giving myself an honest yet compassionate talk is sometimes what I need to bring myself out of some bad head space. In these moments of doubt, you truly need to be your own best friend.When times get rough, criticism won't always come from outside sources. How you speak about yourself internally is crucial to how you see and feel about yourself. As Beyoncé once sang, "I've got Me, Myself, and I." We must put forth every effort to be there for ourselves. I look forward to more Queen Talks when some negative emotions arise. I am grateful for the person I am today, but I am excited to see the women I become.