My friend Katie Jo, currently on an artistic and humanitarian trip in Nepal, hand-wrote the following post and sent it to me across spotty wifi, asking if I could share her perspective on the Dakota Access Pipeline intrusion on Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sacred grounds. I happily agreed.
From a little café in Pokhara, Nepal I’m reading about the conflict at Standing Rock on Facebook.
“Water is life” has a significant meaning for me since I’ve been suffering from serious traveler’s diarrhea for three days, due to bacterially-infected water in Kathmandu. If I were home in the U.S., I think “water is life” would have the ruing of a nice of saying – an apt metaphor. But in a majority-world country, with my insides exiting me at break-neck speeds, I can only clutch my stomach and agree more than I have ever agreed with anything else. 80% of Nepali people are at risk from contaminated water. And most cannot afford the antibiotics I have the luxury of taking.
In the first world, we think of dirty water as a bad smell, or dingy laundry – an inconvenience. But most of the world – now including Flint, Michigan – understands that water is life also means that contaminated water is death.
Not a metaphor.
The actual death of real people – usually the people with the most burdens already.
The last few days have been a festival of lights in Nepal. The Newar people – the natives of the Kathmandu valley – dress in traditional clothes, sing in the streets, and make beautiful, colorful paintings with colored powder in the streets. I spoke with a young Newari shop owner about his culture. He shares the pride of over one million Newari natives in their food, art, and faith.
“Your American natives have similar art?” he asked me.
I told him that yes, some tribes in the Southwest make art with sand. But my ancestors killed most of them and the few that are left live on small reservations, so their culture is not well-known to most Americans.
We both shook our heads.
As Newari women with candles and young men with drums paraded past us, I fet the weight of shame that this majority-world country honors its native peoples, and clean water projects are popping up everywhere in the Kathmandu valley. But at home, in the supposed “first” world, the “white man” still chokes native water supplies and chooses profit over endangered culture.
It took being poisoned for me to better understand Standing Rock. I fear most Americans won’t understand until their water is poisoned too.
Katie Jo Suddaby is the founder of The Clover Center for Arts and Spirituality, an ordained pastor in the American Baptist Churches, USA, a sought-after speaker, consultant, and artist. Working in a number of mediums, when she found sand painting, she came home. A Tibetan lama at an interfaith festival mesmerized her with this art form and its message of letting go. She taught herself the technique using tools she made from oil funnels and cake-decorating tips. After several years of only YouTube videos as her guide, she got the opportunity to study briefly with several lamas visiting Rochester, NY. Since then, her craft has blossomed. For Katie Jo, sand painting has become a way to meditate and teach. She’s now in Nepal to deepen her learning and expression. You can connect with Katie Jo on her website.