CANNON BALL, N.D. — It shouldn’t be a surprise that Billy Mills’ native name, Makata Taka Hela, means “respects the earth.”
“Respect the earth” has been at the heart of this #NoDAPL movement to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
And there was Mills at Standing Rock, with hockey Hall-of-Famer Henry Boucha, speaking just hours after hearing Sunday’s news that the Army Corps of Engineers would halt its drilling of the Dakota Access Pipeline after months of protests.
“The world is watching,” said Mills, a gold medalist at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo in the 10,000m. “Standing Rock’s victory is not just a victory of Native Americans, it is a victory for America. It is a global victory. People have come and standing with us from India, from Asia, from Europe. People on Facebook are texting back and forth. We have unity through diversity.”
Mills, a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux), and Boucha, an Ojibwa Native American, are also United States Veterans, two of thousands of U.S. Veterans who came to Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the water protectors.
“I have not seen anything like it in sport,” said Mills. “I have never felt anything more sacred than what I feel.”
Considering the source, that is saying a lot.
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Mills became only the second Native American (after the legendary Jim Thorpe) to win an Olympic gold medal, and to this day, is still the only person from the Western Hemisphere to win a gold in the 10,000 meter run (6.2 mi).
Mills, who is aware the victory is fragile and may be short-lived, was speaking from a place of pride and appreciation for the national and global solidarity.
Even if temporary, Mills sees Monday’s halt of construction as a “global victory.”
“A lot of people just want to get rid of the pipelines,” said Boucha, “they want to get rid of the corruption and the corporations that have taken over our world, our time.”
In 1986, Mills began the “Running Strong for American Indian Youth Program” and when he asked tribes what their No. 1 priority was, they said it was clean healthy drinking water.
“My tribe, Pine Ridge, was having to trek water twice a week for drinking bathing and washing,” said Mills.
Fireworks go off over the Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D.
“Indigenous people need to stick together,” said Boucha. “And we need to teach and show that we are leaders in the environment and that we want to take care of mother earth.
“When you look out and see the passion for life, the passion for water and trying to do what’s right,” said Boucha, “it just melts your heart.”
Boucha’s sentiment has been supported by over 200 Native Nations who have officially united in solidarity with Standing Rock.
It is simply impossible to communicate the depth and reach of this solidarity. Despite freezing temperatures, this author personally met individuals from Kenya, Germany, New Zealand and the Philippines who came to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
One man, who traveled all the way from Hawaii to sleep in a tent in the snow, passionately expressed a widely held sentiment of a “calling”:
“It just upsets me that corporate people that are invested in this pipeline disregard the Sioux people on their land and the treaty of Laramie from 1851. It goes way back and that has been stepped on so much by our government and greedy corporations,” he said. “To want to build a pipeline underneath the Missouri River endangering the water of the people here. We can’t do that. No. There was another route, through Bismarck, through white neighborhoods, and they said ‘no.’ To me that upsets me. I can’t live with that. I can’t sit in Hawaii knowing that this is happening, and not do anything.”
Others living closer to North Dakota expressed similar passion. For U.S. Veteran George Grundy from Flint, Mich., the need for clean water hit home:
“I joined [the Marines] because I wanted to do what’s right. Now I come back here as a civilian and this isn’t right,” said Grundy. “I’d rather die than live in a world where this is going on. I can’t stand bullies.”
Such solidarity has extended to other Native athletes besides Boucha and Mills, who had previously come to Standing Rock in August. It includes younger Native athletes like lacrosse star Lyle Thompson and his brothers whose recent visit to Standing Rock included a game of lacrosse as a means to help healing after water protectors had been sprayed with rubber bullets and shot with fire hoses in freezing temperatures.
Mills sees the overall solidarity expressed at Standing Rock as putting the Olympic promise into actual practice.
“What I took from sport. What I took from the Olympic Games is a true sense of global unity — through the dignity, the character and the beauty of global diversity. I have never seen it work in such a sacred manner in our daily lives than what has played out here at Standing Rock.”
Mills was absolutely beaming when he spoke these words on Sunday in a celebratory atmosphere that included fireworks above.
In 1964, Billy Mills wins a gold medal for the U.S. in the Olympic 10,000 meter run.
It was neither the time nor place for pragmatic questions on distinctions between “battles,” “wars” and tactical maneuvers should the pipeline officially resume construction.
Not on this day.
This day was about celebrating the power of pride, unity and its potential promise.
When Mills says: “I have never felt anything more sacred than what I feel right now,” it even feels trivial to bring up a sports question.
And yet, with an Olympic legend standing before me I may never meet again, I simply couldn’t help my white self.
So I asked Mills about his greatest memory of his historic 1964 Olympic victory, which, to this day, is one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history and inspired the 1983 film “Running Brave.”
“What made it unique… the games were in Tokyo, Japan and the games we 20 years after we dropped the two atomic bombs. The man that lit the torch was born the same day the same year within an hour before we dropped the first atomic bomb within two or three kilometers away. He survived the blast. He survived 20 years of radiation.”
That’s right. Mills’ big memory was not even about his own historic achievement — it was about the final torch runner, Yoshinori Sakai who was sometimes referred to in the press as “Atomic Bomb Boy.”
Sakai was born just outside of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Japan’s Society writes that: “As Sakai climbed the stairs at the National Stadium to light the torch, his strong, healthy body, born in the atomic ashes of war, represented Japan, also recovered and renewed, looking forward to a bright future.”
Mills continued on Sakai: “So he has chosen to light the torch so the world would never forget…”
Then a still-beaming Mills reflected back 52 years to the current fight at Standing Rock while simultaneously shrugging and shaking his head.
“But the world forgets.”
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News