THE NIGHT I BECAME A LAKOTA.
I am writing this from my hospital bed in Florida. I was rushed here by ambulance four days ago. I was in full asthmatic breathing arrest with pneumonia. I was still filled with tear gas powder and as bad as it was at that moment it was about to get worse…I was about to get sepsis… bacterial blood poisoning. But this story begins in North Dakota. It is my story about the HWY 1806 backwater bridge and the 10-hour police riot raged against the water protectors on Sunday night November 20th.
My name is Casey Eugene Leydon. I was born and I live in Florida. My three sons and my daughter were born here. My father, grandfather, great-grandfather and my European Ancestors go back 7 generations in Florida.
I like to say I have sand in my blood and hurricanes in my hair. I live in occupied Timucua Territory and Seminole Country and Yamassee Land. I am 63 years old and I am a descendant of the Rebel Tribes of West Ireland and Native Florida’s People of the First Sun. The Timucua.
The Timucua first met the Spanish here 450 years ago. They fed the lost Europeans…then quickly grew weary of their deceit and drove the Spanish from their settlement called St. Augustine To The Sea. The Spanish returned with more ships and guns and swords and over time all that is left of the great Timucua is remnant blood and oral family tradition and the whisper of their voices and songs in this land.
I am Irish American and Indigenous American. I still listen to the whispers of my Timucua ancestors. I have been raised to fight the oppressor. I have honored that path. My path led me to Stand with Standing Rock. I followed my path to Rosebud Camp.
That night I sat in the community tent and met my camp mates of Rosebud. I met people from all four corners of the winds. We talked and listened to each other until midnight. I then sat outside my tipi and watched the stars turn above me and listened to a lone coyote sing to me from across the floodplain. I listened to the field mice curiously approach me and check me out. I listened to the owls hunt them. I slept that night in powerful dreams.
Saturday morning came and I walked to every camp and sought out every sacred fire. I brought my prayers and sage and tobacco from Timucua Territory. I listened to each camp. I felt each camp spirit. I brought my ancestors, Irish and Timucua, to every sacred fire to join and stand united in this battle for Standing Rock, with the ancestors of every person here in this sacred valley by Turtle Island.
I heard a hundred different voices that day. I listened and learned. What I heard was harmony struggling.
At dusk, I returned to my community tent at Rosebud Camp. After dinner, after about 10:00 p.m., there was a group of people gathered around a table by the stove and we talked about what I was hearing in the camps. An unsettled harmony. They all said they felt it. We agreed the unsettling did exist and if we felt it then perhaps we were supposed to address it and heal it.
We decided that each of us should go to the Creator with this question. We decided to go alone and seek the voice of the Creator. To spend the night and next day listening. To meet again tomorrow night in this community tent and share what the Creator had spoken.
We spent the last hour that night just in the quiet company of each other by the stove. Solemn in the knowledge that we were in an important place. In an important time. Solemn in the knowledge that each of us has been traveling a long time to gather here together.
Sunday morning I went to the main Sacred Fire on Treaty Land and listened for hours. I listened to conversations, announcements, songs, drums, and I listened to the tears falling from the sacred prayers of people coming to the fire.
I listened to the Creator. I listened all say until evening fell. I drank no water. I ate no food. I listened. As dusk fell I heard the Creator tell me to go to Red Warrior Camp.
I walked to the gate of Red Warrior and two young men met me there. I told them who I was and that I have come to pray with them. They told me that this was not a good time, that no one was there. I asked if I could pray with them. One of the young men turned away. The other young man sat down and said, “ I have never prayed with a Timucua….lets pray.”
We prayed together. For healing. For harmony. For our ancestors.
For our Children. For the Sacred Water. For the Life of the People.
When we finished our prayer we stood and embraced each other as friends. He held my shoulders and looked into my face and said, “Come with me if you want to be with the Red Warrior Camp tonight.” He lit a cigarette and gave it to me and he lit another and said… “Let’s go quick”.
As I followed him around the fence that surrounds Red Warrior Camp and we headed up to the hill that leads over to the road to the backwater bridge on HWY 1806, I could hear voices rising all thru the camps. It was about 6:30 p.m. Sunday night November 20.
It was a night that the world would never forget.
Over my shoulder, I heard the shouts of young men running thru the camps. “ACTION ON THE BRIDGE!” “ACTION ON THE BRIDGE!” The cry was joined by others. I looked down from the hill and I could see hundreds of people filling the camp roads and moving to the highway. I followed my friend to the road and when we reached the top, I saw it! The ACTION!
The bridge was lit up with light from the Police. There was a Tractor truck on our side of the bridge. Its lights were blazing. Its engine was roaring. Chains ran from it back towards the burnt out trucks and the wall of razor wire. A hundred Water Protectors formed a line between razor wire and the tractor truck. Another one hundred water protectors stood on the bridge.
Behind me, hundreds of water protectors were coming down the hill to join the action. I walked up to the frontline. My friend went into the frontline. Behind me, someone called my name. It was one of the Rosebud Campers I had talked with the night before. Then there were two others! The four of us had followed the Creator’s voice. Four of us had found our way to be standing with the Red Warriors on the frontline on the Backwater Bridge facing a hundred or more Riot Police.
We were armed with prayer. The police soon showed us what they were armed with.
“You are illegally gathering and blocking a public highway”. That was the first warning. “THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING TO LEAVE.” That was when the police opened fire on the Water Protectors that were singing and praying alongside me and my three friends from Rosebud who had come to seek Harmony in the voice of the Creator.
The tear gas rockets blazed in at head level.
The first round of twenty drove us to the ground as they flew over our heads and into the people standing behind us. These tear gas rockets screamed like Roman candles and at a range set by the police, each rocket exploded into four smaller rockets that screwed a trail of fire and white acid tear powder into the faces and waiving arms of the screaming people.
Screaming in pain and shock. “Help me!” “Medic!” “I can’t breath!” “Medic!”, “I Can’t See!” “Help me!” “Run!” “Lay Down!” “Water!” “Medics We Need Water!” The screams of pain. The loud screams of pain. We lay on the ground. Too stunned to move.
Then the police hit us with their grenades.
In the middle of defenseless water protectors… Hunkered down and ducking from the first wave of tear gas rockets targeted directly at our heads… Came grenades lobbed over the razor wire and into people packed in prayer.
The first grenade exploded at the feet of a young woman in front of me. She blew up into the air and came down hard on the bridge. She Lay On her back. Her eyes open and she didn’t move. Two young warriors picked her up and rushed getaway to the medics standing just yards behind us.
Instantly two grenades exploded just ten feet from my right… More young people were sent flying thru the air… Then, the second wave of tear gas rockets poured in across our heads… Dozens at a time… Wave after wave to terrorize and wound us.
The front line Red Warrior stood tall and defended the people by standing tall racking many direct hits. Hundreds of us began to carry the wounded to the medics across the bridge. And hundreds more wounded and the waves of tear gas rockets kept coming into us as we retreated with our wounded in our arms. Concussion grenades kept falling into us . Rubber bullets began pounding our backs.
I turned to look back. To see if this was real.
And I saw the man who pointed his rifle at me. He was standing on an army riot truck. He was In full riot gear. He moved his gun across the crowd and stopped on me. “Why?” I yelled at him.
His answer was a tear gas rocket fired from his gun at my chest. I watched it explode from the barrel of his rifle and dance across the razor wire towards me. It trailed sparks like a Roman candle. I leaned back and away … Trying to fall back and out of the way but the rocket hit my chest and exploded into its four parts.
The acid powder emptied on my chest and my arms and my face and poured into my mouth and lungs… I took a direct hit. I fell to the bridge. I could not see. I could not breathe. I could only feel fire and pain. I tried to stand but I could not move. I was down. Injured. Hurting. Not breathing. Blind and immobile.
Then I felt two strong hands grab my shoulders and lift me to my feet. “Breath and Walk!” “LetsGo!” Two native men were carrying me to the medics. A woman was beside me pouring soap and water in my eyes. Another person was pouring into my mouth… I lost consciousness and came too in a medical van being driven to the main medical tent.
I could hardly breathe… I was in a severe asthma attack… My skin and face were burning in pain. As the van pulled up the hill I could squint and see behind me down by the bridge a battle between rockets and bombs and rubber bullets and sound cannons and water cannons all aimed at my brother and sister water protectors and the medics.
I could hear the rockets exploding… The grenades exploding… The rubber bullets driving into flesh… The screams of the wounded calling for medics to the front…
I was taken quickly to the main medical tent. I was stripped of my tear gas acid soaked clothes by the healing teams. Scream of healers worked to clean the acid from my face and skin and eyes and mouth… An albuterol breathing machine was held in my mouth to get medicine into my lungs… Healing tears… Calming prayers… Warm clean clothes… I was surrounded by healing prayer warriors.
After an hour, I was then driven back to Rosebud Camp by the medics. As I walked from the healing tent to the truck… The ground was covered with dozens and dozens of our wounded in gurneys as medics and the healing teams worked on their healing of the frontline wounded.
I sat in the back of the medical pickup truck on my ride over the Cannonball River back to Rosebud Camp. My Camp mates met me and helped me inside the community tent…it had been converted from a dining hall and into a room full of wounded stretched out on gurneys across the floor.. It was very quiet… Solemn…. Quiet words were spoken only… Wounds were dressed… Fears and tears were tended too.
As each wounded warrior reached their comfort level…they would sit up… Then stand-up… Then walk out of the community tent.
Then they would walk to the edge of the Cannonball River and look up and over to where the Hwy1806 rises and then disappears down its path to the Backwater Bridge. We stood and watched in silence. We watched the trail of red taillights weave up the hill and over an hour of sight. We watched the trail of headlights returning from over the hill carrying truckloads of our wounded to the medical tents.
We watched for hours. We watched the hundreds of rockets exploding into the water protectors. We watched the explosive flash of the concussion grenades exploding on our people.
More of our Rosebud Camp wounded were delivered by the medical trucks. Our community tent was filled with wounded. The recovered stood along the Cannonball River and watched in tears and silence. Then one began to sing. And then another. Then we had put together three trucks filled with Rosebud Wounded ready to return to the frontline. We did not come here to watch. We came to Standing Rock to stand with Standing Rock…
We loaded up and drove up Hwy 1806 and drove over the hill and back into the battle. We joined in. We fought the water cannons. We fought the sound cannons. We fought the rubber bullets and the bean guns. We fought the concussion grenades and the waves of tear gas rockets… We brought water to the thirsty… We brought space blankets to the freezing. We carried wounded to the medics. We stood there with Standing Rock just like we promised.
About 3 a.m. I walked alone to a line of razor wire that separated me from a group of 7 police in riot gear and guns. I stood about ten feet from these men. I held my hands up with peace signs. In each hand, I held the rubber bullets they had shot at me. I could see the whites of their eyes and they could see mine.
“My name is Casey Eugene Leydon. I come here from Florida. I am an Eagle Scout. I am the father of three grown sons. In Florida, we are fighting a pipeline. We block the roads. We lock down the equipment. We chain ourselves to the pipes. And not once are we shot at. Not Once are we tear-gassed by rockets.Not once are grenades thrown on us. Not once are water and sound cannons and war dogs used to attack us. In Florida, we are treated by the laws that govern civil disobedience and protest by citizens. What is happening in This Part Of America called Morton County. Are any of you related to Kelsy Warren? Then why are you here? Are any of you stockholders in Daytona Access Pipeline? Then why are you here? I am are here with the Lakota to PROTECT the WATER. I came here from Florida to tell you three things I want you to never forget. I LOVE YOU.”
I watched them each turn their heads away and step back from me. I turned and walked up the hill. The stink of tear gas was everywhere. At the top of the hill, I turned back and looked down at the scene… I stood, cried and said, “Why!”
A native man that I have come to know as the Chief of the Cheyenne River Lakota put his arm over my shoulder. We stood together for a moment saying nothing… Just looking and listening and thinking…“Why did they shoot me?” I asked. “Because they thought you are Lakota.“ He said. I turned to him. I pulled up my visor. I pulled back my scarves. I pulled down my bandana. I let him see my whiteness and I softly said to this man.., “But I am not Lakota.”
He looked me in the face… He squeezed my shoulders and whispered,,, “everyone who stood with us here is Lakota tonight.”
I left the bridge and walked back to Rosebud about 4 a.m.. I thought the battle was over. One last policeman has one more point to prove and he went mad and he threw one extra grenade at a water protector and he maimed a young girls arm forever.
For two days after the battle of Backwater Bridge on November 20th… Our camps suffered.
We Walked In shock.. Our guts hurting. We sat in small groups and talked softly about our stories. We were a camp in pain. Then Wednesday came and we began to energize with the arrivals of reinforcements arriving in from all across Indian country… Ten thousand arrived with fresh supplies and new songs and we began to heal as a people again. Harmony was born in us again.
We could see that our pain on that bridge was our victory. We could see what the world had on individual live feeds that Sunday night. We united in peace. We had faced the most evil the Black Snake could throw on us and we did not retreat… We did not return hate with hate. We remained peaceful and praying people. We stood as Lakota. We stood as Spirits. We brought honor and respect to that man on the hill who stood with me and said.., “Everyone who stood with us here tonight is Lakota.”
I coughed up blood for two days. I survived first four days of the North Dakota Blizzard. I realized a man needs to know his limitations. I left my Rosebud Camp on Saturday, December 3. I returned to my home in Timucua Territory. For three weeks I have been trying to cough the tear gas acid powder from were it caked deep in my lungs. I kept getting sicker… Weaker… Asthma became very bad… And the coughing much worse Finally this Tuesday I was with pneumonia and near death… I was rushed by ambulance to the critical care unit…here in Florida at Florida Memorial Hospital… My lungs were filled with green and black caked tear gas powder. I had to cough this up or drown in it.
The bacteria from pneumonia worked to separate the caked tear gas from my lung lining… And I was finally able to cough up the tear gas powder… But the bacteria was moving into my blood and was beginning to attack my muscles and my organs…. But people began praying… All thru Indian Country a prayer circle for me grew… My blood pressure stabilized…. My lactic acid returned to normal… My temperature fell to normal. And my cough is over.
For a while, I thought I was going to die. I thought I would die and grow my feathers and in death, I would fly to the frontline again. Then realized I do not have to wait to die to return to the frontline. I have earned feathers enough to fly while I live.
And that is my true story of the Hwy 1806 Backwater Bridge on November 20th, 2016. I was given wisdom by a Lakota Chief. Now I will ask the Creator to help that wisdom make me a man worthy of being Lakota for more than just a night. I am in the living and I am ready to fly. I will not wait to die.
None of us should be waiting to die to fly. We have earned our feathers. Put on your wings. Rise Up and fly. The frontline is calling your name.
Seventh Generation…Your time is now. The LIBERATION Movement has begun.
Casey Eugene Leydon
Saint Augustine, Florida