‘Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock’ Presented at Ryan Family Friday Night Film Series

Students, faculty and community members gathered in Golden Auditorium to watch “Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock,” this week’s Ryan Family Friday Night Film Series choice on Feb. 25. The screening began with a brief introduction of the importance of the subject matter and recognition of the Oneida territory Colgate University occupies. “Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock” directed by Myron Dewey, Josh Fox, and James Spinone documents the daily life of the activists who protest the digging of the Dakota Access Pipeline in the Lakota reservation between North and South Dakota. The Dakota Access Pipeline is intended to carry fracked crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The pipeline project has received criticism for many reasons including environmental concerns about contamination to the Missouri river, as well as ethical concerns with construction over sacred indigenous sites. The activists, members of the Standing Rock Tribe and those standing in solidarity call themselves the “water protectors,” because of the importance of the Missouri River to regional drinking water supply. The film followed many activists as they resided in a campsite near the digging location in South Dakota to protest continuously, day and night.

The film, separated into three parts, was a poetic visual of the experience of the activists combined with investigative journalism in the context of sweeping political change. “Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock” combined elements of nature filmography and poem reading, and footage of protests often featuring disturbing footage of protesters being brutally assaulted by DAPL police. The film posits that the pipeline, referred to as the “black snake” by the interwoven poems, embodies a new chapter of native oppression by the US government and corporations. In poetry recited by activist and co-writer Floris White Bull, the conflict is contextualized within systemic native oppression and can be compared to General Custer’s pursuits as a commander for the US army during the American Indian Wars that decimated the Lakota people. The activists represent the Native-led defiance in protecting American water sources and land as a continuous force throughout history. Despite the brutality of the police, including the use of force against unarmed activists culminating in the violent invasion of the sacred campsite, the protester remained peaceful. 

Junior Carly Kleinberg described her experience watching the film.

“Through poetic imagery and artistry, it was inspiring to see how resilient and strong indigenous people continue to be in the face of hundreds of years of adversity,” Kleinberg said.

Sophomore Anna Martin also commented on her takeaways.

“This film demonstrated the lack of respect law enforcement and the government has for indigenous peoples and their homes,” Martin explained. “It is important for us to take the extra step to be aware of the crimes against the indigenous communities as their stories typically go unreported or unnoticed.”

Although the Obama administration temporarily shut down construction of the pipeline, in the final scenes of the film, footage of Trump approving the construction of the “black snake” was shown and the protests recommenced. “Awake, A Dream From Standing Rock” provided a powerful and disturbing representation of the continued injustice within the current economic and political system. During the film, a woman who called the Morin County police during a demonstration to report an assault at a burial site demonstration asked the operator: “Who protects us when the police are assaulting us? At another point during the film, an activist looked directly into the camera, and asked: What will we do if mother nature moves on without us?”

Many deeply important and uncomfortable questions about the American political system are brought to light through this film. In the final scenes of the film, Floris White Bull calls the viewers to action:

“I’ve been woken by the spirit inside that demanded I open my eyes and see the world around me. Seeing that my children’s future was in peril. See that my life couldn’t wait and slumber anymore. See that I was honored to be among those who are awake. To be alive at this point in time is to see the rising of the Oceti Sakowin. To see the gathering of nations and beyond that, the gathering of all races and all faiths. Will you wake up and dream with us? Will you join our dream. Will you join us?”

Those interested can visit the “Screenings and Programs” page of the Colgate University website for more unique film screenings.