By Chenae Bullock, Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine
My given name is Sagkompanau Mishoon Netooeusqau, which translates to “I lead canoe I am Butterflywoman” in the Shinnecock and Montauk language. I am a member of the Shinnecock Nation and a descendant of the Montauk people of Long Island, New York. The foundation of my work has been based on the resurgence of the traditional canoe culture of the Northeast coastal Algonquin communities. Not only have I worked with Indigenous communities globally, I have worked to create stewardship between these communities and non-Indigenous communities. I have organized historically sacred paddles in the ancient waterways of the Northeastern seaboard to spread awareness of the roles Indigenous communities contribute to ocean sustainability internationally and at places like the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Earth Institute at Columbia Law School, and International Treaty Commission at the United Nations, and I have assessed many sites for signs of submerged cultural history for Atlantic Shores Cultural Core Analysis. I have dedicated my life for the betterment of not only my community, but for our Earth. I have invested energy in reviving and sustaining our traditional lifeways.
In the fall of 2016, I dedicated six months of my life to help the people at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock prepare their camps for the winter. The Elders came to my campsite after standing on the banks of Cannonball River and emotionally watching cross-deputized authorities from non-Indigenous police departments show a presence on a sacred site to the Hunkpapa Peoples. They asked me to paddle around to see how these non-Indigenous police officers were getting to the sacred site. Using a donated canoe and paddles they had made with a 4×4 piece of wood, two other water protectors and I paddled in the Cannonball River as the Elders asked. While I was paddling, I looked into the faces of the Oceti Sakowin Peoples on the river banks. I witnessed a few swim with their horses as far as they could, but the water was too muddy and deep to make it across. I prayed that what was taking place that day somehow would bring them back to their ancient canoe ways. At that moment, I realized there was more to do than prepare camps for the winter for the Oceti Sakowin while being there.