23 year-old Billings artist Phil Griffin went to Standing Rock from the standpoint of someone concerned over human-caused climate change. Upon arrival, however, Griffin soon learned more about himself and his blind spot for his own white privilege.
Griffin estimates that over Thanksgiving weekend, around 85% of the attendees were white. This made Griffin uncomfortable and caused him to look deeper into why he was there, and how his being there undercut what the Native Americans who have an ancestral connection to the land in question were trying to say and do.
So Griffin and his friends left Standing Rock earlier than they had planned, not out of a lack of commitment but from a newfound understanding and respect.
While they could stand in solidarity with the Native Americans gathered there, their presence also spoke to a failure to understand the true nature of defending ancestral land, owned by treaty, more than a century after a way of life was changed forever.
Griffin wrote about his experience for Last Best News and reflected on his experience with YPR's Brie Ripley.