They call me a devil, demon and traitor, just for doing my job. They believe I owe them allegiance due to sharing a common DNA link. Ancestral entanglements that make up less than 1/16th of my blood. It’s not enough connection to be recognized as a member of the tribe. Why should I be bound by their laws, and not the laws I spent the last decade bending to my will? Isn’t that what a good lawyer does? Argue the law on behalf of the client? 

 

The client of the day, a simple mining company. Business law. Boring as it is, business law is full of loopholes, cracks and crevases in the code, and the language, of which it is my job to exploit, and get the outcome the client desires. In this case, Transpacifica mineral extraction incorporated, is suing the Lakota nation over a simple land rights dispute. There were hundreds of cases setting precedent already, their transcripts were stacked in neat piles on my desk, on the floor, my whole office was filled with the arguments and judges conclusions, a fully documented history of miners, and resource exploiters suing this tribe, and others, for the rights to the resources on the lands granted to them by treaty, or government resettlement action. 

 

Linda Howahkan Esq. I  am  so proud of the Esq. on the numerous degrees, awards, and documents decorating my office walls. Common people adorn their office walls with photos of loved ones, inspirational figures, or portraits of the great achievers within their field. Doctors and lawyers alike hold no such sentimentality. Only pride in their achievements, and a self centered need for others to know their qualifications. Howahkan however, that I have never felt pride about. It seemed unprofessional. It wasn’t fair. Law firm partners always have names like Rosenstein. I am 75% Jewish, only 1/16th Lakota Sioux, why did it have to be that thin sliver of DNA passed down from a great great great grandfather, long dead and far removed, that would pass down my last name? I looked it up once. Mysterious voice, strong voice, or sacred voice. These were the most common translations. For me, the language of law was my strong voice. It was not sacred, it could seem mysterious to the uneducated masses. All those law degree documents filling my world with reassurance and purpose were proof positive I share nothing with the uneducated. The voice of law was hardly sacred, except to those who argue constitutional law. For business law it was a tool, a bludgeoning weapon used to hammer home whatever point your client retained you to argue.

 

Today the client was Transpacifica. Mineral extraction companies want to mine. In order to mine and extract minerals, they must prove one thing first. They have the rights to the minerals. Their arguments are simple, it’s my job to make them complex. As a mining company they believe if the minerals exist, and their business is to mine them, then for the business to exist, they must have the rights to extract them. No matter where they are, or the impact on the areas. Of course the tribe’s lawyers will argue the obvious, as they have in most of the case logs scattered around the office. Uranium mining has risks to the environment, health, and welfare of the people, along with a hodgepodge mix of treaty rights, sovereign rights, and other less successful arguments. 

 

Tomorrow was the hearing. Federal court judges are often appointed for political purposes. Being a red state, the judges tend to be friendly to business, but hostile to tribal rights. I always think it’s better to be over prepared than unprepared for surprise tactics. One more file to finish, then with a heavy head, it is off to bed. I was as ready for this case as any I argued before. I was however unprepared for what effect this simple boring case would have on my life. Seismic changes. Reality shattering. My world would soon be shaken apart with a quake. Not a quake of the earth that damages the dwellings of man. A quake of reality, that opened a chasm into the dwellings of spirit. 

 

The dreams came that night with irresistible force. Howahkan. The mysterious sacred and powerful voice. Many voices within one voice. The voices of ancestral graves. Howling voices. Terrifying voices screaming in agony. Screaming in anger. Crying out, pleading to be heard. The voice of the sacred overpowered them all. “Protect your relations” I understood it’s meaning, although the voice was not verbal, no words in any language were spoken. The voice was visceral. I felt it infused into my cellular structure. It was not a voice to be heard. It was a voice to become, to give it breath to be carried on the wind. 

 

I woke up breathless. Unable to speak, only whimper and cry out in pain. Tears ran down my face. The dream, only half forgotten lingered in the air. When I finally gasped and inhaled the life giving air, I was filled with life. Lives. Ten million dead spoke through me with one simple pronouncement to all that is, and ever was. “No!” 

 

I never made it home to bed. I had fallen asleep face down drooling on the file. The drool had puddled on the old parchment. Instead of staining and distortion like on modern paper, on this centuries old document it pooled and magnified the title, and part of opening arguments. 

 

Midwestern prospectors vs Chief Unintelligible:

“Your honor, Chief Wanabe, Wobbly, Womly, Wormy, Your honor, I must protest the very nature of these proceedings. This savage who calls himself chief, wants to argue his tribe’s rights to the land we gave them after righteously conquest, when he can’t even write the spelling of his name?” 

 

I stared through a mixture of saliva thinned with tears. The magnification amplified the strength of these words projecting them deep into my brain. It surely wasn’t a brilliant argument. As an opening to an opening statement it was perhaps the worst I had ever read.  It was the blatant racism and disregard for basic human decency that I found so offensive. Lawyers were not supposed to care about human decency. Being offended by any offence was a liability in my business. 

 

I tried to shake it off along with the influence of the dream. I read on. No sooner had the thought “what a fool, to represent himself” crossed my mind it was thrust out again, replaced by a competing thought, no, voice, saying .”how, as a lawyer, do I differ from this one?” Suddenly it felt like the lawyers were the fools that danced around the law, mocking it and challenging it’s credibility. I had been naive, thinking as a student studying law that our job was to defend the law, honor the law, even hold the law sacred. The reality of a working lawyer, especially in business law, was one more about defending the corrupt. 

 

“What is wrong with me? I have court in just hours.” I said aloud to the empty room. Opening a window and letting some air in might help. Indeed it did, as the window slid open with a protesting screech, having been unopened in months. The wind whistled in through the crack, lyrical, joined by birds, insects, life, chanting an unknown language, but communication nonetheless. 

 

Then it happened. A squirrel ran up a tree out on a branch it ran towards the window, then stopped quickly when it saw me, up it went on its hind legs, staring scared into my eyes and said, “I live here too, you know me, will you protect me or harm me?” It was clear as day. Although no sound was made, words were heard. I had never been one to know one squirrel from another. Even cats and dogs never caught much notice to become familiar, but somehow I knew this squirrel. I had known him for years. Always around whenever I walked outside, yet always unnoticed. I shook my head trying to wake up, still feeling like I’m stuck in a dream. The squirrel must’ve taken that as a sign that I was undecided in answer to his question, was I here to protect or harm, and scampered back to hide behind the trunk. 

 

This must be a mental breakdown from the stress I thought while simultaneously tearing my diploma’s, awards, and credentials off the walls in disgust. It took great restraint to not destroy them. It was dark. I had hours till court. I should sleep, but a compulsion had already begun the locomotion process, keys in hand and running towards the door. I had not decided to head to the site, yet to the site I was headed. The decision was made for me by the movement’s of my feet. To the location of the proposed mine. 

 

In the car, on the highway, with the music turned up loud, things seemed to be so normal. Just a drive through the night, to see the land I would determine the fate of in court in just hours. I was able dismiss thoughts of talking squirrels, and excuse the sudden trip as hearing preparation. Nothing crazy about being prepared, right? 

 

The proposed site was deep into the wilderness. It was a 4 hour drive, a planned hour spent there, then 3 hours back to the courthouse. Easily done by my mid afternoon deadline. At the point where pavement ended and dirt forest service road began, the music faded to static. With the radio switched off the sound of the forest filtered in. Suddenly the sound of my car felt like such an intrusion into the tranquility. It was only three miles more, I could use a good walk. 

 

Leaving the car in a clearing, once cleared of old growth by logging, now pipes stuck out of the ground, vents for the many hidden pipelines from fracking to transit stations. I headed into the densening forest, which was alive with whispers to screams. I never imagined a rock could live such a rich life, but these ancient rocks never shut up with their never ending stories. It annoyed me that I had a deadline, and no time to sit an eternity and just listen. My life was so short. The life of the rocks and trees is so long. If I spent my life here listening to one story, I would surely die before finishing chapter one. Somehow, even the rocks themselves, which an hour ago had no voice, now talk way too much. It was overwhelming and distracting. I have to press on.

 

The sun’s light filtered through the trees bringing shadows to life. The night’s dark rhythmic chanting greeted the joyful rejoicing of the daylights celebration. The birds came to life to sing the insects to sleep. My own mood brightened. I had not noticed the faint smell of gas back where I parked, that is, until it was absent, replaced by fresh clean air and the myriad of compounded scents. Every dewdrop is infused with a different scent, from the delicate pedal and stemme to the rot of leaves and log, and the feast on decay by chattering maggots, life and death an olfactory dance. Yes, even decay was a song of celebration. Woven within however, there was dread, fear, and mourning. 

 

I crossed a stream that shed its tears in a mist that rose with the warmth of the sun. Water. It recycles. It travels on the air, and beneath the ground. Water is within us, we are mostly water, and without it we are dead, decaying in the unforgiving sun. This stream I crossed has crossed continents. It has been here before life existed. Life came from within. This stream, just a trickle to step over, was the most important, impressive, and intimately connected being I ever knew. I knew it, and it knew me. In the time it took me to step shore to muddy shore, I knew all it knew. How it travels. How it is not contained within its banks, but flows through everyone and everything. Suddenly it was clear. In so many of the court cases “water is life” was presented as an argument. As an argument of logic, this was obvious and undisputed. As an argument of legality however, there simply was nothing in code nor precedent to support such an agreement. In law, water is a commodity. One to grant or revoke rights to. “This is insane!” I said to the wind. An outside observer might believe this was in reference to waking from a dream to talking squirrels and streams that seem all knowing, but that observer would be totally wrong. What was insane was that humans, and the law in particular, could claim water rights as something to be dependent on the decisions of courts and lawyers. 

 

The mining site was to be on the next ridge. When I calculated the time I had, I hadn’t taken into account the climb. I worked in an office, I drove everywhere I went. I had given up on the gym when I became married to my practice, and wasn’t trying to attract a partner that wasn’t a business one. The climb would be challenging. Standing at the transition from valley to hill, then mountain, I wondered if I came far enough. Surely the water is life lesson, was why I had come here? Then I saw it. High on the ridge line, as far as I could estimate, at the epicenter of the new proposed mining project. The only old growth tree I had seen. A massive oak. It jutted out from a steep rocky slope, too treacherous to be harvested. 

 

It was a hard climb to get to that mighty tree, which grew mightier by way of proximity. With the voices of the air, land, water, and millions of living organisms in the forest overwhelming my senses, this tree’s silence was deafening. It’s silence was so loud it drowned out everything. It has stood here for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, watching over this mountain and valley below. The rocks have been here longer, and they never shut up. The tree however witnessed millions of his brothers slain, acre after acre. The tree had witnessed the taint in the water as the oil and gas wells encroached into the forest. Even the air has changed in the more recent decades. A tree’s life is long and it sees many changes. None more drastic than those since the human infestation. 

 

My phone rang, breaking the silence. I tapped send to voicemail, noticing the ‘you have 3 voicemails’ messages, but ignored it. I cleared my throat and spoke up. “Um, excuse me, mister tree? Will you talk to me?” I felt so silly. Talking to trees I must be crazy. From above came a chuckle. “Silly human, can’t you tell she’s a grandmother, not a mister?” That was rather insensitive of me. “Hello my friend, can you tell her I am here to protect her, and you, all of you.” Having said it, I knew it to be true. “You are? You are? I’m so glad you are!” The squirrel giggled excitedly running circles chasing its tail around the trunk of the tree. 

 

What was to follow I am unable to disclose. My newly restored code of ethics prevents me from discussing what occurred. When my phone rang again, I answered. “Where are you? You are late, the judge is getting impatient.” It was my paralegal who sounded hysterical. “Calm down, and do as I say,” I responded “first, let the judge know I have a conflict of interest and will be unable to represent Transpacifica, I have a new client and a counter suit. Then I want you to file a class action lawsuit, the earth and all living things vs Transpacifica, the entire mining, logging, and petroleum industry.” That did little to calm her hysteria, however she had worked with me a decade. She knew by the calm of my voice I was serious. “One more thing, whiteout all the Esq. from now on I am just Linda Howahkan defender of mitake ohyasin, defender of all our relations, defender of all living things.

 

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