by Francisco G. Gómez
Last Sunday, January 22nd we attended a wonderful ceremony at the Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp in Mahwah, N.J.. It turned out to be a real treat because of the unexpected presence of Sophia Wilansky, the young woman who was severely injured after she was shot with a concussion grenade at a protest gathering in Standing Rock, N.D., in the early part of November, 2016. The grenade practically took her arm off from the impact. Here is the initial statement that was given by her father of the account:
“At around 4:30 a.m. after the police hit the bridge with water cannons and rubber bullets and pepper spray, they lobbed a number of concussion grenades which are not supposed to be thrown at people directly, or protectors, as they want to be called. A grenade exploded right as it hit Sophia in the left forearm, taking most of the under surface of her left arm with it. Both her radial and ulnar artery were completely destroyed. Her radius was shattered and a large piece of it is missing. Her medial nerve is missing a large section as well. All of the muscle and soft tissue between her elbow and wrist were blown away. The police did not do this by accident—it was an intentional act of throwing it directly at her. Additionally police were shooting people in face and groin intending to do the most possible damage. Sophia will have surgery again tomorrow as bit by bit they try to rebuild a somewhat functioning arm and hand. The first surgery took a vein from her leg, which they have implanted in her arm to take the place of the missing arteries. She will need multiple surgeries to try to gain some functional use of the arm and hand. She will be, every day for the foreseeable future, fearful of losing her arm and hand. There are no words to describe the pain of watching my daughter cry and say she was sorry for the pain she caused me and my wife. I died a thousand deaths today and will continue to do so for quite some time. I am left without the right words to describe the anguish of watching her look at her now alien arm and hand.”
Inside of the enormous ceremonial teepee, elders honored Sophia by praying for her, bestowing gifts and religious talismans, singing, playing indigenous hand drums, and simply wishing her well for her courage and physical sacrifice that tragic day at Standing Rock.
As a Huichol Elder began to tell stories about his life, he threw cedar pellets into the ring of fire in the center of the teepee. He then directed streams of smoke towards Sophia, using a ritual feather fan that was later given to her as a gift. According to indigenous beliefs, smoke is used to elevate prayers to the ancestors in the afterlife. As he presented the gift, he told her not to worry; he said she would receive many blessings during the course of her life in exchange for her courage and determination to help others in need.
Many tribal songs followed and many stories continued to be told. There was a woman I noticed immediately, as she walked in and across the teepee. She took a seat next to one of the Ramapough elders. After a few more remembrances, Chief Dwaine Perry turned to her and introduced her. He said that Christina Dioguardi Scott had a very interesting and fascinating story to tell.
Christina had been involved in a serious car accident a few years back and suffered brain trauma that left her with a number of sensory deficiencies that affected her body in a variety of ways. The truth is that she almost died, but in her struggle to survive she was presented with a revelation that would change her life forever. She said something unexplainable drew her to Nature, and it told her that she would find her healing and recovery there. She explained how she happened upon the Split Rock Prayer Camp and how wonderfully she was accepted by the Ramapough Tribe.
It turns out that Christina is a photographer, and she found her health anew. Through the lens of a camera she captured Nature’s wonders at the camp site. She was granted permission to continue her healing and work there. In a moment of extreme emotion she explained how the forest spoke to her and said she would find her way back to physical and mental clarity. All around the teepee hung the most beautiful photographs of the river, rocks, foliage and the larger landscape. Having come upon the camp and it’s people saved her life, she said.
It was truly a very enlightening day, and we were sorry to have to leave earlier than we wanted, but we had a rehearsal to attend. We said our good byes, and on our way home, we spoke about all the marvelous things we had experienced throughout the day.
If you are interested in joining the movement at Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp, then please see the links below. Check out their calendar and see when the next ceremonial gathering will take place. Come out and share with some of the most wonderful and friendly people you will ever meet!
- Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp Facebook Page
- Local Spotlight: Split Rock Prayer Camp on the Raíces Blog
Additional Resources to Kill the “Black Snake”