As Greg Grey Cloud sat in the courtroom waiting for his case to be brought before the judge, he said that he was very nervous. Four other protestors who were inspired by Grey Cloud’s bold actions and sang after him in the Capitol building already had their cases heard. After every other protester was dismissed before him, Grey Cloud kept telling himself that he was next, but incidentally the most well-known of the group who sparked a social media frenzy that day ended up having his case heard last.
Grey Cloud, an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe and a Native American activist who sang an honor song for the 41 Senators who voted against the Keystone XL Pipeline, had his final court hearing January 12 regarding his case where he was charged with disruption of Congress and disorderly conduct for his actions. After the four other protestors had been dismissed, the judge finally called Grey Cloud to the front of the room.
“I couldn’t quite tell when he called my name, but it seemed he was almost smiling as he called for me. I think he might have watched the video or heard about my case before I got there. I’m not positive, but it’s my opinion that he might be against the pipeline also.” Grey Cloud said.
The judge asked him a few questions about that day, including whether or not he was forced or asked by anyone else to sing his honor song. Grey Cloud has previously stated in interviews that he had decided to sing of his own accord, but did consult Pat Bad Hand Sr. of the Sicangu Oyate about what song he should sing. The song he eventually decided on was originally composed in regards to the Hopi and Dine’ land boundaries and is now known as “The Big Mountain Song.”
A key part of the defense that Grey Cloud developed with his attorney, Caleb Madrias, was that the song was not a protest but rather “a way to honor those brave Senators who voted against the pipeline. They took a stand to protect the environment and the people who would be affected by its development and they deserve to be commended for that.” Grey Cloud said.
After his case had been heard the judge dismissed it, stipulating that Grey Cloud not go near the Capitol Grounds or be seen near the Hart Senate Office Building for 6 months. Three of the other protesters also had their cases dismissed, while the fourth pleaded guilty in order to expedite his case and avoid the legal hassles that Grey Cloud had to endure.
Grey Cloud stated “I’ve travelled to Washington D.C. three times now to wrap everything up. This whole process has definitely affected some of my other obligations, and travelling can be rough. I’ve gotten a lot of support through the entire thing though, and I’m glad that the Lakota’s “Big Mountain Peace Song” has helped raise awareness on Native issues.”
His actions have encouraged a lot of interest and debate on the topic, especially within the Native American community. The video that sparked all of the attention was viewed thousands of times, and the articles written after the video was shared have demonstrated the ability of one person to bring awareness to important environmental issues that affect tribes.
“I was arrested for singing a song of honor to people who didn’t understand what was going on, but as indigenous people we all know what it means. This whole issue is about social justice, but a lot of people around the world don’t want to hear what we have to say,” he said. “There are a lot of people who aren’t able to come to events like this to speak out, but they still have a voice and they shouldn’t be afraid to let it be heard. When you truly believe in something, you can make a difference, and that’s what I hoped to inspire others to do.”
Grey Cloud says that given the chance he would sing the song again despite all of the legal issues that it has brought him. “If it means further protection for the women and children of our communities and having the voice of the indigenous people heard then sign me up!” he proclaims. Now that his case has been dismissed, he plans to continue encouraging Native people to stand up and speak out for their beliefs, educate young Native men to respect women and end violence against women, and do everything in his power to defeat TransCanada and their Keystone XL Pipeline.