If you are one of my friends on Facebook, you might have thought I traveled to North Dakota this week. I wish. With over 1.5 million others, I “checked in” at Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the protectors of water and sacred lands in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. While I’m only there in spirit, I do have some friends who made the trip and I am praying for their safety and that of the thousands who are meeting there on Wednesday and Thursday this week. Our response on Facebook happened because of a rumor that the Morton County Sherriff’s Department was monitoring Facebook to determine how many people were at the camps to protect the land and water in protest of the pipeline. The rumor, as with many rumors, turned out to be false but it seems to me that with over a million-and-a-half responding, the DAPL ought to take this seriously. Here’s an article about the “check in” response – http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/01/500268879/more-than-a-million-check-in-on-facebook-to-support-the-standing-rock-sioux?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social
Why is this important to me? I’m glad you asked. First, and these are not in order of any priority, are two important words: White Privilege. I am embarrassed to admit that these words had little meaning to me for far too many years. I’m hoping that I am more sensitive to appropriate thoughts and words now but I’m also pretty sure that I still err. Last year, the pre-convention workshop gave us the chance to strong some privilege beads, one bead for every privilege we experienced – gender, race, socioeconomic class, education, home ownership, etc. What an amazing visual reminder of my own identity and the life I have come to take for granted! My string of beads was significantly longer than many others. I had never seen it laid out so clearly before. I’m not talking about “white guilt” here; honestly, I don’t know what to do with that yet. I can’t change the family in which I was born, or the town where I grew up, or the experiences I had as a child. But I can change the way I look at life now! Originally the DAPL was to be routed close to Bismarck, ND, the state’s capital, but citizens there successfully raised concerns that a spill could contaminate the city’s drinking water. A new route was selected that borders the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation near the Missouri River to land that was taken from the tribe in 1958 without permission (see The New Yorker article linked below). If I am called to “strive for justice and peace for all people and respect the dignity of every human being,” I have to question why the pipeline is okay near Native American water supplies and not the citizens of Bismarck. Read the full article from The New Yorker here – http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/a-pipeline-fight-and-americas-dark-past
And another helpful article here – http://www.businessinsider.com/north-dakota-access-pipeline-protest-drinking-water-2016-10
Bishop Marc Andrus of the Episcopal Diocese of California shared his response in a blog dated October 31, 2016:
Standing With Standing Rock
Ten years ago, very shortly after Sheila and I had moved to California, I was talking with the great theologian, activist and educator Ruby Sales about the second Pilgrimage for Peace and a forum appearance for Ruby at Grace Cathedral. As we talked on the telephone, Ruby in Georgia and I in San Francisco, we both came to a place in the conversation where we spoke similar words at the same moment – “The people remembered last in all justice conversations are indigenous people.” Indigenous people are often an afterthought.
This week, responding to a call from the Rev. John Floberg, Episcopal Missioner at the Standing Rock Reservation of the Sioux People, hundreds of Episcopalians from all over the Church are gathering at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest in North Dakota, in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (and all the Sioux, who have come together over this protest).
All over the world, indigenous people live in daily peril. For instance, many of the undocumented immigrants we call ‘Latinos’ have a first language that is not Spanish or English, but is a tribal language, and they are often environmental and political refugees. The reason indigenous people are the objects of persecution all over the world is because they have maintained both a wisdom and an integral connection to the Earth.
The dominant culture of the world – characterized by over-consumption and living off extractive industrial processes that depend on the objectification of people, other species and the planet itself – is imperiling the health of the Earth. May this pilgrimage to Standing Rock be not a one-off event, but a turning. Instead of marginalizing indigenous people let us learn to turn to them as sisters and brothers who have maintained family wisdom for us all.
At this moment some dozen of us from the Diocese of California are going to Standing Rock in the week of All Saints’ Day. I’m proud of and grateful to this amazing diocese that over and over again stands with the vulnerable. As bishop of this diocese, it will be my intent in the days that follow our journey to tending and honoring all our relations.
Since America was born as a nation, we have a history of taking lands from those here before us as though, in some way, we could possibly have the right to these. I recall quite vividly the idea of this dominance being taught in my elementary education because, of course, we were bringing civilization to these native peoples. I am of the generation that was entertained by TV shows of the wild, wild West and easily bought that world view, not that we were inherently better in my mind but that we had so much to offer. But I was a child then. I’m not any longer. Bishop Andrus and Ruby Sales are right: indigenous peoples are to often the last to be considered.
I also think there another kind of privilege at work here: religious privilege. I can well imagine the uproar if this pipeline were planned to disrupt the land belonging to a Christian church or cemetery but to dig through the burial grounds and sacred lands of our Native American sisters and brothers somehow is different? I’d really like to know how. According to a CNN interview with Faith Spotted Eagle, a “Grandmother” from the Yankton Sioux Reservation of South Dakota, “…understanding what these grounds look like, what desecration means, requires wisdom most of us don’t have.” We would never consider building a pipeline through Arlington National Cemetery because “…you don’t disturb people that have been put to rest,” she says. The interview continues:
But it turns out, leaving burial sites alone is about more than simple respect. Protection prayers — those that ensure the deceased will not be disturbed on their “walk to the spirit world” — are recited over relatives who are buried. If spirits linger, like they might in the case of violent deaths, and are then interrupted, “They’re not going to be able to find their way. They’ll still roam on this land,” Spotted Eagle says.
As I write during this year’s triduum of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day, this perspective seems particularly meaningful and relevant. You can read the whole interview – http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/01/us/standing-rock-sioux-sacred-land-dakota-pipeline/
I stand with Standing Rock because we are called to care for the gift of this beautiful Earth that God has given us. The Five Marks of Mission of the Episcopal Church remind us that the “Mission of Church is the Mission of the Christ” and to that end we are to “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” We are all aware of pipelines that fail with devastating effects for the land and waterways they contaminate. We likely remember the Kalamazoo River oil spill that occurred on July 25, 2010, when a 40-foot segment of Enbridge’s pipeline ruptured spilling in excess of 1 million gallons of heavy crude oil into Talmadge Creek which flows into the Kalamazoo River. At Standing Rock, where the pipeline runs so close to the Missouri River, a rupture would contaminate the only source of drinking water for over 10,000 people on the Standing Rock Reservation and neighboring communities.
“Water is Life.” This is the slogan of many who are working to protect this land. In Michigan – and especially here in our Diocese and the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, we should be particularly aware of the significance of clean, fresh drinking water after the horrendous lead contamination in Flint’s water. Ensuring access to clean water is a basic human rights issue. For this reason, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, has recently heard appeals for Standing Rock. According to NBCNEWS: “Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II addressed the 49-member Council in a brief two-minute testimony where he called ‘upon all parties to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline’” (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/standing-rock-sioux-takes-pipeline-fight-un-human-rights-council-n651381)
On October 28, The Episcopal Church issued a call for all Episcopalians to “stand in solidarity and witness with those protecting water on the Standing Rock Sioux Nation” on November 3rd. The Rev. John Floberg, Executive Council member and Missioner to the Episcopal Churches of Standing Rock, wrote:
In recent days, the repressive power of the state has increased: armed riot police are guarding ongoing pipeline construction, increased arrests and repression of non-violent prayerful action. At the same time, Oceti Sakowin water protectors have reclaimed land never relinquished by treaty directly in the path of the pipeline and established a new camp. Our duty as people of faith and clergy could not be clearer: to stand on the side of the oppressed and to pray for God’s mercy in these challenging times.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry also issued a statement on August 25th in support of the people of Standing Rock:
“Water is a gift from the creator, respect it, and protect it.” I was deeply moved by these words printed on the sign of a person standing with hundreds of others to protect the Missouri River. In the Episcopal Church, when we baptize a new follower of Jesus Christ, we pray these words over the water of baptism. “We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.” We then recall how God used water to bless his people in the Bible, from the story of creation in Genesis, the emancipation of Hebrew slaves in Exodus, to the baptism of the Lord Jesus in the River Jordan. Indeed, “Water is a gift from the creator.” To sustain it and to protect it is to “safeguard the integrity of God’s creation,” and therefore to protect human and others forms of life created by Almighty God. That work warrants our full and prayerful support.
The people of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, standing in solidarity with hundreds of other indigenous nations and allies, are calling us anew to respect and protect this sacred gift of God, and in so doing to respect and protect God’s gift of human life. In protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, they recognize the gift of water to all of us, a gift given to us by our Creator. The Sioux remind us “mni wiconi” or “water is life.” This God-given resource courses through our mighty rivers and our human veins, working to renew and reinvigorate all of creation.
We are called to do our part to urge decision makers to recognize and honor the efforts to protect the sacred water and burial grounds threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Pipeline, if completed, would stretch over one thousand miles and transport 540,000 barrels of crude oil through hallowed North Dakota burial grounds every day. A rupture in its infrastructure could wreak untold havoc on the Sioux and catastrophically pollute the Missouri River, a sacred tributary that the Sioux people depend upon for their daily water.
I stand with the people of Standing Rock in their efforts to respect and protect the Missouri River. We know that the right to clean water is an internationally recognized human right and that all too often indigenous communities, other people of color, and our most vulnerable communities throughout the world are the ones most at risk of losing access to clean water. As we join the people of Standing Rock, we also recognize that their stand is one that joins the fight for racial justice and reconciliation with climate justice and caring for God’s creation as a matter of stewardship.
This stand of men, women and children is also an important moment in the life of indigenous people. The Sioux people’s advocacy efforts to protect the Missouri River and the sacred burial grounds threatened by the oil pipeline is truly historic. Leaders of Standing Rock observe that it’s been over 140 years since such a unified call for respect and justice has been made. The Episcopal Church has a long record of advocating that government, corporations and other societal players respect the treaty rights of Native peoples. Standing alongside our Sioux brothers and sisters, we continue this legacy today.
The people of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are calling us now to stand with Native peoples, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of God’s creation, for the sake of the entire human family, and for the children and generations of children yet unborn. The legendary Sioux Chief Sitting Bull reminds us: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” There is the urgent need of this calling.
So, while we cannot all physically stand in the Camp of Sacred Stones today, let us hold, both in spoken word and silent prayer, the aspirations of the Sioux people and urge our policymakers to protect and responsibly steward our water, the sacred gift from God that sustains us all.
+Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
Maybe you and I can’t be in North Dakota today but we don’t have to be silent. The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) has prepared a letter for our representatives and all we have to do is fill in our information so that it gets to the right people – http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/app/write-a-letter?3&engagementId=249413
We can stand in prayer with the people of Standing Rock and all those who have journeyed to North Dakota in solidarity including some 300 of our Episcopal brothers and sisters. Presiding Bishop Curry shared this video on Wednesday asking us to pray at noon on Thursday, November 3rd wherever we are:
Will you stand with me for our brothers and sisters in Standing Rock?
Let us pray…
Oh Great Spirit Father, who sits on high beyond the heavens,
Creator of all life below, please hear my spiritual prayer.
For I seek guidance in a world where few can lay claim to eternal peace.
Grant me the vision to see beyond tomorrow’s horizon, yet still
accept my daily trials, that must and will be faced to survive.
Give me the strength to rise each day and breathe the breath of life that you have provided for me.
Touch my spiritual soul, so that I may use every moment to spread your sacred message of love and peace for all mankind.
I ask only the privilege to speak my native tongue, and learn
the ways of my people, from generations of old.
Help me to understand and accept that we are of one body, and
God, as each spirit flows, from one to another in a sacred hoop.
Let the trails that bore my ancestors blood and tears, and the
chains that bound their freedom serve as reminders to all,
of our hate and savagery against one another, and ensure its
trust that we as a people choose never to repeat such ignorance.
Grant Mother Earth the strength to endure all injustices that have
been placed upon her, and cleanse her red clay body to renew her
growth for new generations to thrive. Shelter, clothe, and feed
the masses, for all owe you their daily prayers.
Embrace my mind and grant me the wisdom to seek and receive
my ancestral birthright.
Guide my feet down the passage of forgiveness, of those who have severed my tribal ties, and help me to bind them once more.
Teach this child, oh Great One, the true lesson of life, its sacred
message of love, to spread freely beyond self, and among my
brothers and sisters throughout the duration of my earthly existence.
May your morning sun awaken this weary body, and your night
moon allow it to meditate and rest.
May your spirit continue to heal and instill within me the meaning of this spiritual prayer, and trust that I use it to serve you well.
A Choctaw Prayer
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee