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Last week, clergy responded to a call by Father John Floberg -- a man who has served for 25 years as the supervising priest of the Episcopal churches of Standing Rock in North Dakota-- to come be in "protective witness" with the #WaterProtectors. He expected 100 clergy. Over 500 of us showed up from 20 different faith traditions.
Father John was clear: the actions of the 500 would reflect upon the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies, and that our presence and our actions must be in alignment with supporting the #WaterProtectors long after we leave. He expressed, alongside other leaders, a clear request: "that you remain prayerful, peaceful, nonviolent, and lawful."
I slept in the camp the night before the action, watching as mega lights lit construction across the river, as family and community fires burned across the entire camp-- a human settlement of thousands-- and as one sacred fire has burned 24/7 since the camp began. Amplified voices of leaders and visitors sing, pray, and make announcements near that fire as their voices carry over the fog and tell stories of the day before, providing encouragement to the struggle. In the morning, a 70-year-old leader coaxed us awake over the 6AM fog: "Wake up! Wake up! The Black Snake is creeping across the river! Sun Dancers! Pipe carriers, smudge your pipes! Christians, dust off your Bibles! The water is warm, and we are here for a purpose!"
I experienced the camp as a community: kitchens are sprinkled throughout camp that feed anyone and all, structures going up and coming down throughout the days (with more permanent, winter-ready tipis going up now), daily trash pick up and portable toilets. The cost of trash and portables for the camp are $1500 a day-- paid for by the Sioux and donations that are coming to them in support.
In one conversation with an elder at camp, he expressed to me that our presence was a welcome pause in the recent escalation of violence, a chance for the community to regroup. He shared that he hoped we would carry prayers that the community of leaders and protectors maintain their spiritual structure as they are continued to be battered, instigated, and even infiltrated by DAPL security or police forces. Further, as 500 clergy wandered the camp, police presence was minimized for the day-- with fewer helicopters, airplanes, and drones. Some expressed this was a welcome pause in the ongoing assault of the senses and spirit.
I'm sure for others who I didn't speak to, our presence was complicated, if not painful-- particularly as people of faith and as representatives of religions that have undergirded, if not outright orchestrated, native genocide. Alongside the stories I've heard before arriving, I personally experienced the ways white, non-native visitors occupy space at the microphones, or take up resources without return or regard. As white folks, we have so much work to do to call each other in as white people, to unlearn entitlement and domination, and to learn new patterns of relationship. This shows up in the ways we reach for microphones, to the ways we use policies to grab land for profit. This is an urgent task.
Our specific clergy action began with a repudiation of the "Doctrine of Discovery" around the sacred fire by leaders of several different represented faith traditions (who had already repudiated the Doctrine in their own communities). The Doctrine in the original Latin was given to several elders from the community who were present-- it was burned in an abalone shell separate from the sacred fire. Following the burning, each of the 500+ clergy were smudged by local community members as we sang, prayed, and made our way to the bridge where police waited, leading to a couple more hours of music, story, and prayer in a large circle around a couple of burnt cars as helicopters flew overhead.
Standing Rock is not just about a specific place and people in North Dakota-- it is everywhere we are. It demands of us: Where do you come from? Whose land do you occupy, whose land do you call home? Who were your people? And who are your people now? Its personal, its communal, its ecological, its economic, its political, its ancestral, and it is work that requires us to be where we are, now. Be with, now. Be in relation, now.
What is needed at Standing Rock: They need ongoing financial support, advocacy/direct action at local-state-national-corporate levels, and bodies-- especially bodies with offerings for healing, feeding, and the ability to be arrested. They update an extensive list at their website: http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org/donate
What is needed everywhere: knowing whose land we are on, honoring treaties, anti-racism, repatriation of land and resources, funding indigenous-led movements, a move away from entitlement to deep and humble permission, and an actionable awareness and reverence of where the sources of our life come from (our food, water, power, people).
If you are interested in planning an advocacy event or fundraiser in your area or faith community in Southern California and what support, please contact me. I'd be interested in working with you and following the suggested guidelines from the Standing Rock Solidarity Network (http://www.standingrocksolidaritynetwork.org/resource-packet.html).
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