On November 3rd I had the opportunity to partake in a solidarity action at Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. I went, answering the call for clergy (and seminarians) of all denominations and religious backgrounds that was issued by the local Episcopal Church on behalf of the Standing Rock elders. This call was to come and partake in “peaceful, prayerful, lawful, and non-violent action” with the water protectors who have been actively standing up against the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline that would put the Missouri River at risk and ruin sacred burial land. However, the issue is much greater than water. This is an issue of our country failing to recognize the sovereignty of indigenous tribes by, once again, pushing at their already small territorial boundaries. This is a matter of placing corporate greed over the lives of a historically oppressed group.
My interest in this cause began during my time at Roanoke College where I took a course in Native American History. This past summer, at Nebraska Synod Assembly that I attended while I was in Nebraska for Lutheran Volunteer Corps, I witnessed discussion on the Doctrine of Discovery and learned the Church’s role in the colonization and mistreatment that indigenous people have faced. In August, the ELCA Church-Wide Assembly voted to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. As Father Floberg stated during our opening training, “they (law enforcement) are protecting a pipeline that was put into place because of a church doctrine. We are here to say that we were wrong.”
And that is what precisely what we did. Following the Spirit I travelled to Standing Rock with a group of nine other seminarians and one faculty member from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where I attend school. At the Oceti Sakowin camp in Standing Rock we, together with over 500 religious leaders, joined the thousands of water protectors.
Our action began with publicly reading the statements from each denomination that had repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. This was done in front of the elders of the tribes present and, afterwards, a copy of the original Doctrine was given to the elders who burnt the document, signifying their forgiveness and willingness to move forward together.
With newly established unity, we each received a sage smudging as we left the camp to walk to the site of the action, a bridge less than half a mile from Oceti Sakowin camp. There we spent time in a large circle, singing and praying together for two hours. The entire time militarized law enforcement was present across the bridge and on the hills surrounding the river. We prayed and sang louder each time the low-flying helicopter flew in a circle above us. In small groups many walked onto the bridge with the permission of the elders. There, against the barricade that had been established and with law enforcement right on the other side, we joined hands and offered prayers of healing and strength for all present – water protectors and law enforcement alike. I think it is especially important to note that we prayed for law enforcement under the direct request of the water protectors. This has been, since the beginning, a peaceful, prayerful, lawful, and non-violent movement.
I still cannot adequately describe my experience at Standing Rock. The best way to describe it is a kairos moment that emerged out of the complete chaos of a situation. I felt God’s presence in every inch of the camp and action-site that day. I saw the work of the Spirit in all who were present. I would be open to sharing more about this experience so please do not hesitate to get in touch with me if you would like to hear more and/or hear how you can support the water protectors as they prepare for a harsh winter camping in North Dakota.
Yours in Christ,
Paisley Le Roy