It was a semi-cloudy Sunday.
“So you’re going to North Dakota?” one of the people in my church asked.
“Yup!” I said. “I’m going to protest the pipeline.”
Bill (name changed) nodded that he saw I had written it on my board. I use that board to tell people what my office hours will be for the next week. He continued: “You might want to take that down.”
“Some people in this congregation work in oil and gas; they would not appreciate seeing this.”
“What do you mean?”
“I work in oil and gas. If they don’t put in the pipeline, I have nothing to sell.”
“Ok. My understanding is that the place they’re trying to get the pipeline through is tribal land.”
“It’s private land.”
“It’s going through ceremonial burial grounds.”
“I’m sure they might have had bits and pieces there from when they lived there in the past, but that land isn’t a reservation. You should know this, you’re the one going there.”
“I’m going there to find out how we can have better conversations about this issue.”
“Ok. I still think you should take out that you’re going to protest the pipeline. It’s not necessary to stir the hornet’s nest.”
“Thank you for the heads up, Bill.”
The four words I erased on my board were “to protest the pipeline.” But that ain’t stopping me from bringing it up in individual conversations!
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was scheduled to go from North Dakota to southern Illinois. It was started July 2016, but has since collected media attention due to protests. Native tribes from all over have come to Oceti Sakowin camp near Cannonball, ND to protest not just the placement of the pipeline but also the manner in which the tribes affected by the pipeline were not fully included in the conversation to begin with. According to an article by Alexander Sammon for motherjones.com, a nonprofit news organization, the tribes in question did not feel “properly consulted” about where the pipeline would go through, they voiced concerns that it goes through significant burial grounds or that it could break and thus contaminate the Missouri River, their main water supply (9/9/16, http://m.motherjones.com/environment/2016/09/dakota-access-pipeline-protest-timeline-sioux-standing-rock-jill-stein).
I saw videos of tension escalating between the Native protesters and the construction company; the construction company hired security to prevent protesters from halting the project. There are video accounts of dogs biting protesters and mace and pepper spray being used against protesters. High profile celebrities such as Shailene Woodley and Marc Ruffalo spoke out against the pipeline.
The pipeline is controversial because of actions being taken to halt or continue it. I’m not very familiar with the arguments FOR the pipeline; I’ve heard that there are multiple pipelines in similar locations that could affect the Missouri River, so others are wondering why so many people are getting riled up at this particular one. I suppose another argument is that there are few realistic alternatives to transport the oil for such a long distance. There are definitely accounts of protesters acting out in violence, which runs counter to others’ desires for peaceful protesting.
I’m going to Oceti Sakowin Camp this Wednesday to stand with fellow ministers. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is a sovereign nation; it’s unclear to me why land treaties do not seem to be recognized on the part of the construction company. I think at the heart of this conflict is the Dakota people seeking to be heard. I want to uncover what communication has happened between these two clashing parties. I also fully recognize that in driving to Oceti Sakowin, I’m using gas…the irony bites. But why is it necessary to go through land that is deemed not just sacred but vital to an indigenous people? If the Bundy gang is pronounced not guilty for the occupation of “their” land, why are the cries of these Native protesters being muffled with pepper spray? I smell the stench of a double standard. Grossly biased media is part of skewing and misrepresenting complex realities. Neither party is innocent, but neither of them are listening to the other either. Violence just entrenches us deeper into our very separate camps- this is absolutely not helpful in reaching solutions, it is physically harmful to each other, and it alienates important communication that could move all of us forward.
I covet your prayers for the men and women on multiple sides of this issue. Anger and pain are the crusty outer layers of this beast- the complexity and fear and compounding of history, power, and loss bleed in the center.
More to come.
Mitakuye oyasin (Lakota for “all my relatives”)