We want to begin by naming that we ourselves are not Native and cannot speak on behalf of indigenous communities. As two seminarians in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the #NoDAPL movement, we recognize this is a fight to protect Mother Earth; yet more importantly, this fight is for indigenous sovereignty in a country that has for centuries falsely claimed ownership of this land.
This is our personal experience as outsiders who visited the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in November, in light of the eviction of Water Protectors from the Oceti Sakowin camp today.
As we type this, nine-hundred miles away our indigenous relatives and Water Protectors are being forcibly and brutally removed from indigenous land – land that just a few months ago we were praying and marching on. We type this not because our words are particularly significant, but because on this day, it is one tangible thing we can do. Today is a day of prayer and a day of mourning. Thanks to media like Unicorn Riot we are able to see, in real time, the extent and force police are using. We are able to see the tactical gear they wear, more reminiscent of the wars we wage in other countries. We are able to hear the screams of people as they get tear gassed and listen to the prayer songs that are lifted, unceasingly. We write because today this is what resistance looks like.
We write because our short visit to Standing Rock has been lodged in our hearts, because we carry the faces and stories of individuals we met. We write because we cannot and must not look away.
We understand our visit to Standing Rock was atypical. Over 500 clergy converged, answering an invitation for a day of action. The police we encountered did not harm us. They let pastors and rabbis come close to them, pray, and walk away. We were shielded not because of our faith but because of arbitrary symbols that were deemed not threatening. A cross is safe; a red bandana is not. We bore witness to a struggle that did not start in November 2016 or that spring, but much earlier, centuries before.
We attended because we knew the irreparable harm that is committed in the name of Christianity. We knew our presence would not undo it, but had hope that in answering this call to action we could begin to write a new story.
All stories of movements have leaders whose names become the emblem of the struggle. But for every Martin Luther King Jr., there were hundreds of African-Americans who boycotted the bus system. Too often those who bear the brunt of the work are women, youth, and elders. The same is true of Standing Rock. Within a camp of thousands of people, we must recognize the value, dignity, and uniqueness of each life. We will remember and lift up the young indigenous woman who courageously rode her horse to the front line of the police blockade, whose face, amidst the chaos of friend and foe, embodied serenity and peace on a land that is her home. We will remember and rejoice in the conversation between a young man who stood on top of a highway post gazing at the sea of resistors, careful not to fall on his new friend, an elderly indigenous leader, who had just given him a small, simple rock as an exchange of solidarity and gratitude. We will remember and honor the school teacher from Fort Yates as we shared a hug that needed no words. As Kelly Hayes writes, “The camps are not Standing Rock.” We will remember that the radical hope and love we saw embodied in Standing Rock will continue no matter what happens today.
In the call to come as clergy standing in solidarity with Standing Rock, we were greeted with another call, a benediction: to engage in conversations, listen to one another and above all, bring these stories back. Perhaps the best way to begin writing a new story as Christians saturated in colonialism and white supremacy is to begin sharing the stories of the people we have historically silenced. We must bear witness to the myriad of voices at Standing Rock, instead of unjustly making the Mni Wiconi movement what we want it to be and projecting our own assumptions and expectations onto it. The reality is that the foundation of this movement is sustained by the lives of everyday people, resisting by existing.
As grateful guests in the Oceti Sakowin camp, we needed to reject our innate tendency to fix and lead a movement that was never ours, but instead to respect and support this fight as active accomplices. Isn’t that who we are called to be as Christians? To love your neighbor as yourself requires this unconditional, mutual respect of the other to realize the kingdom of God in our midst.
This unconditional love cannot stop today.
The injustices of February 22nd, 2017 become yesterday all too quickly, but the wounds of another day amidst five centuries of colonialism only reopen scars yearning for healing. Ironically, we as bearers of a cross – once the facade of a sword – learn from our Native relatives about ways to heal: through prayer, song, forgiveness walks, and joy in resisting as a community. Today we pray and mourn with the Standing Rock Sioux and Water Protectors as they are forcibly and cruelly evicted from the site of resistance they have called home. Tomorrow we will continue to stand alongside our indigenous relatives as they heal. Tomorrow we walk together and write a new story together. The Water Protectors are showing us another world is possible; will we be courageous enough to listen?
My name is Maddie Johnson and I am a first-year seminarian at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary earning my Master of Divinity. I am originally from Overland Park, Kansas, and intend to move back to Kansas upon graduation in hopes of becoming ordained as a Deacon in the United Methodist Church. I am passionate about social justice, particularly regarding the church’s role and responsibility in being co-creators of God’s kin-dom today. I embrace the irony of my love for donuts and allergy of gluten.