What’s going on at Standing Rock? And what does that mean for me?

You might be seeing a sudden influx of posts and check-ins about an American Indian protest in some place called Standing Rock, ND, today. Wondering what’s going on, or what you can do to get involved?

Here’s a quick primer, and I’ll put some links at the end if you’d like to learn more (or want a different source than yours truly).

Basically, what’s happening is that a new pipeline is being built to carry fracked oil from North Dakota to refineries in the south. The pipeline was going to be built near Bismarck, but according to Vox, “officials had blocked that path out of concern that a leak might harm the state capital.” So instead, the danger was moved away from the white population and put near the Indian population at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation instead. (Sound familiar?)

The protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” have two concerns. First is the environment. The Sioux are concerned the pipeline will taint their water supply. Environmental allies are also opposed to building new fossil-fuel infrastructure while the climate is cooking. According to Time Magazine, “Builders of the pipeline insist that they have taken extraordinary measures to safeguard against disaster, but opponents point out that even the safest pipelines can leak. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has reported more than 3,300 incidents of leaks and ruptures at oil and gas pipelines since 2010. And even the smallest spill could damage the tribe’s water supply.”

The second, and perhaps more important, reason to oppose the pipeline is its impact on tribal sovereignty. Even if you believe the pipeline is safe, why is that our decision to make? Isn’t it time the U.S. stopped undermining tribes’ legal and cultural rights to self-determination? The tribe points out they were not consulted about the project as U.S. law requires they must be, and that its construction is tearing up sacred sites and burial grounds. As a result, every Sioux council fire has moved to Standing Rock. This is the largest gathering of Native Americans in over 100 years. When a people are that united, the rest of us really need to pause and listen. Listening is so important in moments like this.

Yes, it’s true that the pipeline would run through private land, not reservation land. HOWEVER, the Sioux point out that it’s land reserved for them under their (still legally binding) treaty, which was stolen piece by piece over the years through various means. They never ceded the land; it was simply taken from them. Some of it even belongs to the energy company only because of eminent domain. If you thought that white theft of Indian land was a thing of the past — it’s not. And Standing Rock isn’t the only example — something similar happened at Oak Flat, Arizona, last year, and the Supreme Court routinely chips away at Indian jurisdiction over reservation land. There are countless modern examples. Moreover, the courts and federal government have even asked for construction to be paused so that some of these disputes can be sorted out, but the pipeline company continues to dig up and destroy the land in preparation for laying down the pipe.

So here’s the key question: If white officials in Bismarck can make decisions they believe will protect their own land, cemeteries, and drinking water, why can’t Native officials at Standing Rock? Perhaps it’s time to stop and finally LISTEN to Native voices. (When I say white and Native, I don’t mean racially — remember, Native tribes are political entities on Constitutional and judicial par with the 50 states. This is about the political jurisdiction of official sovereigns being repeatedly undermined by domineering outsiders.)

Image via http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-pruett/standing-with-standing-ro_b_12048806.html

It gets worse. Sioux Indians and their allies (including Bernie Sanders, a number of celebrities, and official representatives of my own Episcopal Church) are prayerfully using civil disobedience to block the bulldozing and construction. The most extreme behavior they have used includes a false charge on a horse or two — drawing on traditional Sioux symbols; we’ve got to put these actions in their appropriate context — and burning their own barricades. In response, private security guards have used attacked dogs and pepper spray, while local sheriff’s deputies have brandished riot gear, batons, and armored trucks; arrested journalists (Amy Goodman of Democracy Now) covering the events; and caused massive bruises and open wounds with rubber bullets (remember, an attack doesn’t require a fatality to be considered “unnecessary use of force”). After arresting Native Americans who were quietly praying in their tipis for “rioting,” the sheriff explained that they were considered rioters because they were trespassing — never mind that those are separate charges for a reason. I’ve watched hours of live Facebook videos coming out of Standing Rock, and I can tell you, it’s virtually always the law enforcement agents who initially escalate the situation. Even if you disagree with the protesters’ tactics, the response from the authorities is grossly out of proportion. Don’t we want officers who will DE-ESCALATE potentially disruptive situations? My Presiding Bishop, ++Michael Curry, was right when he called it the new Selma. And let’s remember — this is nothing new when it comes to how white authorities deal with Indian tribes. A militarized response to Indian resistance on U.S. encroachment has always been the norm. If what happened in the 19th century makes us sick, we have a duty to oppose what’s happening today, too.

In many Protestant churches, yesterday’s Gospel was about Zacchaeus, the “wee little man” who couldn’t see Jesus over the crowd — so Zacchaeus climbed a tree and saw Jesus, who called Zacchaeus over and told Zacchaeus that He would dine at Zacchaeus’s house.

Does America ignore Native Americans and block them from justice the way the crowd ignored Zacchaeus and blocked him from seeing God? Is Zacchaeus climbing that tree to seek God really all that different from Martin Luther King or the Standing Rock Sioux using civil disobedience to seek justice? I believe that God sees everyone, even the sinful tax collectors like Zacchaeus and even the lonely broken hearts whose pain is ignored (or caused) by their communities. That means that God sees and loves the water protectors — even if the media, the wealthy energy companies, and the North Dakota authorities shun them. We are called to follow that example, to follow Christ’s example, by reaching out to the marginalized and the broken who are otherwise blocked by the crowd. Today, that means the Standing Rock Sioux.

Here are several things you can do to dine with Zacchaeus and help the #NoDAPL protest:

1) Pay attention to this issue, in a way we so often fail to pay attention to Indian needs. Read articles and share them on Twitter and Facebook — if you’d like, you can start with the ones I’ll put at the end of this post. Follow Dallas Goldtooth for updates and Atsa E’sha Hoferer for live videos from the camps. Engage your own networks in conversation about this.

2) Sign these petitions asking President Obama to use his position to speak out against the pipeline: https://act.credoaction.com/sign/NoDAPL and https://www.addup.org/campaigns/take-action-stop-the-toxic-dakota-access-fracked-oil-pipeline Also use Facebook and Twitter to ask The White House, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton to speak out in defense of Native rights.

3) Call the Department of Justice and tell them to stop police violence against the Water Protectors. (202) 353–1555

4) Donate to the official fund to keep the camps going. Even $5 helps: https://www.gofundme.com/sacredstonecamp

5) Go to Standing Rock if you can. Many clergy people, including a great number of Episcopalians and Anglicans, are going for an action this week. I’m hoping to make a trip with some other seminarians in January — we’ll see what’s logistically possible for us, and what’s going on out there at that time.

Lastly, 6) Here’s what you see happening a lot today. I’m not sure if this is an official action or who started it, but it seems worth a try. Make two separate posts on Facebook to throw off law enforcement tracking of the water protectors — one with privacy settings set to PUBLIC, checking-in at either Standing Rock, ND, or the Sacred Stone Camp. Then another PRIVATE (or non-public) post with text along these lines: “It’s reported that the Morton County Sheriff’s Department has been using Facebook check-ins to find out who is at Standing Rock in order to target them in attempts to disrupt the prayer camps. Water Protectors are calling on EVERYONE to check-in at Standing Rock, ND, and the Sacred Stone Camp to overwhelm and confuse them. This is concrete action that can protect people putting their bodies and well-beings on the line and that we can do without leaving our homes. Will you join me in Standing Rock?”

If you read this far — wow! Thank you! Here are additional links if you’d like to know more — some of them somewhat neutral, some of them speaking with a more prophetic voice or linking today’s events to history:

Vox, “The battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline, explained” http://www.vox.com/2016/9/9/12862958/dakota-access-pipeline-fight

Time, “What to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests” http://time.com/4548566/dakota-access-pipeline-standing-rock-sioux/

Huffington Post, “Helicopter Allegedly Hired by North Dakota Authorities Found Flying in Violation of FAA Rules” (a broader look at the violence used and what that means in historical context) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/georgianne-nienaber/helicopter-allegedly-hire_b_12320482.html

Democracy Now!, “‘A Shameful Moment for This Country’: Report Back on Militarized Police Raid of DAPL Resistance Camp” http://www.democracynow.org/2016/10/28/a_shameful_moment_for_this_country

Indian Country Today, “Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Response to Treatment of Protesters” http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/10/24/standing-rock-sioux-tribes-response-treatment-protesters-166189

Episcopal News Service, “Episcopal Church Executive Council stands with Standing Rock” http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/10/22/episcopal-church-executive-council-stands-with-standing-rock/

Huffington Post, “I Am A White Person Who Went To Standing Rock. This Is What I Learned” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/i-am-a-white-person-who-went-to-standing-rock-this_us_5812d757e4b08301d33e07d6

Bernie Sanders, “Sanders Calls on President to Intervene in Dakota Access Pipeline Dispute” http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sanders-calls-on-president-to-intervene-in-dakota-access-pipeline-dispute

A three minute video: https://www.facebook.com/SierraClub/posts/10154186000497572