published February 2017

Dakota Access Pipeline—Standing Rock

by Lisa Cyriacks

“We’re asking the religious leaders to come and support them [the young people standing in prayerful protest], to stand side-by-side with them because they are standing in prayer.”

-Chief Arvol Looking Horse

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day water protectors battling the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline attempted a peaceful prayer walk to the drilling site alongside the Missouri River.

Before that day, Chief Arvol Looking Horse said the police and National Guard were moving in on the protesters and he believes an influx of religious leaders could help keep the peace.

“If you can find it in your heart, to pray with them, and stand beside them . . . the police department and the National Guard would listen to each and every one of you,” he said. “The hearts of all people’s faiths must now unite in believing we can change the path we are now on.”

In December the US Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement for drilling under the Missouri River. The Corps is launching a review of alternate routes. Any re-route is likely to cost Energy Transfer Partners billions of dollars.

Industry and pipeline proponents are hopeful that President Donald Trump will reverse the Corps’ decision.

For months, Native American tribes from across the country and their supporters have been gathering in North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Since August, the news media has been reporting on events, taking the movement from anonymity to international news coverage.

While dramatic developments make headlines, the solemnity of the struggle to protect water and culture is being missed. The Standing Rock Sioux nation has been joined by thousands of people making this protest the largest gathering of Native Americans in over 100 years.

On December 3, veterans began arriving from all over the country ready to join the fight opposing the pipeline. Most arrived in response to online videos and reports of riot-clad police using water cannons in subfreezing weather, of masked police using tear gas and mace on Native people standing with their hands up, and the use of attack dogs.

The veterans came for many reasons. Some saw it as a homeland security issue, naming corporate greed as the enemy. Others spoke of the oath they had taken to defend their country from enemies—foreign and domestic.

In a historic victory, on December 4, the Army Corps of Engineers made the announcement of the decision to deny Energy Transfer Partners the easement under the Missouri River.

On December 5, Native Americans conducted a healing forgiveness ceremony, giving the veterans the opportunity to atone for actions conducted against Native Americans and indigenous peoples throughout history.

Wes Clark Jr., son of retired U.S. Army general and former supreme commander at NATO, Wesley Clark Sr., in an apology: “Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.” (published by Salon)

Chief Leonard Crow Dog, in a historically symbolic gesture, offered forgiveness and urged for world peace, “We do not own the land, the land owns us.”

Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Fires, is the encampment on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where tribes are gathering. History is a living force for the Lakota way of life. It is impossible to speak of what is occurring now at Standing Rock without an understanding of the history and the spirituality underlying the confrontation happening at Standing Rock.

For the Standing Rock Tribe, the resistance to DAPL is more than oil, or water—it is about that spiritual connection to the landscape.

In the words of Chief Arvol Looking Horse: “In a Sacred Hoop of Life, there is no ending and no beginning.”