Tag Archives: Water Protectors

A sacred space I am thankful for

Sacred Space Nov 17

Standing Rock
An honor to be there with Buddy Monahan, Irv Porter, and Elona Street-Stewart

Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home has provided a gift of the November 2018 Gratitude Every Day calendar. I am using it as an opportuity to revisit photos and post them as they speak to gratitude.

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Don’t display your solidarity, express it!

This reflection by Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow originally appeared as a guest commentary in the Presbyterian Outlook.

This is not a piece about Standing Rock and the water protectors. This is a reflection to expand the narrative of what happened during the clergy action visit to Standing Rock on November 3, 2016.

For information about Standing Rock and their struggle to protect water, please check Native news sources such as IndianCountryNews.com. I also encourage everyone to read the Standing Rock Allies Resource Packet.

A call to action
Last month, I joined with over 400 other clergy members and responded to a call for clergy to join in a solidarity action with the Oceti Sakowin and their struggle to protect water.

Central to the efforts of the Oceti Sakowin people is a ritual of sacred fire. When I arrived at the camp, Adrianne, the sacred fire keeper, greeted my friends and me and thanked us for being there. He then explained the significance of the sacred fire, that it had been going since April and how we need to understand it.

Adrianne emphasized that it was an important element of ritual to keep the fire pure. This meant that only Fire Keepers (those designated by elders) are permitted to tend the fire. To respect the sacred fire, it was explained to everyone who entered the camp that they should not take photos of the fire or throw anything into the fire (aside from sage and tobacco while offering prayer).

By the end, it was clear to me that the Fire Keeper informed everyone who entered the camp about the power and importance of the sacred fire and honor its role. I was deeply discouraged by how some members of our clergy group were ignorant of these guidelines.

A lesson in solidarity tourism
When we gathered for the clergy action orientation, the coordinator for the event, Father Floberg, told us that the next day would start with a ceremony at the sacred fire. We were informed that white Christians will repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery to native elders. In addition, the organizers of the ceremony got special permission for us to take pictures near the sacred fire for this event because it would be so historic.

With the knowledge that sacred fire was not to be photographed, why was permission requested? Why did this group of clergy feel so entitled as to think their needs to document this event were more important than honoring the intentions of the native people not to photograph near the sacred fire? The fact that this request was offered and accepted is reminder of the colonial mentality of exceptionalism and justification. It was not a request that honored the camp that hosted us.

At the ceremony, all I could see were cameras and people swarming around the sacred fire.  What was supposed to be a sacred event to show our repudiation of a doctrine that oppressed and displaced so many natives turned into what felt like a celebrity staging.

A self-serving narrative
Whose needs were being served through this event of repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery? If it was really for the native people, if we came to honor their tradition, we would not have taken pictures. It was the needs of highlighting the clergy, not the community, and what the clergy were doing for the community that was prioritized.

After the ceremony, the clergy group walked towards the bridge where our prayer vigil was to take place. But we walked alone; not many people from the camp were with us. The giant cross at the front of our procession felt more like a crusade than a solitary action.

I left early to go to the camp. It was clear that majority of the clergy did not connect with those at the camp. Many of the folks back at camp didn’t even know what was going on with this large group of clergy who showed up. Then I heard announced across camp that the clergy were heading to Bismarck to the State Capitol.

At Bismarck, 14 clergy members were arrested, which became the dominant narrative that emerged from the whole action. The story was no longer about the Oceti Sakowin people or the Water Protectors.

Displayed vs. expressed solidarity
My main discomfort with the way the clergy group behaved was that it seemed more important to display their solidarity rather than express solidarity. When someone is concerned about displaying solidarity, they make the effort about themselves. They control the narrative and to ensure their experience is validated. They make the story about themselves and not about the people they are in solidarity with.

Expressing solidarity is to be present in the ways the people you’re standing in solidarity with want you to be present. It requires more listening than talking. It requires getting to know the stories of those who are oppressed. It requires one to not have preconceived notions of what is helpful or effective. It requires one to not have a pre-set agenda of what one wants to get out of the trip for his or her own agenda. Expressing solidarity means letting the needs of the community outweigh the needs of those providing support.

What I observed was solidarity tourism. What I witnessed was exploitive colonialism. From documenting the ceremony at the sacred fire to the clergy rally to getting arrested in Bismarck, the narrative became more about the clergy than those who were protecting water.

Words for future solidarity action
The camp is set up to receive large groups of people (with orientation every day). If you go, go straight to the camp and connect with the Native leaders directly. Go with the mentality of being useful and not with a preconceived notion of what you believe will be a significant contribution. Go with an open heart to express your solidarity rather than to display your solidarity. That may mean you spend four days chopping onion and garlic and not getting arrested. It may mean helping clean up around the camp instead of taking photos. These are expressions of solidarity.

Sung Yeon ChoimorrowSUNG YEON CHOI-MORROW serves in specialized ministry as the deputy director of programs and policy at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, an organization building a movement through organizing and advocating on issues that impact the lives of Asian American Pacific Islander women and girls in the United States. She is a member of the Chicago Presbytery, worships at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, and lives on the north side of Chicago with her spouse (Joseph Morrow) and their 2-year-old daughter Ella.

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A Call to Presbyterians to pray with the Oceti Sakowin for Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their supporters

Reprinted from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Native American Intercultural Congregational Support Web page.

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More than four thousand people have gathered at Camp of the Sacred Stones, three separate prayer camps north of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, near the northern border of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation. The people, known as “Water Protectors,” have gathered in an effort to stop the Dallas-based company Energy Transfer from piping Bakken oilfield crude oil underneath the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for the tribe. This project is known as the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline (DAPL).

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe took the initiative in this witness to protect the land and water from environmental harm and to affirm tribal sovereignty. Support for the tribe’s efforts has grown and now comes from many tribes and peoples across the country and internationally, as well as individuals and groups concerned for issues raised by the DAPL.

As the witness continues, the Oceti Sakowin, Dakota Nation (Sioux Nation), has issued a call to prayer for October 8 through 11. The Oceti Sakowin consists of seven bands, the Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota people. Within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Dakota Presbytery consists of congregations of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota people in Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

Please pray for:

  • The earth and all the resources the Creator has provided;
  • Wisdom, courage, and strength for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and for its Chairman David Archambault and his family;
  • Strength and courage for the Water Protectors and their families;
  • Peace and unity at the camps;
  • The provision of food, water, and shelter and the meeting of other needs for the Water Protectors, particularly those who plan to witness in winter;
  • Wisdom and vision for the people working on the legal battles being fought to halt this pipeline and to honor the sovereignty of Native peoples;
  • Patience and a willingness to rely on nonviolence for the government and corporate authorities involved; and
  • The leaders of the Synod of Lakes & Prairies as they collect and discern where to use funds for the camps and the Water Protectors.

Those wishing to support the Water Protectors financially may send contributions to the Synod of Lakes and Prairies:

Synod of Lakes and Prairies
2115 Cliff Drive
Eagan, MN 55122
Make the check payable to: Synod of Lakes and Prairies
Note on check: Dakota Access Pipeline Acct #2087

The synod will send a confirmation to the donor that the funds were received and then information about where they were distributed. Please make sure to include your name and address on the check unless already printed on it.

The Office of Public Witness has created an action guide that provides advocacy points to contact Congress and the US Department of Justice.

In response to the situation at Standing Rock and other current instances of racial injustice, the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns has issued a statement urging “our church and all of its members, but especially those who are white, to join us in breaking silence. Commit with us to raise our collective voice not just to proclaim the good news of God’s grace but to call out injustice, to call out the forces that threaten to tear us apart with xenophobic, racist, and Islamophobic rhetoric.”

Presbyterian Native Americans continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates on ways to support the effort at Standing Rock, and across the country, to protect water, land, and tribal rights and to maintain harmonious relationships with the earth.

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The Oceti Sakowin call to prayer is for four days, recognizing that when the Dakota (Sioux) people pray they view the world as having four directions. The four winds come from the four directions, with each direction having a meaning and color associated with it. Where the medicine wheel lines cross symbolizes all directions. The four directions would relate to the four days, October 8 through 11, in this way:

October 8: West (Black) is the direction of the setting sun, the end of each day. It signifies the end of life. The west is also the source of water: rain and rivers, streams, and lakes. The west is vital because without water there can be no life.

October 9: North (Red) brings winter’s cold, harsh winds. These cleansing winds cause leaves to fall and cover the earth under a blanket of snow. Animals or people who have the ability to face these winds, like the buffalo who faces its head into the storm, are said to have learned endurance and patience. The north generally stands for the discomfort and hardships people experience. It represents the cleansing people endure and the trials people undergo.

October 10: East (Yellow) is the direction from which the sun comes. Light dawns in the east in the morning to mark the beginning of a new day. Then the light spreads over the earth. Light helps people see things the way they really are and can be the beginning of understanding. East also represents the wisdom that helps people live good lives. Traditional people rise in the morning to pray facing the dawn, asking God for wisdom and understanding. Many churches were built with the front facing east.

October 11: South (White) is the color of the southern sky when the sun is at its highest. South stands for warmth and growing. From the south come warm, pleasant winds. When people pass into the spirit world, they travel the Milky Way’s path back to the south, returning from where they came.

This information comes from The Four Directions posted by Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center.

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