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Journey with Standing Rock

Greensky Hill Indian Mission UMC in Charlevoix stands with First Peoples gathered in North Dakota.

Greensky Hill Indian Mission United Methodist Church

It’s not lost on me. The irony of driving over 2,000 miles in a petroleum-fueled vehicle to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against one of the largest petroleum distribution corporations in the world is not lost on me. The challenge of moving beyond colonialism and tokenism – a pervasive, deadly, historic Eurocentric church response to indigenous people – is not lost on me. As I noticed water around every bend and over every hill during my journey, the cost of not protecting our water is not lost on me.

When I heard the call for clergy to stand with Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipe Line, I wanted to be there for more than a photo-op. I wanted to be there for more than a day, but I couldn’t see how to make it work. Then I couldn’t see how not to make it work. I had to go, knowing that this one historic event would not be my only way of standing with these neighbors. That’s why this story is about my journey “with” Standing Rock, rather than “to” Standing Rock. I posted this for my congregation at Greensky Hill as I traveled and I share it with you with hopes that you will find your way to stand with Standing Rock.

October 31 at 4:39pm · Charlevoix, MI

All my relatives, I am on my way to Standing Rock with sage and tobacco from Greensky Hill to stand with other clergy as witnesses and protectors of our water protectors. I’ll be staying at Oceti Sakowin Camp. Please pray with me for our water and our water protectors.

November 1 at 9:47am · Saint Ignace, MI


Just crossed the Mighty Mac, over Lakes Michigan and Huron, where Pipeline 5 poses a daily threat to the lifeblood of the earth. Pipeline 5 is owned by Enbridge, the same company desecrating sacred land at Standing Rock.

Praying for their CEO and shareholders that they will see another way. Praying that President Obama and the candidates and all of our legislators will see another way. Praying that law enforcement and each individual assigned to security at DAPL and their dogs, will turn and walk the Sacred Way. We do not have to destroy our Mother. We do not have to harm each other. There is another way.

November 1 at 1:29pm · Green Garden, MI

Followed the north shore of Lake Michigan, then north along the Manistique River. Rested for a moment at a farmer’s pond near Laughing Whitefish Falls, pausing to remember what’s at stake.

Drawing courage, hope, and life from earth’s circulatory system and the crawlers, swimmers, and flyers who depend upon it no less than we do. Blessed to share a moment with these geese. Geese are important to Kathy. She has noticed that geese join us – flying over, swimming nearby – for every significant moment in our life together. In Celtic Christianity, the goose is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. I am reminded that Kathy and Creator’s own Spirit are traveling with me. 

November 1 at 11:19pm · Carlton, MN

Mindful of fresh water all around me. It’s taking longer than I expected. I still have 7 1/2 hours to go. But I’m not complaining. I had a fish dinner and all the water I could drink at The Bad River Lodge owned by The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe. I have a comfortable room for the night with a shower and a toilet and seemingly unlimited clean water at my disposal at Black Bear Resort owned by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. 

I appreciate all of the encouragement and I suppose this does take some courage on my part. But it’s only possible because of faithful people covering ministry at Greensky Hill and Kathy covering things at home. As a minister, I have an unusually flexible schedule and, at this point in our life, we have resources for me to make this trip. I don’t take either for granted. Creator willing, tomorrow and Thursday I will stand with the truly courageous. 

November 2 at 10:11am · Carlton, MN

Woke up to frosted window panes. Praying for campers. Read from both sides about what’s happening. Praying for peace. Here’s the plan. 

November 2 at 12:01pm · Pillager, MN

Just crossed the Mississippi River while listening to an amazing podcast about the role of clean, accessible, water in global suffering. To put things in perspective – really important perspective – resistance at Standing Rock is not just about the Black Snake. 

Please take time to read and learn and pray with me about really standing with first peoples.

In her article, “The Enduring Effects of the Doctrine of Discovery,” Kathleen Stone wrote:

Those who were not Christian white men had no rights to property and the resources that lay underneath the land. This was perceived as God’s divine blessing on white people. Along with inheritance rights, the doctrine thus set in motion an economy dependent upon land and resource rights, with the extraction of resources tantamount to one’s status, wealth, political and economic power. These land rights were inaccessible to people of color, including Native Americans. 

This is a huge part of what is playing out again at Standing Rock. 

mays-3November 3 at 9:14am · Cannon Ball, ND

Arrived safely last night. An estimated 500 clergy from many traditions, from all over the world, gathered in the Cannon Ball Community gym for orientation, fellowship, and prayer. With one voice, we affirmed, “We are: Prayerful, Peaceful, Non-Violent and Lawful in our Witness in Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.” 

Father John Floberg, Standing Rock Episcopal Church, who in conversation with Dave Archambault II, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman invited us to Standing Rock, welcomed us. Ft. John, Bishop Michael Smith (North Dakota), and tribal representatives reminded us that we are guests and that this is not a vacation to Disney World. We received boundaries about taking pictures and honoring other’s ceremonies. A Navajo sister talked with us about the power of love to overcome hatred and bring about genuine forgiveness. At the close of today’s events, this same speaker added the very important reality that not everyone is ready to forgive and that each of us forgives in our own time.

I slept in my car Oceti Sakowin Camp. At 6, a loudspeaker started waking everyone up because, “They’ve already been digging for hours. The Black Snake is crawling toward the river. We have work to do.” 

mays-4After a light, group breakfast in the gym, we gathered at the fire at 9am. As it was told to us, the reason it is prohibited to take pictures of the sacred fire is because the sacred fire is to be remembered and the sacred fire is the place for stories and photographs can hinder both. We were given permission to respectfully record enough to share with our people. 

Members of many traditions read our shared repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, then copies of pages of the original document were handed to elders from many nations who placed them in a fire created with embers from the sacred fire. We then waited to be smudged as we walked together to the river to stand with our sisters and brothers. As I reflected on what difference any of this will make, an Elder told a joke and reminded us that Creator wants us to smile as we protect the earth and a Native Grandmother spoke into the microphone for all of us to hear. With tears she said, “I have prayed my whole life that the white church would stand with us. I never thought I would live long enough to see this day. Thank you.” 

Indigenous Rising Media and others recorded the gathering.

November 3 at 2:43pm · Mandan, ND

On my way home. At the Oceti Sakowin Camp, between the Cannon Ball River and the Missouri River, we were reminded, standing in a circle of 523 or so clergy from every tradition, that there is one global struggle against power systems who oppress people for profit and power. We were reminded that these struggles are ancient and did not start in 2016 in North Dakota. We were reminded that all faiths can stand together in love against these power systems and that Standing Rock is on the front lines. Not incidentally, 523 is the number of years since a papal bull instituted the Doctrine of Discovery. 

mays-6I invite you to reflect with me that law is not always just. You’ve heard it said that the corporation behind DAPL has a legal right to do what they are doing. And I say to you that in our very recent history it was legal to own other human beings, to take children away from their families so that you could make them look more like you, and for men to have complete economic authority over women. 

Lately it seems that some would be only too glad to return to those days, but thanks be to God most of us know the law is not always just. So we change. There is a better way! 

November 4 at 3:43pm · Naubinway, MI

One final stop before the bridge on my way back to Charlevoix from Standing Rock. Praying for the earth. Praying for Standing Rock. Praying for Native people and everyone else who needs water. Praying for deep, systemic change. Discouraged by the deep divide. Worried that our most needy sisters and brothers will not be heard. But, somehow…

Somehow, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that love will win. 

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