Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Prayer and Community At Standing Rock

Our Chevy Suburban turned left onto route 1806 inside the Dakota Sioux indian reservation. We were packed to the roof with supplies, and more supplies were on the roof. Our personal stuff only took up the space of a few backpacks, the rest of the vehicle contained food, blankets and tents for others living in the camps on the Cannonball River. Since last April water protectors from all over the country have been opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Native Americans from all over the country, and indigenous people from all over the world, began showing up to show their support for the Sioux indians. Soon white skinned people began coming out too. The realization became clear that the voices of the oppressed would once again be smothered by corporate greed. In our day that greed is centered around America's fossil fuel industry funded by the largest banks in the world. But here, in southern North Dakota, a few native Americans believe they can still stop a pipeline. In the face of impossible odds, the local and state law enforcement and a nearly silent federal government the people of Standing Rock, and the activists joining them from all over the world, are not losing hope.

My biggest question, after being at Standing Rock in the Oceti Sakowin camp for about one week in mid November is, will the rest of the world hold as firmly to what is right in the face of an oppressor?

Many of the leaders in the camps have been there since August. There are no showers, no real bathrooms, no housing or places to sleep apart from tents. These people have been protecting the water they believe is sacred for all these weeks and somehow have not grown weary. They have faced a militarized police force and national guard using non-lethal chemical weapons on them, firehoses in freezing temperatures, lack of any comfort in the camp, and a world reluctant to act on their behalf. They've faced local leaders who treat them like criminals and national leaders who have kept silent and broken their promises. The Native Americans of Standing Rock have faced so much, and yet today they keep moving forward. They will not give up. The only thing I can point toward to explain their undying spirit is their reliance on two things... prayer and community.

As we entered the camp Cory dropped us off at the Sacred Fire where a man stood with a microphone making random announcements and sharing tidbits about life in the camp. The fire near the front entrance of the camp remains burning 24/7 with a fire tender always there. People gather around the fire to keep warm, but more often to pray. I'd never seen native American prayer ritual before. Cornelius and I sat on the bench near the fire when a tough and very serious native-looking man came up to the front of the fire where the herbs, feathers and buffalo skulls laid. The camp fire, as I had seen it, was not a camp fire at all, but a sacred fire, where prayer is lifted up day in and day out asking the Creator to act on the behalf of those opposing the pipeline and working to restore Grandmother earth.

Over the six days that we spent at the Oceti Sakowin I was engulfed in prayer. People from all over the world were being led by native Americans in prayer. Some of the prayer is ancient indigenous prayer focusing the spirits found in nature. Other prayer is overtly Christian, asking for Jesus' salvific work to once again be made known. All of the prayer is fervent and focused toward a Creator God who acts on behalf of the people he loves. I learned much about prayer during my week at the camp. Prayer is central to all they do, prayer at the camp never ceases, prayer is what keeps them going.

Within the main camps on the edge of the Standing Rock Reservation and on the disputed Army Corp of Engineer land are many other small camps. In looking back I think Cornelius and I made a bit of a mistake by choosing to set up our summer backpacking tents on the outer fringes of the Oceti Sakowin camp. Within the larger camp where two smaller camps called the "Red Warrior" camp and the Satellite camp. There were others too. Each one represents a community of people doing life together; eating together, building temporary homes together, raising money together and sometimes planning direct action against DAPL together. We set up our tents outside of the any previously created camp community. As our week went on we realized just how important the camps are and sometimes wished we were living more intentionally within the bounds of a long term community. These camps are truly beautiful things, especially the kitchens! I can say that the Red Warrior have an amazingly good chef! They are a small camp, closed to short term new comers, and so the cooks can focus on feeding these front-line protectors with some good food. We were lucky enough to be invited into the Red Warrior camp, secretive as it is, to have a few meals. Everyone in the camp knew each other, they were living life together and helping each other build a thriving community with a singular focus - stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline with non-violent direct action.

This is true for every small camp within the larger encampments. People are living together, praying together, eating together, building community that we pray will last far beyond a resolution on this pipeline. The actions of prayer and community-building are what will lead the world away from racism, bigotry and injustice and toward a future where the oppressed are lifted up and given the prominent voice. Prayer and community will lead us toward a future where multibillion dollar fossil fuel companies no longer exist but we all have a future on a planet that is cared for and adored by it's people. We must allow the indigenous people, especially those gathering at Standing Rock, to lead us into the future. 

1 comment:

Mark Hockley said...

John, thank you for sharing your beautiful story. About half way through, I got goosebumps reading about the sacred fire and ancient indigenous prayer focusing the spirits found in nature. It was refreshing reading about prayer and community, two subjects close to my heart. If we open our hearts and minds, we stand to learn so much from this experience.