Standing Rock: the pain of the past and the challenges of the future

by Bishop Mark MacDonald last modified 17 November 2016 02:54 PM
Standing Rock: the pain of the past and the challenges of the future

Photo by Steven D. Martin/NCCCUSA

14 November 2016

They stopped counting at 524, but many more showed up for the November 3rd act of protective witness. The 524 were clergy, registered from over 50 different groups, but many others were along to show support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). They also called for an end to the militarized governmental response to the peaceful protest.

524 was said to be the number of years that have passed since the proclamation of what now is called “the Doctrine of Discovery.” As organizer Fr. John Floberg told us, the Doctrine of Discovery is the political, social, and legal justification for the threat to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s sovereignty and life. Many churches present had previously offered their repudiation of the Doctrine, but this event called for them to act in accord with their statements.

At this event, the public repudiation of the Doctrine by the gathered clergy and supporters – using the form developed by the World Council of Churches as the template – was followed by the burning of a replica of the original proclamation. This first act was held at the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires), where the many “water protectors” were camped and the Sacred Fire burned. After the repudiation, the entire group marched to a site close to the barricade separating government and pipeline from the water protectors. There songs were offered and prayers in Lakota, followed by statements from a number of religious leaders.

The sensitivity of this area, environmentally, was clear from the gathering site, where you could see the lakes and rivers threatened. Millions of people live down river, with the Standing Rock Sioux being the most exposed – Standing Rock, their lands, and many sacred sites. But something more was seen, from this vital point: rarely is there seen, so clearly inscribed, the pain of the past and the challenges of the future, its perils and its promise. Rising up from this place of fierce military oppression is a resilient people. Their message of threat describes a human rights violation, the threat to the life of the Sioux intertwined with their land. They resist for the sake of their way of life, but it is so much deeper and broader than that.

It is hard for the rest of the population to see that this is a microcosm of the threat facing all of our world. It is hard because much of the larger culture has lost the capacity to understand the living connection of people – all people – to the land. The water protectors resist for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe but their message is a vital one for all people.

A growing number of people, as witnessed on November 3rd and concurrent actions across Turtle Island, appear to understand the importance of what is happening at Standing Rock. It is becoming a great coalition and there are signs of a dawning apprehension of how critical the argument of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is to the rest of the Land and its people. Will we finally see it? Will we finally act? Standing Rock is calling to us all.

Read also: Eco-justice at stake for Standing Rock people in USA (WCC news release, 7 November 2016)


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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