When word began to spread at Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock on the afternoon of Sunday, December 4th, there was skepticism. The Army Corps of Engineers, some were saying, was about to announce that it was denying the permit which would have allowed the final sections of the Dakota Access Pipeline to be completed.
Just twenty minutes later, when Dave Archambault II, Chairman of Standing Rock, announced that this hope was indeed true, elation spread among the thousands of people gathered in support of environmental justice and the sovereign rights of the Native people. Success! At least for the time being.
Since April 2016, the encampments at Standing Rock, supported by at least 200 indigenous tribes in North America whose flags were lining the roads within the camp, had been a place of prayer, reflection and direct action. In early November, 500 clergy, over 50 of them Unitarian Universalists, had answered the call to come to Standing Rock. Now, a month later, many of us – numbers yet unknown -- were gathered responding to the invitation from Chief Arvol Looking Horse.
--I came in response to the invitation by Chief Arvol Looking Horse who asked that religious leaders come to “support our youth, to stand side by side with them, to pray with them”.
-- I came to stand in solidarity with thousands of others who had gathered to support the Native communities, particularly the Lakota people, on whose land the Dakota Access Pipeline was being built.
--I came to acknowledge the work that was being done by the members and friends of the UU Congregation and Fellowship Bismarck-Mandan and its minister Rev. Karen Van Fossan.
What stood out to me from my early morning arrival was the way everyone worked together to make things happen. Everybody pitched in. Knowing that many of my UU colleagues would be present, I searched for the Interfaith Life Yurt, that was to become the place of rest and restoration for people of faith. A young woman walked me to the door a hundred yards away, weaving through tipis and yurts. A faithful UU volunteer, David Sneeden, at the encouragement of Terri Wilkerson, volunteer interfaith yurt coordinator, had taken it upon himself to paint the doorway entrance with the religious symbols of many faiths. Hundreds of lawyers were present to provide free legal services to those needing them. 2,000 military veterans arrived from all over the country to provide protection. Volunteer medical professionals were on hand to provide care. Food, water, and personal items were being handed out at no cost by those simply wishing to be helpful.
This victory at Standing Rock is hardly the end. Court decisions and actions from a new administration in Washington, DC, may undermine this victory. The Water Protectors have demanded NO Dakota Access Pipeline, which means for those of us who seek to show up in solidarity, our work and organizing will continue. We may be called to return again.
But I hope yesterday’s win at Standing Rock marks the beginning of further sustained solidarity with Native led organizing toward sovereignty and autonomy. I am confident that those of us Standing on the Side of Love will continue the work to harness love’s power to stop oppression.