As minister from the UU congregation closest to Standing Rock, I have important news. In a sea of injustice, it is very good news.
Since the Water Protector camps went up in 2016, the movement at Standing Rock has been hailed as world-changing, showing us what prayerful resistance to contemporary forms of colonialism, like the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), can look like – and how crucial it is to maintain our commitment to the water and to one another, even as DAPL ultimately got pushed through Indigenous treaty lands. And even today, Indigenous-led resistance continues from Standing Rock to organizing to Stop the Bayou Bridge Pipeline and beyond
Before the Water Protector camps at Standing Rock were forcibly evacuated last year, UUs showed up – you showed up – with your bodies, resources, and prayers. As UUs, whether we came to camp or participated from home, we knew what solidarity looked like.
Overwhelmingly, we were welcomed as relatives – and experienced as relatives.
Today, as this strong relationship continues, seven Water Protectors – our relatives – are either in or facing federal prison. Literally as I write, hearings are taking place here in Bismarck, ND, where jury polls show that a fair trial isn’t possible.
No, the imprisonment of Indigenous Water Protectors is not the good news.
The good news is this:
At our UU General Assembly this June, in a nearly unanimous vote, delegates from our congregations adopted an important Action of Immediate Witness. This AIW honors the Indigenous-led Water Protector movement – and calls on UUs everywhere to engage in continued solidarity, especially considering the human rights violations of those who face federal imprisonment.
This AIW was suggested, co-crafted, and approved by the Water Protectors who were facing federal imprisonment as our General Assembly convened. In fact, Little Feather, Red Fawn, Rattler, and their loved ones have expressed their gratitude to us for this act of solidarity.
This AIW – and living into its promises – is one way we express our gratitude to them.
We can’t predict where our relatives will be serving their time. They won’t be here in Bismarck; that’s all we know. That means, in the coming months and years, depending on where you live, you could be needed:
To provide home stays for family members of inmates.
To make prison visits to those who are miles from home.
To write letters to those who are doing years of time.
To donate funds or other supplies to those whose supports don’t last.
Always, to offer ongoing prayers.
For an update on the movement and a chance to deepen your involvement, please sign up for a Zoom call here, to be held on Thursday, September 13 at 5 PM PST/8 PM EST. We have the honor of being joined on the call by Michael "Rattler" Markus (federal defendant), Olive Bias (Rattler's partner), and Leoyla Cowboy (Michael "Little Feather" Giron's wife).
In the meantime, you may hear from me – or others in this movement – about emerging needs in your vicinity. I continue to be grateful to you for all the ways you are showing up.
In fact, showing up in this moment is exactly what relatives do. Thank you, thank you.
Rev. Karen Van Fossan
Bismarck-Mandan Unitarian Universalist Congregation
Bismarck, North Dakota