Toni Buffalo, a Lakota Christian leader in the United Church of Christ, shares why allies of all races must support protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline. “This is not just an Indian issue,” she writes. “The Missouri supplies water to millions of people downstream. Protect water at all costs. Nothing can live without it.” She lifts up the Lakota phrase “Mni Wiconi:” water is life.
And this week whole I have been watching the Native-led resistance campaign to block a crude oil pipeline that would cross the Missouri River in two places with potentially disastrous consequences. Tribal leaders allege the Army Corps of Engineers gave approval without the consideration of tribal rights, burial and archaeological sites, or environmental impact.
I’ve watched drone footage scanning over the Great Plains, filming a part of the country most have never visited, and if they did they were likely driving through to see Mount Rushmore. As the camera silently pans over a typical construction site, we begin to see something unusual about this place. The heavy machinery seems frozen in place. A crowd gathers, with more trucks and horses and people coming from all four directions. This is no ordinary day on the Dakota Access Pipeline.
I’ve watched iphone videos posted by protesters on social media show that this growing crowd is anything but silent. Flags wave in the harsh prairie wind: American flags, tribal flags, environmental flags, a rainbow flag. Above the sound of the wind, we hear drumming, a Lakota honor song. We watch the faces of allies who don’t know the words, but stand in reverence, hearing for the first time the original prayers of this continent.
As a Christian and as a White ally of Lakota friends on those front lines, I am compelled to witness to the interrelatedness of all life through the water given by the Creator.
Lakota theology is based on the understanding that we literally are all relatives, even those of us who, like me, descended from the colonizers. We all need clean air. We all need water. Talk about intersectionality.
Pipeline battles are bring fought at the intersections of race, class, and the environmental movement, issues which many of our churches claim to take seriously in these days. We are challenged by Black Lives Matter and the global economic analysis of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything.
We follow Bill McKibben on Twitter.
Crucial: Legal fund for indigenous communities blocking pipeline construction at edge of Sioux reservation in N Dak https://t.co/W4E5c39dVk
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) August 15, 2016
But after a week of watching the protest I had to ask myself: as a person of faith am I prepared to do more than watch as indigenous-led environmental struggles unfold on the land most vulnerable to climate change and oil spills?
Will my own faith community grasp in time that all our lives depend on this intersection where water, land, and human life meet?
I know we can stop them. If you think it’s hopeless, that oil companies are just too powerful…think again. We are making steady progress all the time.
In Minnesota, where I live, the Calgary-based oil company Enbridge was forced to abandon plans to build their pipeline to transport fracked oil through Minnesota, where powerful, committed Native-led resistance has finally won the day.
This comes just a year after the defeat of the Keystone XL Pipeline, one of the greatest victories of the movement. Yet these local climate and water struggles continue at the expense of some of the most impoverished communities in the US.
After giving up on Minnesota, Enbridge pledged to buy into the Dakota Access Pipeline through North and South Dakota, an insulting display of power against the treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux and other nations who fear their sovereignty is at risk.
In solidarity with the Buffalo family and all those gathered at the Sacred Stone Camp, I am making the shift from being a spectator in this struggle to an ally. If you would like to join me, here are a few things you and your church can do from right where you are:
1. Get informed!
Network news just took notice of this story, but the Sacred Stone Camp has been actively protesting the pipeline since April. Watch for alternative news sources closer to the Native community, such as Indian Country Today Media Network. Notice who is granted authority to tell the story. Notice whose story you have been taught to believe or treat with suspicion.
2. Contact the White House!
Click here for a petition. It’s literally the least you can do and it makes a difference!
Most of our denominations have partnerships with faith-based organizations that can help us mobilize our communities to act. If you don’t already have such a partnership, check out Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light’s page on ways to show up in solidarity with the Sacred Stone Camp in ND.