Witnessing at Standing Rock Prayer Gathering

Witnessing at Standing Rock Prayer Gathering

There have been confrontations – some violent – between police and those protesting the building of an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. On November 3, those who gathered for an interfaith service to witness to the concerns of indigenous people could still see burnt-out vehicles from prior clashes.

But Miriam Casey, a parishioner at St. Patrick’s, Kenwood, who traveled to Cannon Ball, North Dakota, with fellow parishioner Kendall Brown, said she wasn’t ever afraid.

“I knew people at St. Patrick’s and our friends were praying for me and Kendall,” she said. “I knew it was God’s work and we needed to do it.”

More than 500 clergy and others responded to a call from the Rev. Canon John Floberg, the supervising priest for the Episcopal churches on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock, to gather for a peaceful day of prayer and to be public witnesses for reconciliation. Sioux members and indigenous people from around the world have gathered to protest what they say is a violation of treaty rights and sacred lands, and will also harm the area’s water.

A significant occurrence for Christian clergy and lay people participating in the event was the symbolic burning of a copy of the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a papal bull issued in 1493 by Pope Alexander XI. That document gave explorers the right to claim lands and convert, enslave or kill, indigenous people who lived there.

At the Diocese of Northern California’s annual convention, the Rev. Lewis “Sitting Panther” Powell spoke powerfully about the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and the necessary work of reconciliation. Last month, Powell visited the protesters, bringing with him Bishop Barry Beisner’s letter to the people of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

Powell plans to return soon, bearing the Convention’s offering of more than $4,200 in support of the witness at Standing Rock.

The Convention also affirmed Bishop Barry’s letter of support and passed a resolution saying it “stands in solidarity with your request for respect for sacred lands and your desire for the preservation of burial sites and other sacred places.”

The Rev. Carren Sheldon, Interim Rector, St. Martin’s, Davis, who was at the interfaith service in North Dakota, said that while Anglicans had long ago repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, “we haven’t stood face-to-face with people who were harmed by this and repudiated it and apologized.”

“It was important to me, as a clergy person, as a leader of the church, to try to make amends for some of the damage the church has done, so the church can be an agent of healing,” she said.

Casey was especially moved by the fact that people came from all over the world and from many different faith groups.

Even in the midst of peaceful prayer, there were reminders of the tensions between police and protesters.

“As we were listening to the prayers and singing, I heard a loud shout on the bridge, which startled all of us because it had been so quiet and prayerful,” Casey said.

Immediately, security from the Standing Rock Sioux nation went toward the bridge to form a barrier between those there for the prayer service and police. Clergy also went behind them to pray, she said.

Tensions were alleviated and the service went on.

“The peace of the Lord was with us,” Casey said.

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