|By Rev. Ann Willever, Community Minister
On November 2 I left Boston at 5 a.m. bound for Cannon Ball, North Dakota in response to a call for clergy to gather for a day of protective witness with the Standing Rock Sioux. I met up with a colleague in Minneapolis and we shared the 8 hour drive arriving around 7:30 pm for the logistics meeting. More than 500 clergy representing many faith traditions from around the country filled the gym in Cannon Ball and 55 were Unitarian Universalists. We stood out in our bright yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” stoles and shirts.
During the welcome one of the native elders thanked us for being there and shared that they “knew” we would come, they had been praying for it for some time. They were feeling invisible, and indeed the national media coverage of the events happening at Standing Rock has been pitiful. The elders had faith that our presence would somehow make a difference and I believe it did, in many ways. On Thursday, November 3 we gathered at 9 am at the sacred fire where leaders of the various faith traditions, including our own UUA President, the Rev. Peter Morales, read a repudiation of the “Doctrine of Discovery”. If you’re not familiar with it, please google it. Afterward the faith leaders presented a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery to the native elders, and it was ceremonially burned. A powerful statement!
Then we marched together, all 524 clergy and many more who had come to bear witness, from the camp down to the river. We sang as we walked. Our promise was to be peaceful, prayerful and non-violent. No civil disobedience was encouraged. As we gathered in a circle to listen to various speakers, a law enforcement helicopter hovered overhead, making it impossible to hear and so we gathered closer. The number of law enforcement vehicles on the far side of the bridge seemed ample to quell a minor revolution. It was chilling. Knowing that there had been a violent confrontation between the water protectors and law enforcement just a week earlier kept us wary.
It is impossible, after coming face to face with these individuals, who are struggling to protect the water, for the right of survival, to turn away.
It is impossible, after gazing at the contours of the land, at the beauty of the river just north of the camp, to imagine an oil pipeline running beneath it.
It has been impossible since I have returned and witnessed recent horrific images of law enforcement cruelty toward water protectors, not to pick up the phone or draft an email to those who have the power to stop this Dakota Access pipeline. President Obama, the Army Corps of Engineers, the banks who are providing financial backing.
Our seventh principle reminds us that we are part of the interdependent web of existence. We are all connected. We forget that at our peril.