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Veradale UCC pastor among 524 pastors at Standing Rock

By Gen Heywood

The morning of Thursday, Nov. 3, 524 clergy from across the country gathered with the water protectors at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation prayerfully, peacefully, nonviolently and lawfully to stand in solidarity.

On Oct. 25, the Rev. John Floberg, Episcopal priest at St. James Church in the Sioux Nation, put out a call for clergy to come to Standing Rock. He knew it was short notice. He wrote of how the situation was turning dangerous for the Water Protectors. He asked that clergy arrive Nov. 2 to have a training. On Thursday, November 3, clergy would stand with the people of Standing Rock.

Standing Rock Sioux have established a camp for water protectors to come to be in solidarity with their effort to stop pipeline. Photos courtesy of Gen Heywood

The call was made at the request of Chairman Dave Archambault II and other leaders.

Anyone who wanted to take control, act in anyway outside of these agreements was told not to come.

Fr. John hoped 100 clergy might come. The number kept rising. On Nov. 3, he declared that we had 524 leaders of 20 faith traditions. This number was one person for every year since the Pope issued the Doctrine of Discovery. The doctrine has been used to abuse indigenous peoples, their cultures and their land. 

Flags, banners, cars, teepees, and people are silhouetted by the rising sun.

On the morning of Nov. 3, we gathered around the sacred fire. Representatives of faiths that have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery read aloud the World Council of Churches’ document, calling all faiths to repudiate the doctrine.

A cheer went up from the clergy as the reading finished, highlighting that we support indigenous peoples of every land, ensuring their right to exist, live their culture, speak their own languages and practice their own sacred rites.

Then each church representative passed a copy of the Latin Doctrine of Discovery to a tribal elder who burned it before people of the faiths and the tribal nations who were gathered in that place. After this act of repentance, the clergy made the walk to the Water Protectors frontline.

The pipeline helicopter circled us all the time we were at the sacred fire. As we headed toward the front, the helicopter made smaller and smaller circles around us. One of the clergy asked a person from the camp if the helicopters were there all night.

“All day and all night,” was the answer. The clergy person responded that it must be very stressful. The answer was, “Very.”

When we reached the flatbed, which became the place from which many spoke, the helicopter began making smaller and smaller circles until it was over the speakers making it impossible to hear. 

That’s when I noticed the drone. It flew close enough for the camera lens to be seen clearly from the ground.  We seemed to have gained the concern of the police and the oil company, but not the attention of the press.

About 20 attended a vigil at Veradale UCC as Gen Heywood prepared to leave for the Standing Rock reservation - taking prayer candles.

There, at the frontline, we heard powerful testimonies, as well as prayers and scripture put to song. We confirmed that while we came from different faith traditions, we are one in our common support of the Sioux people and their right to their sacred sites, their water and their lives.

Atheists, Baha’i, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholics, Disciples of Christ, Druids, Episcopal, Jewish, Lutherans, Methodist, Muslim, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Unitarian, United Church of Christ, Wiccan and three more joined together on that day. 

At one point, as we were singing, one of the Water Protectors started yelling words shaming the police for what they were doing. Another person from the tribe went to him and talked him down from his anger.

Hot heads exist in every group and the request was that if someone was not able to keep peaceful, prayerful, non-violent and lawful, others were to step in to cool down the situation.  

There are even hotheads among the clergy.

Some wanted to take the actions of civil disobedience. Fr. John told them that was their right but not on Sioux land. They were to remember that we were there by invitation only as long as we kept prayerful, peaceful, non-violent and lawful.

This group of clergy left after our gathering and went to the Capital in Bismarck. There, they demanded to talk with Governor Jack Dalrymple. When he would not come out of his office, 14 of them sat down in the entrance praying and singing and promising to stay until he would speak with them. The Governor closed the capital, calling this a dangerous situation even though the clergy had no weapons and were sitting in prayer and song. Exaggeration of situations is common in North Dakota.

Indeed, those 14 clergy in the building were arrested. This made the news. The 524 peaceful clergy, the elders burning the Doctrine of Discovery, the gathering under the surveillance of a drone and helicopter were given no coverage by the common press. Only denominational newspapers understood the significance and historic value of this day.

As we prepared to leave the camp, the question was asked how to be of most support going forward.

The answer was first, to pray, and second, to send money to the Standing Rock Tribe, which spends more than $1,500 a day for the camp port-a-potties and trash removal, plus preparations for winter.  Checks may be sent to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Attention: Donations, PO Box D, Building #1, North Standing Rock Ave., Fort Yates, N.D. 58538 or at

Third, people can support the water protectors by going to visit, checking in upon arriving at the camp and letting people know why they are coming—to bring a donation, be an observer or join in prayers. The BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) police will escort away anyone who is not peaceful, prayerful, nonviolent and lawful.

No matter what happens next, tribes from all over the world have joined in support of the people at Standing Rock.

Indigenous nations that were enemies are now allies. This will not be turned back. Tribal people are finding their strength in solidarity.

Through that unity, their voice is being heard around the world even when it is barely heard at home.

One day, I can imagine my grandchildren visiting the site of the camps and a tour guide pointing out over the field and saying that this is where it all began. 

For information, call 509-926-7173.


Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ News © November-December 2016


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