MA Episcopalians stand with Standing Rock against pipeline

Fifteen clergy and lay people from the Diocese of Massachusetts traveled to North Dakota in the first week of November to join the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, environmental activists and people from a variety of faith traditions who oppose completion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline because of potential water contamination risks and destruction of sacred cultural sites. 

They joined more than 500 faith leaders from across the country who responded to the call of the Rev. John Floberg, the Episcopal priest of churches on the North Dakota side of the pipeline.

Floberg urged religious leaders to come to Standing Rock to make a peaceful witness after  protests were met with violence in late October.  He wrote: “In recent days, the repressive power of the state has increased: armed riot police are guarding ongoing pipeline construction, increased arrests and repression of nonviolent prayerful action. At the same time, Oceti Sakowin water protectors have reclaimed land never relinquished by treaty directly in the path of the pipeline and established a new camp.  Our duty as people of faith and clergy could not be clearer: to stand on the side of the oppressed and to pray for God’s mercy in these challenging times.”

Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry traveled to Standing Rock in September to offer support and solidarity. Curry called the gathering “the new Selma,” and his statement was echoed by the Episcopal bishops of North and South Dakota. 

Many of the Massachusetts Episcopalians who traveled to Standing Rock attended Diocesan Convention and shared some photos and impressions from their time in North Dakota.

Standing Rock Mass group Courtesy Photo The Diocese of Massachusetts group who joined the Nov. 3 Standing Rock action

The Rev. Dorothella Littlepage, the director of the Roxbury-Dorchester Mission Hub, shared how the day of action on Nov. 3 began with a repudiation of the “doctrine of discovery,” a legal concept that has historically been used to justify the taking of native lands.  Representatives of each denomination present read the doctrine and a statement of repudiation. ENS Standing Rock Episcopal News Service: Lynette Wilson Eliza Marth, an Episcopal Service Corps fellow in Massachusetts, is smudged as she leaves the Oceti Sakowin Camp to march with pipeline opponents.

“The elders then burned that document in the fire, symbolizing that [the discovery doctrine] is not how Christ called us to be,” Littlepage told the convention. 

The Rev. Noah Evans, Rector of Grace Church in Medford, attended the action at Standing Rock, and was struck by the sharp contrast between heavily militarized police presence and the peaceful gathering of native people from many different tribes. 

In a report published in the Medford Transcript, Evans wrote: 

“People at the camp refer to everyone as ‘relatives.’ Everyone at the camp is fed and given shelter. Donations of food, clothing, tents and supplies are constantly being delivered from across the country. An elder over a loudspeaker calls out when someone needs a ride or other help, to connect them to those who can provide assistance. There are workshops for healing from trauma and addiction. People from different Native American tribes are finding connection, healing, purpose and cultural revival through the life of the camp. It is a stark contrast to the violence being done on the hill above, violence against the earth and against native peoples.”

As of Nov. 16, pipeline construction is temporarily on hold, according to a Nov. 14 statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “The Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation's dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship and the statute governing easements through government property,” the statement read. 

Despite this momentary pause, the struggle for water rights is far from over, in North Dakota and elsewhere, Littlepage said at Diocesan Convention. “As we were leaving, we realized our work is not over,” she said. “The water is still in danger. We know that our water here in Massachusetts is in danger, that there are water issues all over the country.” 

“I have found that there are moments in a life of faith, and life as a citizen, where we have to stand with a larger community in solidarity with people who are being marginalized, and this is one of those moments,” Evans wrote in the Medford Transcript report. 

The Diocesan Convention on Nov. 5 approved a courtesy resolution to "continue our tradition of mutuality and familial relationship between the Episcopal Church and the people of Standing Rock by joining in solidarity alongside them in continued prayer and action in defense of clean water and the sanctity of their land."

Episcopal City Mission offers several ways that concerned Episcopalians can take action on the Dakota Access pipeline.  Learn more here. 

--Ellen Stuart Kittle