Reflections on Standing Rock

- Posted by Publications Committee in activism | 10 min read
Hundreds of people with red sign that says "Defend the Sacred"

Sacred Stone, Clean Water, Gathering People

By Shelley Tanenbaum, QEW General Secretary.

The gathering at Standing Rock, with more than 280 indigenous tribes represented, is historic and has been an inspiration to all of us. The ongoing gathering is being held to block construction of the Dakota pipeline that threatens water resources for the Lakota Sioux and everyone else in the Missouri River basin of the Dakotas. Plans are to stay all winter, stopping the pipeline and protecting the waters nearby. For information and suggestions on how you can help, consult www.sacredstonecamp.org.

There has been an ongoing discussion about the role of non-indigenous allies. In some cases, too many non-indigenous people are showing up, using resources, and causing problems. Many, however, have been present to serve as witnesses and allies/supporters, bringing supplies and helping out as needed. Recommendations for camping and doing service are listed on the sacredstonecamp.org website.

Several Friends have been present at the Sacred Stone site, some for as long as a month. I felt it was important that, in addition to individual Friends witnessing and doing service, Quaker organizations also be present, especially given our long and mixed history with native Americans. QEW approved a statement of solidarity and support in September (reprinted on page 10); our sister organization, FCNL, joined an interfaith statement (https://fcnl-production.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/123/9fa79558-3c0f-4087-b757-357e1c04c1a4.pdf?1476899142); and several Meetings have created their own statements and have sent supplies. AFSC has also just released a report you can read at https://www.afsc.org/story/afsc-stands-solidarity-standing-rock.

In November, three QEW Friends will be traveling to Standing Rock. I will be bringing our QEW statement; Judy Lumb will be bringing a statement of solidarity and a flag from the Garifuna indigenous people of Belize; and Carol Barta will be bringing supplies. We will be careful not to stress resources by sleeping off-site and we will stay only a few days. We hope to join in worship with the gathering. We will bring Quaker “greetings” from all of you.

* Illustration by Ernesto Yerena

QEW Statement of Support for Actions at Standing Rock, Sept 2016

Quaker Earthcare Witness is a North American-wide network of Friends (Quakers) and other like-minded people, who see the ecological and social crises of our times as matters of deep spiritual concern.

We are called to support the voices and actions of the more than 150 Tribal Nations at Sacred Stones Camp in North Dakota, and of others who have come forward to join them in peaceful protest, in protection of the water of the Missouri from the danger of contamination from a fossil fuel pipeline.

We see in the events at Sacred Stones Camp a clear example of how ecological and social concerns are blended in real life, when people take a stand to protect the Earth and themselves.

We are aware that the indigenous peoples of this continent have suffered greatly from the incursions of those bent on extracting resources, particularly fossil fuels, without regard for the life-ways and well-being of those peoples.  We see in this practice a directly connected disregard for the healthy functioning of the planetary systems on which we all depend.

We decry the use of violence against the protesters by private security forces, and we urge local civil authorities to protect the people from such violence, as they are sworn to do.

We endorse the August 30, 2016 minute of the Indian Affairs Committee of New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, appended below, and stand in solidarity with and gratitude to the Tribes and their supporters as they protest against the construction of the pipeline.

We encourage others to take non-violent action to oppose incursions on the lives and well-being of indigenous peoples and of our planet Earth, wherever they occur.

QEW, Sept. 8, 2016

Suggestions from the Standing Rock Sioux on ways to help: http://standingrock.org/news/call-for-support–stand-with-standing-rock/

The Minute from the Indian Affairs Committee, NYYM, August 30, 2016 is attached as a PDF below. Please download and share freely.

The Clear Stream of Reverence

By Katherine Murray.

When I was a little girl, I often sat beside my Great-Grandma Roos and listened to her stories of
living in Chickasha, Oklahoma just before and after the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893. This was Indian territory, and all those in and around the small settlement coexisted peaceably. She described watching the tribal leaders coming into town for “great pow-wows,” sitting close enough to the dignified procession that she could feel the puff of the air stirred up by the wagons rolling by.

She described with awe the majesty of the chiefs and the great sense of peace they embodied. As an animal lover herself, she cherished their reverent approach to everything living. She told me she felt the same way about animals and loved them all her life. As a child in Chickasha she had befriended a squirrel who would meet her on the way home from school each day, jump onto her shoulder, and scramble down to her pocket to get the bit of lunch she always saved for him.

Today, the headlines on social media tell the compelling and heartbreaking stories related to what’s unfolding at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Native Americans from a number of tribes and people of all ethnicities—as well as professional organizers, including the group from Black Lives Matter in Minnesota—have gathered peaceably at the site, trying to block construction on the Dakota Access pipeline that cuts through native lands. The pipeline runs the risk of damaging the reservation’s primary water source, but that is just one part of the larger issue. Not only does the river need to run clear, as the action points out; but people need to rediscover their source of reverence and seek a balance of right relationship with the earth.The tribes are calling for a spiritual deepening and an awareness of the current imbalance of justice; the action spotlights violations of early treaties and resource exploitation that has spanned many decades.

Quakers are participating in the peaceable protest at many levels, in terms of nonviolent protest training, daily support, prayerful consideration, or leading efforts in local meetings to raise awareness of the issue and contact elected officials with minutes of concern. This issue of BeFriending Creation is one of QEW’s responses in support of the effort toward right relationship that is unfolding at Standing Rock. In the coming weeks, several QEW members will also travel to Standing Rock, carrying a minute of support.

Quakers have a long history of advocating for justice among Native American issues. At the heart, I think of the kinship of spirit John Woolman related in his Journal, when the presence of divine love made it unnecessary for interpreters to translate his words for the tribal leader:

“On the evening of the 18th I was at their meeting, where pure gospel love was felt, to the tendering of some of our hearts. The interpreters endeavored to acquaint the people with what I said, in short sentences, but found some difficulty, as none of them were quite perfect in the English and Delaware tongues, so they helped one another, and we labored along, Divine love attending.
Afterwards, feeling my mind covered with the spirit of prayer, I told the interpreters that I found it in my heart to pray to God, and believed, if I prayed aright, he would hear me; and I expressed my willingness for them to omit interpreting; so our meeting ended with a degree of Divine love. Before the people went out, I observed Papunehang … speaking to one of the interpreters, and I was afterwards told that he said in substance as follows: “I love to feel where words come from.” (Woolman, 1883)

Seeking the clarity of right order and standing with those who suffer oppression and injustice is a common leading among Friends. We resonate with the call for dignity and reverence of those at Standing Rock, and we share a deep concern that the continuing objectification and exploitation of our living planet be stopped.

As I pray for God’s light for all involved at Standing Rock, I feel the presence of my own ancestors—especially my Great-Grandma Roos—helping to hold the space for justice to arise. I’m also aware of the future impression of my descendants seven generations from now, when I deeply hope our beloved planet and all life she supports will be treated with the dignity and reverence they so greatly deserve.

Good Intentions to Good Outcomes: Reflections on Quaker Relations with the Standing Rock Sioux

By Elizabeth Janssen Koopman, York Monthly Meeting, PA

Most Friends are aware of some of the early Quaker contacts with Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island; for example, with William Penn and John Woolman. Many of us have erroneously linked Quaker “good intentions” with good outcomes for Indigenous Peoples when, in actuality, those linkages are far from the truth. As many Friends today seek to achieve good outcomes for Indigenous Peoples, including those witnessing with the Standing Rock Sioux, I believe it is good that we reexamine some of our history with American Indians, learn from the dark shadows of our ethnocentric beliefs and practices, and become transformed in mind, spirit, and practice into effective and respectful allies—in this case with the Standing Rock Sioux as they take yet another stand to protect Mother Earth, sacred places, water, and treaty rights.

I have been greatly helped on my journey as a “Quaker among the Indians” by the work of Clyde Milner in his book, With Good Intentions: Quaker Work Among the Pawnees, Otos, and Omahas in the 1870’s (University of Nebraska Press, 1982). Although this book is largely a description of the practices and struggles of Quaker Indian agents after the Civil War, it also presents deeply important cultural Christian beliefs and societal contexts which undermined the so-called “good intentions” and which, I believe, may still subtly live in our minds and hearts today.

I present below some quotes from the final chapter, “Quaker Exit,” which illustrate the power of the Western views that continue for many of us today:

 

  • “What Dawes*, the Quakers, and other humanitarian reformers expected was an Indian ‘either/or’. Either the Indians would become successful farmers on individual homesteads, or they would pass away as outmoded relics of a ‘savage’ culture.” p. 197.
  • “The Hicksite Friends who worked with the Nebraska Indians wished the best for those natives, but only in terms of white cultural values. The Quakers wanted to end the influence of traditional native culture.” p. 198.
  • “Indeed, the Quakers’ good intentions merely demonstrated that they were part of the broader humanitarian reform movement of the day.
  • Although Friends proudly referred to their special heritage in Indian affairs, Quaker ideas of Indian progress in the 1870’s were part of a general consensus shared by other well intentioned whites. This white consensus insisted on Indian assimilation to white ways and signaled an intolerance for Indian culture which, at least for Friends, seemed in stark contrast to the romantic, popular image of William Penn and the tradition of Quaker friendship towards America’s Indians.” p. 199.

In my mind today, two truisms resonate: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” **, and those of us who remember our roots can find our wings. We as Friends can reflect on the historic errors of our ways and not repeat them as we seek healing and justice today. We can also find inspiration in the words and aspirations of Friend John Woolman: “Love was the first motion, and then a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of truth amongst them.”

The ramifications for my current faith and practice seem to be: (1) that I follow the leadership of the Standing Rock Sioux; for example, in giving financial help to them for maintenance of their witness; (2) that I continue to realize the continuing residues of my own ethnocentricity/Eurocentricity in my personal and spiritual thoughts and practices and seek to transform them; (3) that I continue to be in loving and respectful dialog with Indigenous and Quaker friends; and (4) that I give thanks each day for Mother Earth and All Our Relations.