[Episcopal News Service] Following on his Aug. 25 statement supporting the protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is inviting Episcopalians to help support the Diocese of North Dakota as it ministers to the protesters.
That support, Curry and other Episcopal Church staffers said, could take the form of immediate help for the costs being incurred on the ground in the three protest camps on and near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and advocacy actions that can be taken to support the protesters’ concerns.
Organizers have indicated that they are in urgent need of portable toilets and roll-off trash containers. Their expenses include food that is prepared on site, health care and gasoline to reach the remote site, which has been made harder to reach by a law-enforcement roadblock set up on the main highway. Local parishes and congregations are providing material and spiritual resources to support to the protesters, and are in turn supported by the diocese.
“We have seen the resiliency of the protesters in Standing Rock, and as Bishop Curry stated, we are called to stand with them for all our sakes,” said Heidi Kim, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for racial reconciliation. “As Christians, I believe that one way we can demonstrate our solidarity is to help the clergy and congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota provide pastoral care and support. They are actively involved with supporting protesters’ immediate physical and spiritual needs, and they could use our help.”
Financial donations are being accepted by the diocese, according to the Rev. John Floberg, canon missioner for the Episcopal Church community on the Standing Rock reservation, who serves three congregations in the North Dakota part of the reservation: St. Luke’s in Fort Yates, St. James’ in Cannon Ball and Church of the Cross in Selfridge. “Money is best,” he said, “because we can purchase everything here or pay bills here that are incurred.”
Such donations can be made to the diocese via the “donate” button on its web page, referencing “Standing Rock” or “NODAPL.” They can also be mailed to the diocese at 3600 25th St. South, Fargo, ND 58104
Floberg said material donations are also acceptable but only those officially requested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Currently, those requests include jackets and hoodies, blankets, tents and infant formula. Nighttime temperatures are dropping into the 50s and there could be frost in early September, he said
Floberg can transport material donations to the camps and ensure their proper distribution and use. People wishing to make these sorts of donations must email him first at email@example.com to arrange shipment.
The protesters oppose the 1,154-mile pipeline that would run from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, carrying as much as 570,000 barrels of oil a day. The pipeline would cross Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River, just a half-mile from the reservation. Opponents say the pipeline will threaten the reservation’s drinking water and disturb sacred lands. The action has attracted the attention of celebrities such as Susan Sarandon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Divergent star Shailene Woodley, as well as from organizations such as the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations.
The protests, which succeeded this month in halting work on that part of the pipeline, are being compared to some of the most momentous events in American Indian history, and the Diocese of North Dakota has rallied behind the cause. It issued a statement of support Aug. 19 and diocesan members have been in the three protest camps helping build a unified presence and helping with material needs such as food.
Advocacy in support of the protesters’ goal is another way Episcopalians can help, according to Jayce Hafner, the Episcopal Church’s domestic policy analyst who works in the church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations and the Rev. Charles Allen Wynder Jr., a deacon, who is the church’s missioner for social justice and advocacy engagement
They said Episcopalians can:
* Contact their Congressional representatives and senators to ask them to request the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers do a complete environmental assessment that looks at the full implications of the pipeline that includes impact to the reservation and honors the treaty obligations (the people of Standing Rock are challenging the adequacy of process and content of the Corps’ environmental assessment issued in July.
* Ask the Army Corps of Engineers directly to do a complete environmental assessment that looks at the full implications of the pipeline that includes impact to the reservation and honors the treaty obligations; and
* Contact the U.S. Department of Justice and ask officials to monitor the nature and use of police and possible military equipment during the standoff.
Floberg said the protesters are living in three distinct camps on the north and south side of the mouth of the Cannonball River, a Missouri River tributary. The Camp of the Sacred Stones on the south side of the river on the Standing Rock reservation began in the spring when word of the pipeline’s construction began to emerge. Earlier this month “many more people starting coming” and a new camp sprung up on the north side of the river on some Corps-owned land. Protesters from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota joined the protest and formed a third camp. All three camps are near the town of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, home to St. James Episcopal Church.
While there are three distinct encampments “there’s no competition between these camps; they’re all together,” Floberg said.
More than 4,000 protesters have been in the camps at times and there has been a continuing presence more than 600, according to Floberg.
The protesters have been speaking out on social media about the lack of attention paid to the protest by national news media. While the New York Times recently reported on the protest, few other outlets have followed suit.
Floberg noted the six-week takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year by a group of armed anti-government militants garnered daily reporting by most major media.
“Those guys had weapons but they were far fewer in number – and they were consistently on the news,” he said. “This is a peaceful protection protest going on, and the national news just doesn’t seem to notice. That’s just been terribly disappointing.”
Floberg also countered what he said has been “a significant amount of misinformation” given out by government officials. “It’s been tearing apart the fabric of a common life of Native and non-Native people,” he said.
Native people have been referred to as “thugs” and been portrayed as “being engaged in unlawful activity,” he said. The Morton County sheriff said the roadblock on Highway 1806 was erected because there had been reports of gunfire, reports Floberg said have not been substantiated.
The sheriff, Floberg said, also claimed he had been told that there were reports of “pipe bombs” in the camps. Floberg said when Lakota people gather they have people known as pipe carriers who pray for the people with the sacred pipe that is “loaded” with tobacco. That ritual of “loading their pipes” has been twisted into saying the protesters are making pipe bombs, he said.
Floberg said, “It seems like there’s little regard for the truth because they’re trying to put pressure on this camp and squeeze any public support and sentiment to squelch that.”
“So I as an Episcopal priest am unable to have unfettered access to where I serve as a priest,” Floberg said, referring to St. James in Cannon Ball. “I have to drive an extra 40 miles from that roadblock” to get to church or to the “protection site” where he has been ministering.
He said he has protested to police officers at the roadblock that his First Amendment rights to free speech, assembly, and to practice his religion are being denied.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.