Episcopalians join 'Native Nations' to protest pipeline in nation’s capital

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Mar 10, 2017

Hundreds if not thousands filled the streets of Washington, D.C., for the March 10 Native Nations Rise demonstration and rally. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Editor’s note: A photo gallery is here.

[Episcopal News Service – Washington, D.C.] Episcopalians and other people of faith who marched through a cold rain here March 10 in the Native Nations Rise demonstration and rally did so as part of a traditional pattern of prayer, then action.

North Dakota Bishop Michael Smith, who grew up in Oklahoma and is an enrolled Potowatomi, opened the March 9 Standing as Stone service at Washington National Cathedral. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

North Dakota Bishop Michael Smith opened a nearly two-hour prayer service March 9 at Washington National Cathedral on the eve of the march outlining the pattern. “For people of faith, working for justice includes both prayer and action. We pray and then we act, and then we pray again and we act, and we pray again and we act until the Creator God, who has made all that is, brings about that for which we work,” said Smith, an enrolled member of the Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma. “Tonight we pray; tomorrow we act.”

The next day, the Rev. Phyllis Manoogian, a deacon and Diocese of California missioner to Guatemala, wore a bright orange poncho to shield from the icy rain that fell as the march stepped off from in front of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ headquarters. She traveled to Washington, D.C., from the rural village near Antigua where she teaches indigenous women and their children, she said, because standing with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation epitomizes the call of the Jesus Movement.

“I think the Episcopal Church has been on the tail end of many social issues, and I think it’s important that we step up and be leaders, not followers,” she said as the protesters rounded the corner near the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters and moved down the block to pause outside of the new Trump International Hotel. “It’s part of the Christian ethos to care for others and to be good stewards of the Earth, and to love our neighbor.”

The march and rally drew hundreds of people from Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois and New York, as well as the Dakotas. As native protesters and their allies marched through downtown Washington, D.C., Energy Transfer Partners was at work back in North Dakota. Bolstered by a favorable court ruling on March 7, the company is planning to start pumping oil next week through the last section of the 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline. It recently punched that section under the Lake Oahe section of the Missouri River a half-mile off the Standing Rock Reservation.

A large Episcopal contingent joined the march in D.C. Lay people, priests and seminarians from nearby Virginia Theological Seminary carried signs and joined in call-and-response shouts proclaiming that they stand with Standing Rock and that children cannot drink oil.

The group included bishops with indigenous roots or ministry with indigenous peoples. In addition to Smith, Diocese of South Dakota Bishop John Tarrant, Diocese of Montana Assistant Bishop Carol Gallagher, Diocese of Navajoland Bishop David Bailey and Diocese of Alaska Bishop Mark Lattime marched.

Episcopalians, from left, Joshua Floberg, the Rev. Lauren Stanley, the Rev. Phyllis Manoogian, the Rev. John Floberg and John Michael Floberg carry the Episcopal flag during the March 10 Native Nations Rise demonstration and rally. Photo courtesy of Lauren Stanley

The 2-mile route ended in Lafayette Square across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Opponents stood in the street under the watchful but non-interfering eyes of the police. At least two black-clothed people watched the crowd from the White House roof.

As speakers voiced opposition to the pipeline at the rally, the Rev. Cornelia Eaton, a Navajoland priest who is in her second year at VTS, said that the Baptismal Covenant makes protecting water an essential job for Episcopalians.

“[The Baptismal Covenant] speaks to the spirit of who we are and how God has called us into living in this place of brokenness and challenges,” she said.

Episcopalians and indigenous people need to continue building relationships so that they begin to learn about each other and move into what her culture calls the “harmony way, the blessing way” of living with each other and the world, she said. “I believe that’s what God calls us to be and to become. That’s God’s desire for God’s people.”

The pipeline is poised to carry up to 470,000 barrels of oil a day from the Bakken oil field in northwestern North Dakota – through South Dakota and Iowa – to Illinois, for shipping to refineries. Sioux tribal leaders repeatedly expressed concerns over the potential for an oil spill that would damage the reservation’s water supply and the threat the pipeline posed to sacred sites and treaty rights. Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners says it will be safer and better than transporting oil by truck or railcar.

On Feb. 8, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages parts of the Missouri River and the surrounding land, gave Energy Transfer Partners permission to drill the pipeline’s final stretch. Permission came at the prompting of President Donald Trump who, in one of his first presidential actions, told the Corps to move the pipeline forward.

Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on March 7 rejected a tribal request to stop construction temporarily of the last section of the pipeline on religious grounds. Now, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes must wait for Boasberg to rule on the substance of their lawsuit, a ruling that may not come until April.

The Standing Rock Sioux Nation, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Native Organizers Alliance organized the Native Nations Rise march and the activities that preceded it. Those activities included a March 9-10 encampment of teepees in the shadow of the Washington Monument with speakers and cultural workshops, and the ecumenical and interfaith “Standing as Stone: Indigenous Nations and Allies Gather at the Washington National Cathedral” service the evening of March 9. Solidarity events happened around the country.

Some of the many Episcopalians who attended the March 10 Native Nations Rise demonstration and rally pose in Lafayette Square across from the White House. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and members from at least 11 Protestant denominations and affiliated groups supported the march and rally. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II asked the Rev. John Floberg, priest-in-charge of Episcopal congregations on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock, to lead the religious community’s solidarity activities.

The Episcopal Church has advocated with the Sioux Nation against the Dakota Access Pipeline’s route since summer 2016. Local Episcopalians have also provided a ministry of presence in and around Cannon Ball, North Dakota, the focal point for groups of “water protectors,” or pipeline opponents, that gathered near the Lake Oahe crossing. Those gatherings drew together members of close to 300 tribes in an unprecedented show of unity that resurrected the indigenous rights movement in the United States.

Organizers had three goals for this week’s events. The first was that Trump meet with tribal leaders to hear why the U.S. government must respect tribal rights. The second was to make the point that tribes must give their consent to such infrastructure developments as the Dakota Access Pipeline. Consultation with developers and government officials is not enough, they said. The third goal was to have a strong turnout of tribes and their allies in a show of support for tribal sovereignty aimed at protecting their homelands and the environment for future generations.

Two men in a group of drummers and singers from the Standing Rock Sioux Nation participate in the “Standing as Stone: Indigenous Nations and Allies Gather at the Washington National Cathedral” service. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The night before the march, indigenous drumming and song filled Washington National Cathedral, and the smell of sweetgrass smudging hung in the air throughout the prayer service.

The service symbolized Christian churches’ efforts to reconcile with native people, said the Rev. Brandon Mauai, a deacon in the Diocese of North Dakota and former member of the Episcopal Church Executive Council.

“Every denomination has shown some support in trying to reconcile with the people,” he said, adding that activism surrounding the pipeline has spurred those efforts.

“That’s the direction that we — the church — need to continue going in” and indigenous people need to work with the churches’ intentions, he said. “We — the church — will continue to work for the rights of the people, the original people of this land, for the rights of all people.”

Balancing Sioux spiritual traditions with those of the church are always hard, Mauai acknowledged.

He said he has been on both sides, witnessing the trauma inflicted on indigenous people in the name of spreading Christianity and then serving on church governing bodies trying to decide best how to reconcile with those harmed by that legacy.

Worshippers experienced the embodiment of part of the Episcopal Church’s long association with the Sioux nations in the person of Faith Spotted Eagle, a relative of Vine Deloria Sr., a Standing Rock Sioux and the first tribal member ordained an Episcopal priest, and his son, Vine Jr., a noted theologian and author ofCuster Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto.” Until the day of the service Spotted Eagle had only heard of but never seen the statue of the elder Deloria, who is one of very few Americans included in the reredos of the cathedral’s high altar.

The Rev. Vine Deloria Sr., who was a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the first of his tribe to be ordained an Episcopal priest, is one of just a few Americans commemorated on the reredos of Washington National Cathedral’s high altar. Photo: Washington National Cathedral

When the Episcopalians first came to the Sioux reservations, Spotted Eagle told the congregation, the native people recognized some commonality because both they and the Episcopalians appreciated ceremony. In the Episcopal Church, she said, the Sioux found a spiritual practice to stand alongside their traditional beliefs and practices; beliefs and practices that had gone underground when some Christians forced them to choose between the two.

“Our ancestors have done some work together,” said Spotted Eagle, to bring together native people and their allies. “I’m sure that the ancestors are going to be celebrating” as they see people marching together through the streets of the capital.

The entire service is viewable below. The liturgy begins at the 1-hour, 40-minute, 21-second mark.


– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is senior editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (20)

  1. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    Yet another example of the pathetic politicization of the Episcopal Church which ultimately will result in its total demise. Is it beyond hope that more decent traditionalist Episcopalians will speak out in protest before it’s too late?

  2. M. J. Wise says:

    It’s never been explained to me why the pipeline was to be protested, unless the EC is, I guess, anti-energy or something similarly strange. The science is that pipelines are one of the safer ways to transport energy. Plus the safety of a pipeline is an engineering and scientific question, not a theological one. The courts that heard arguments over this never even gave the time of day to any argument that there was some violation of tribal sovereignty, which pieces like this never acknowledge. This whole episode has been like a leftist version of trying to supplant science with religion. Aren’t we supposed to use reason? Oh well, it’s not like we have an iota of political clout in this country anyway, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

  3. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    If the Presiding Bishop and his entourage want to move permanently into teepees, that would be just fine with me!

    1. walter woodson says:

      Heep how, Kemosahbee. The ECUSA was once a wonderful place for prayerful thought. Now it’s just one more far left fringe group, using “God” as the battering ram against reason, faith and tolerance.


      1. Gsil Warnecke says:

        Please tell me your belief system, and I’ll try to respect you and treat you and your beliefs with the dignity that my EpiscopaL tradition has taught me to try to do.

  4. Lauren R. Stanley says:

    To those who do not understand why the Episcopal Church is engaged in this protest, or in any protest that some deem “political,” may I respond:
    1. The Gospel, my friends, IS political, in that it is concerned about the “polis” – the community – and is concerned about the people and how the government treats the people. Our Baptismal Convenant asks us to seek justice and to respect the dignity of every human being. The Church is involved in this protest, as in so many others, because the Church actually DOES respect the dignity of every human being and it DOES seek justice, both of which are sorely lacking when it comes to Native people in this country.
    2. This protest is not about oil per se, nor is it about energy per se. It is about how the Native people, particularly the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, are being treated by an energy company and a state (North Dakota) that adamantly refused to work with the Tribe (which is not opposed to energy development at all), intentionally rammed the pipeline through sacred burial grounds, moved the so-called “safe” pipeline from just north of majority-white Bismarck because it was deemed unsafe to put a pipeline under the river there (in case of leaks) to within yards of the Standing Rock Reservation (where, apparently, it doesn’t matter if the Native peoples have to suffer from a leak), and then how the State of North Dakota brutalized the water protectors because it could.
    3. If the Church will not stand up for the people, who, pray tell, will?
    4. Do not Native peoples deserve the same respect as any other people in this world?
    5. How is it “far left” to uphold God’s commandment to love our neighbors?
    6. How is it “pathetic” to proclaim the Gospel by word and deed?
    7. The Episcopal Church is involved in this action, as in so many others, because this is what God is calling us to do. The Gospel is not about sitting in our churches simply praying the world gets better; the Gospel calls us to ACT to make the world a better place.
    The Rev. Dr. Lauren R. Stanley
    Superintending Presbyter, Rosebud Episcopal Mission (West)
    Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

    1. Margaret Brack says:

      THANK YOU!!! You answered all of the doubters accusations with very clear and grounded doctrine! Someone needed to do it and the Holy Spirit sent the perfect messenger – YOU!!

  5. Janet Morrison says:

    The plan for the DAPL is to transport some of the dirtiest oil through sacred lands of Native Americans. The possibility of the pipeline is very real. There have already been instances where the pipeline has ruptured. Would you want oil spilled in the rivers or lakes where your drinking water comes from? Would you want a pipeline constructed through a cemetery where your loved ones are buried? How is protecting the earth and water that God has entrusted to our care not a mission of the church, including the Episcopal Church. This is not so much a political issue as it is doing what God has instructed us to do – care for the earth and one another. Is this really not something traditional Episcoplians believe?

  6. The Rev. John H. Spruhan says:

    I am sad about the first four comments above. This is not a leftest conspiracy. It is an act of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ in South and North Dakota. The majority of Episcopalians in those Dioceses are enrolled members of several federally recognized tribes. We are supporting our own people by protesting with them. I served on the Rosebud Reservation for 13 years. I feel this event, which the Episcopal Church supported with a service at the National Cathedral, as well as with people coming from all over the country, is a high point of our church participating in the Jesus Movement.

  7. Fr. John Floberg says:

    In reality this is a very conservative movement because it is based on a strict reading of the Constitution which reads that Treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land. When the actions of the United States fulfill thise Treaty Obligations Native Tribes are protected. When a Presidential Order or Act of Congress fails to fulfill Treaty Obligations we are not following our most Supreme Law. In the case of DAPL the Tribe was not adequately consulted about matters that pertain to their Treaty Rights and the Missiuri River and these unceded lands.

  8. Vicki Gray says:

    How sad those first four comments by those who pine for the “once wonderful” Church of “decent traditionalists”…presidents, titans of industry, and all the powers-that-be…hardly the crowd Jesus hung with. Jesus’ Movement – then and now – was and is both profoundly spiritual and profoundly political. The link – in Jesus’ ministry and ours – between faith and politics is a not only justified, but necessary.  For both politics and religion concern themselves with social relationships, how we relate to one another, how we will shape our societies.  And good politics, like good religion, seeks to shape a just society.  Are we not called to “strive for justice and peace among all people” and to “respect the dignity of every human being?” It a call that has animated every liberation movement and compels us still to carry our faith into the public square. It is called building the Kingdom of God…brick by brick, broken shackle by broken shackle.

    In closing, I feel compelled to hold up Phyliss Manoogian – the one in the orange poncho. A deacon missioner in Guatemala and in the midst of this struggle in Standing Rock and Washington, she has responded to this call in ways that inspire.

  9. Terry Francis says:

    The trouble with your argument Vicki, is who decides what is good politics and good religion? The Jesus Movement, as progressives like yourself like to call it, may have a slightly different interpretation in the eyes of a conservative. Your interpretation of a just society may be different from a conservative’s. If conservatives march in protest in front of an abortion clinic would you consider that “good politics” or “good religion”? Probably not. If Christian conservatives carry their interpretation of their faith into the public square, would you at least respect them for doing that even if you don’t agree with them? Progressives do not have a monopoly on compassion, or a desire to have a just society. We just think there are other ways of achieving it besides jumping on every leftist cause that crops up. The problem Vicki, is people like yourself think that your methods of achieving that just society are the only legitimate ways of doing it.

  10. Bill Louis says:

    Wheter you realize it or not we are all paying the Episcopal Church to lobby for Leftist causes through the pledges we make to support our local churches. The income the EDUSA makes from the local church helps to to finance the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations, a department within the Church that supports Advocacy and Social Justice. The department is staffed with 9 people with an average salary of $114, 657 with a budget of $727,000 for 2016-2018. Their budget was approved at the 2015 convention. The link below is an example of what they do and you all are paying for it!!!! Why is the Episcopal Church still a tax exempt Organization? The greater church has become nothing more than a lobbying organization for every Leftist cause that comes down the pike.
    See here:

  11. Beth Arnold says:

    Anyone who can not see or understand the importance of this protest, particularly those who know the dangers of an oil leak, need to learn a lesson in empathy and compassion to mankind!

  12. Terry Francis says:

    So all the people who disagree with you on this issue lack compassion and empathy Beth? Typical judgemental reaction of a progressive. Typical, but sadly not surprising.

  13. Rich Basta says:

    A Prayer for the Bakken Pipeline:

    Dear Jesus, you came so that we may have life and have it in abundance. Thank you for the blessings of abundant oil, which comes from deep within the womb of the Earth, our island home. Bless the oil company workers as they harvest the oil safely for our use. We were anointed with oil at our baptism, and so we know it is a symbol of your love and warmth. May those who benefit from its production have a living wage to lessen the burden of income inequality. May the schools funded from the taxes on this resource be centers of growth and renewal for our children. Give strength and alertness of mind to those who stand watch over the pipeline to ensure that the rest of your creation is not spoiled beyond our capability to restore it. This we ask in your name. Amen.

  14. Pjcabbiness says:

    Energy, employment, economic development, and the prudent use of capital that will result in a wide range of benefits to many. It takes a real Marxist, theological revisionist, eco fascist twist of thinking to oppose the pipeline.

    1. Rich basta says:

      Indeed it does pjcabbiness. Have you noticed that there has also been no formal apology from bishop curry ,rev John floberg, or rev Stanley for providing material aid and comfort for the water protectors who left 835 industrial size dumpsters of trash across three camps in their zeal to protect the environment. 12 abandoned dogs too. 22 million in taxpayer funds for law enforcement as well. If they did apologize I stand corrected. Be ware the company you keep and those whom you physically declare solidarity with.

  15. Pjcabbiness says:

    Excellent observation and analysis Rich Basta!

Comments are closed.