It was a great privilege and an honor to travel to North Dakota this past week to take part in a gathering of over 500 clergy from at least 20 different faith traditions, along with indigenous peoples from well over 50 different tribes to stand together in solidarity for the Standing Rock Sioux in their fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from construction across their sacred land and waters. Together we heard testimonies, and witnessed to the injustices indigenous peoples have endured over the last 524 years since the Doctrine of Discovery was issued by papal bulls in the late 15th century.
In a sacred ceremony with tribal elders, faith leaders from several traditions publicly denounced and repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery that legitimized the colonization of non-Christian lands around the globe, allowing for over 500 years of abuse, slavery, genocide, broken treaties, and all manner of oppression of indigenous peoples.
The Doctrine of Discovery is still alive and well today. It was cited by the Supreme Court as recently as 2005 in the City of Sherrill, NY vs. the Oneida Nation. It is the precedent for corporate interests to so easily violate land treaties with the Dakota Sioux to lay a pipeline that threatens their sacred sites, their land, their water, and the water of millions of people across the continent.
Surprisingly, with so much at stake, and the violence that has occurred in this current dispute, this was the most peaceful, prayerful and grounded witness experience I’ve ever experienced. There were many poignant moments in the brief time we gathered on the golden plains of North Dakota under that warm, bright blue sky.
One experience that will stay with me the rest of my life was the Niobrara Circle. Over 500 clergy as well as tribal elders and honored guests created a giant circle at the location where so much conflict has taken place. There we engaged in a blessing ceremony. One person started, far on the other side of the circle from where I stood, by turning to the person on their left and offering a blessing: “Peace be with you.” That person responded: “And with you.” And so it continued around the entire circle, until every person had exchanged blessings with each and every person in the circle.
The blessings varied by tradition. Some took hands, some hugged. Regardless of faith tradition, personal trials and tribulations, cultural oppressions and privileges, and all manner of differences among us, we connected with loving kindness. We wished one another to be well, to be peaceful and at ease, to be whole.
What we shared that day was a common concern for the fate of our earth, and of all beings who share this blue boat home. A Navajo woman shared her testimony the night before. She urged that we must all practice deep forgiveness for the sins of the past, and remember that we are all one, that we all depend on one another for our very survival. “There is no ‘Planet B’ for us to move to” if this planet can no longer sustain us.
To create a sustainable planet, our shared home, our sacred “house” … we would do well to practice loving kindness so that all may be well, all may be peaceful and at ease, all may be whole.