An Update from Standing Rock

Left: Many flags at Oceti Camp denote nations and groups revealing a strong value on relationship and affiliation. Right: Episcopal Priest Rev. John Floberg addresses a larger than expected crowd. Floberg, who put out a call for clergy to come to Standing Rock, had hoped for 100 to come; closer to 500 responded.

Originally posted to the PNW UMC Board of Church & Society’s Facebook Page.

It is 5am here and the Water Ceremony at Standing Rock Oceti Camp begins in an hour. Last night more than 500 people overflowed the school gymnasium in the tinytown of Cannon Ball, ND. This is the response of clergy and seminary students from all over the country to Rev. John Floberg’s call for a show of support. Our immediate host is the Episcopal Diocese here and Rev. Floberg and Bishop Michael Smith.

Our main hosts are the people of Standing Rock who are fighting for their right to this sacred part of Earth that is their home. We have denied them this sanctuary with a fracked gas pipeline now just feet from the river and guarded by military–yes, I said military. Our beloved public servants are dressed in military gear and are using military weapons, so I am not sure of what else to call them.

I arrived at Oceti Camp yesterday right before a lockdown of the camp. All children and elderly had just been ordered out by the elders. I was told simply to be in the camp was to risk arrest. There was a fear that the military police might roll through this camp to clear it. If I were to be arrested, it would seem to my family as if I had simply disappeared, so I wrote the number for jail support in black sharpie on my arm at the recommendation of the legal team–there is a tent here with forms to try to track and assist those who are injured and arrested.

The camp breathed relief when the immediate danger passed a couple of hours later, but there was still conflict ongoing.

I don’t know if this was intended to escalate and disrespect, but the military police set up surveillance on a hill overlooking the camp that is a burial site. They are visible and aggressive. In protest, a group of protectors and allies went to pray and explain why they should not be there–think if there were military police digging in and occupying your church or churchyard cemetery.

The police response was rubber bullets and mace. The worst occurred as I was driving in so there were ambulances that passed me as I drove to the gates.

The camp itself is lovely. The sacred fire is tended by tribal members and elders and conversation is gentle and encouraging. A lot of people here carry historical trauma within them. That trauma plays out in prayer here as people gather to hear and support each other.

Today I will participate in prayerful action. The military police have agreed to allow the clergy to go to the front line where the military police are blocking the highway and sing, pray, and have lunch. I will be wearing my commissioning cross and a red stole of witness. I carry my Conference in my heart. I will be joined by Rev. Katie M Ladd, Rev. Melvin Woodworth, Kristina Gonzalez, Candice Woodworth, all from our PNW Conference, plus many more. I, like every other person in this camp, have agreed to be peaceful, non-violent, respectful and lawful.

The goal here is so much bigger than a pipeline. The goal is to try to make visible the trauma and injustice of 500+ years and suggest, by that very prayer, that healing is possible.

Blessings to you all,

Rev. Richenda Fairhurst

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