“Sun Dancers, get up! Pipe carriers, get up! Christians, dust off your Bibles and get up! You are here for a reason! The black snake is getting near the river. Get up and do something!”
I woke up in a tent the morning of November 3, just over a month ago, in below-freezing temperatures, before the sun was up, to the bold and loud announcement:
“You are here for a reason!”
Though I had been in a car 13 of the 24 hours before that, and even though I had not slept well, I could not resist that summons. I turned to the five other bodies sharing a tent with me and shook them: “He said Christians, that’s us! Get up, get up!”
We were at Oceti Sakowin (Och-et-ee shak-oh-win) Camp where “water protectors” from across the globe were unifying to defend Sioux land and water from the Dakota Access Pipeline, or as the camp called it: the black snake.
I was with a group of about 15 seminarians, a few friends of the seminary, and one seminary professor. We had come to Oceti Sakowin following a call from Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle. The call was for faith leaders to gather and stand in prayerful solidarity.
In our training the night before for the “peaceful, prayerful, nonviolent, and lawful” action at the bridge, we were told that the bulk of our action would be centered on our respective traditions’ repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. (Or a personal renouncing of its harmful theology if our own tradition had not officially done so.)
I had not heard of the Doctrine of Discovery until we got there, so of course I did not know that my own faith tradition had repudiated it. To me, that reveals how we may have rejected it on paper, but we have not taken many actions against it.
The Doctrine of Discovery is a Papal Bull — a letter issued by the Pope, called a Bull to describe its seal. It was issued by Pope Alexander VI in the 15th century, which was a time of massive European exploration, and it declared that any land uninhabited by Christians could be “discovered” and claimed for means of spreading the Christian faith. The Bull claimed “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”
The land claimed was then pillaged of resources and life by the Christians who “found” it. In short, this was a church-approved looting of land and a deadly form of “evangelism,” simply because the people who inhabited the land did not look like or worship like the people who “found” it.
This one historical document excused destroying resources, continued confiscation of land, and the genocide of thousands of people, including Native Americans. It is this doctrine that excused the original taking of land by Anglo-Christians, and it is this document that continues to excuse the taking of land and the continual disregard for sacred places. Though many are unfamiliar with the words of the original doctrine, it set a historical precedent for xenophobia towards native peoples, as well as assumed land ownership rights for Anglo-Christians.
“You are here for a reason.”
The unknown voice rang over loud speakers and seemed to be coming from the sacred fire.
We were here for a reason. And that reason was not because we thought we alone would stop the pipeline, or because it would be a fun trip: our reason was to repent and ask forgiveness for our religious traditions’ harmful beliefs about land ownership.
Once we were finally awake enough to join the sacred fire, we learned that the number of clergy people in attendance had reached more than 500! And even though the Doctrine of Discovery was rooted in Christianity, there were more than 25 faith traditions represented, including: Unitarian Universalists, Buddhist Monks, Rabbis, Imams, Mormons, Quakers, and Wiccans — each tradition staking their claim in the responsibility of fighting abusive colonialism.
We had traveled from 45 states and four countries to gather as one community, with our many unique beliefs to say one thing: this land is sacred, and the people on that land are part of our family in God.
We gathered. We worshiped. We repented. We formed a single-file circle that overflowed across the road and onto a hillside.
“You are here for a reason.”
Though all of our reasons might look different, as would our calls to action after we left the camp, each of us had something we needed to offer to the camp at Standing Rock. For the 500 faith leaders that were there, our purpose in that moment was our presence. We came to this one location as a diverse community to physically put actions behind our repentance.
The recent (and complex) announcement from the Army Corps of Engineers that it denied a permit for the construction of key sections of the pipeline, essentially stalling and rerouting the pipeline, is means for celebration. But we also know that we still have a reason for being here; we must continue to fight injustices among all God’s people, and we know that we must do it together.
“You are here for a reason. Get up and do something!”
Learn more about Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline:
- The Legal Case for Blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline by Robinson Meyer for The Atlantic
- Protesters Gain Victory in Fight Over Dakota Access Oil Pipeline by Jack Healy and Nicholas Fandos for The New York Times
- A Prayer for People and Planet: 500 Clergy Hold ‘Historic’ Mass Gathering for Standing Rock by Lauren McCauley for Common Dreams
- Hear Taylor talk about her experience on the Things Not Seen podcast.