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GreenFaith at Standing Rock

GreenFaith Fellows and leaders at Standing Rock reservation, stories from the leaders.


In early November, a team of GreenFaith Fellows traveled to Standing Rock in response to the invitation of Native American Elders for faith leaders to join them in support.  The following represents excerpts from their reflections on the experience.

Irene at standing rockWe’d been told that for those arriving at the Bismarck airport after 10:30 pm on November 2 that there would be a church van to pick us up at that late hour. The expansion of the mobilization really stressed the capacity of the local organizing, and late that night there were three, ladies, a Jew, a Cherokee and myself a Buddhist (I know it sounds like the beginning of a joke) left at the airport as it was closing, and the van had not shown up. A very kind policewoman, yes a lady with a gun, helped us get the phone numbers of taxi services.  Our driver asked if we wanted to go the Standing Rock camp before we got to the hotel and of course we said yes. We were stopped by the police at the roadblock near the camp and with ease were waved by as we said we were clergy. The next gate we were stopped at was the camp, and there too, once explaining we were clergy, were waved in. The camp, at 2:30 in the morning was quiet.  There were small campfires going, many teepees, tents and cars.  It was way larger than I had imagined.

Irene Woodard, Shambhala Meditation Center of New York

standing rock - camp

I was initially impressed and moved upon arrival as we were greeted by our indigenous hosts and by Rev. Floberg, a local Episcopal priest who has helped organize clergy at Standing Rock.  All guests at Standing Rock are asked to agree to and sign the following statement:  We are Prayerful, Peaceful, Nonviolent, and Respectful. It was impressed upon us time and again: Standing Rock is a spiritual encampment, and we should regard everything we do and say as part of a sacred ceremony because it is all towards a sacred purpose - protecting the water which is itself sacred. This message was reiterated at each prayer ceremony and during the direct action training. That spirit pervades and energizes the entire camp. We are told that if we are prayerful and peaceful we will reach our goal.  Experiencing the spiritual power of the camp, one cannot help but believe it.

This morning we were told at the prayer ceremony that we were the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy that one day all tribes and nations would participate in sharing the sacred pipe.  Then, the pipe was passed around to everyone there.

Rev. Dr. Nelson Bock, CO Interfaith Power and Light

standing rock - sahar alsahlani speaking

It was an overwhelming experience. Muslim eco-leader and GreenFaith Fellow Sahar Alsahlani spoke eloquently of the discrimination she and her family had experienced as a Muslim in the US, providing a much needed interfaith voice in what was an overwhelmingly Christian gathering. I was moved to tears as the Doctrine of Discovery was publicly repudiated by faith communities and then burned by tribal elders. Many communities (like my own) had done this officially in the last couple years, but not in the presence of the indigenous communities harmed by it. (Later that day, a number of people joined a peaceful demonstration in Bismark.)  The clergy witness and arrests in Bismarck allowed us to see the militarized police Standing Rock knows so well, but who had stayed out of sight for our polite and unprovocative presence in the morning.  On seeing the aggressiveness of the police in Bismark, many clergy were asking "what country are we in?"

Rev. Jeff Geary, Presbyterian Church of White Plains


Standing rock - Irene Zeb and Sahar















My ancestry traces back to the European settlement of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Virginia. My family has been in North America since the beginning of colonization; we were responsible, in one way or another, for pain and suffering that Europeans brought to the First Nations.

My ancestors may have made their decisions out of fear or a desire to provide for their families. While I can understand and maybe even forgive them for these motivations, I can't turn away from the hurt they brought into this world. I am aware that I have benefited from the pain that they caused.  I owe everything in my life to what my ancestors built. All the good and the bad comes from them. My sense of right and wrong comes from my family. The passion in my belly for justice comes directly from my upbringing. My privileged place in society derives from my family and their actions.

I can't undo the past; I have to learn from it and avoid making the same mistakes. I will not turn away from those that are asking for my help. I can't ignore the Indigenous voices saying our culture is still hurting their communities. I can't turn back after being thanked so profusely for being present for a few days at the camp. I had to go and bear witness to the truth. Now that I am back, I have to continue to tell the stories from the camp. If I can, I have to go back and continue to help.

I have no desire to shame my ancestors. I intend to honor them and the gifts they have given me. What better way is there to honor someone than to help make amends for their transgressions.

Zeb Green, Unitarian Universalist


standing rock - snow 2

Beth Ackerman travelled to Standing Rock in December, and was there on the day the government announced the withdrawal of its plans to proceed with the pipeline at Standing Rock.

While I was standing with members of my church community at coffee hour in early November it happened: the call to be a witness to Standing Rock.  I had helped found Riverside Church’s climate group, Beloved Earth, two years previously.  My beliefs compelled me and a church friend to travel to Standing Rock.  We spoke to our clergy and congregation, and raised the needed funds to rent an RV for travel across the plains from Minneapolis in early December.

We were at Oceti Sakowin, the camp shown in all the photos of Standing Rock, just before the government announced its decision to withdraw their plans for the pipeline.  On the night of our arrival, we danced with others to the beats of the native drummers.  But early the next morning, it was the native woman-led water ceremony that was the peak of the trip for me.  Pre-dawn the hundred or so of us moved solemnly to the banks of the Missouri.  Two rows of men from all walks of life tenderly passed us, hand to hand, down the slippery slope so we, the women, wouldn’t fall.  There, at water’s edge, we left tobacco and a prayer to the watery life that sustains us.

standing rock - celebrating the governments announcement 2Two hours later, the announcement came to the camp that the Army Corps of Engineers did not grant the permit to drill under the Missouri and would look for alternate routes.  The celebrations were mighty and conveyed a sacred victory.  However, it was the smaller moments that defined this journey for me.

One last anecdote: as the thousands of veterans joined the Water Protectors that weekend, my friend and I spoke with 2 ex-Marines.  One was a Buddhist, into sustainability, the other, a community organizer.  He said simply that the veterans understand, more than ever, what they have been fighting for—a wholesome planet and country.  And that the violence they perpetrated has harmed them as well as others.

Now, back home, I feel more concretely committed to the lifeblood of this delicate and strong planet, and the water bodies we’ve ignored.  We may need to bodily protect them, and listen for the lessons that native spirituality gives us.

Beth Ackerman, Beloved Earth, Riverside Church, NYC


Many thanks to those who contributed to this blog, and to the Revs. Peggy Clarke and Betsy Blake Bennett, whose assistance and participation was also vitally important.

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