In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked members of the clergy to come to Selma, Alabama to bear witness and stand in solidarity with African-Americans whose basic human rights were being denied. A significant number of the clergy who responded to his call were Unitarian Universalist ministers, quite a few from Canada.
As the months rolled by in 2016, another situation was unfolding in North Dakota which demanded witness and solidarity. This time, of course, the issue was the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, and its potential to not only desecrate land sacred to native people, but to endanger the water supply, health, and human rights of indigenous sovereign nations. As the situation has unfolded, ministers from many faith traditions have gone to North Dakota to pray, show support, and protest with the water protectors.
As the situation intensified in November, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations, again asked clergy to gather for an Interfaith Day of Prayer on December 4th. Believing that police and others respect the moral witness of clergy members, Chief Looking Horse called for a gathering to support the youth of his nation in protesting the pipeline and calling for a halt to construction, at least along the currently proposed route.
Unitarian ministers in Canada responded with support, prayer, and messages of solidarity. Rev. Debra Faulk (Calgary), Rev. Shawn Newton (Toronto First), Rev. Lynn Harrison (Toronto First), and Danielle Webber (intern minister at Toronto First) decided that they were called to personally make the trip to Standing Rock.
Danielle put it this way:
“When the story of Standing Rock came to light, I spent a lot of time following it through the media. As well as time spent researching the details that the media would not tell us, or when the stories gave conflicting details. Studying and informing myself during this time – over the past few weeks, but also over the past several years became really valuable to me, it has become part of my prayer. Becoming informed and learning about past wrongdoings has been one of the ways that I can work to create a better tomorrow. It is part of the way I invoke change in the world. This fight, this peaceful protest was not just about the sovereignty and self-determination of the peoples of the Sioux Nation – but that this was about the earth, and all of her beings.”
From Rev. Debra Faulk:
“On December 4th, 2016, I responded to Chief Avro Looking Horse’s call for clergy for an Interfaith Day of Prayer. This was a very deeply personal calling of the spirit. I was in discernment about going right up until Saturday morning when I began and in fact during the 1300 km drive to the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) camp near the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota.
My response was born of a concern for the environment, for the wellbeing of my grandchildren and their children as well as an outrage, a righteous rage about the continued abuse of the indigenous people and my heart-felt desire for reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people on this continent, well around the world, the desire to understand the impacts of colonization. This will be lifelong work, I know. And there was something profound happening at Standing Rock.”
Rev. Lynn Harrison:
“I found it a profoundly moving experience to witness the courageous resistance of the Water Protectors, and to hear first-hand the elders’ call to protect the Earth as a whole (in addition to the water supply threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline).
One of the most moving moments came when (amidst the drones buzzing overhead owned by the pipeline company) a flock of Canada geese flew directly over the Sacred Fire, and were saluted by the elders and all assembled–a moment of communion with the interdependent web, and a hopeful moment.”
Rev. Shawn Newton:
“I was proud for us to stand at Standing Rock with other faith leaders from across the religious spectrum. I was moved by the outpouring of generosity and support from our own congregation in sending us, and so very grateful for the many Unitarians who’ve provided a consistent show of solidarity in recent months with the Indigenous Peoples in their protest of the pipeline. It was moving to see what can happen when so many disparate communities come together in common cause.”
When the call is made, for solidarity and support, for witness and duty, Canadian ministers have a long heritage of answering with their time, energy, commitment, and presence. As of now, construction on the pipeline has halted. Chief Looking Horse and his people continue to monitor the status of work at the site, protecting their sacred lands and the precious water that supports life.