Happy Thanksgiving? End the Violence at Standing Rock

By Avery Davis Lamb 11-23-2016
Image via Peg Hunter/Flickr

Thanksgiving feels misplaced this year, in the midst of such lament and fear in the world. For many, summoning an attitude of thanksgiving is not simply unattainable — it almost seems immature and misplaced in a time like this. What is there to be thankful for? What is there to hope for?

The next four years will be an uphill battle for justice-seekers. I don’t need to repeat the names of anti-environmentalists who may occupy the next White House, but I think we all know this: It doesn’t look good. The balance of the earth’s systems, according to scientists, are at or nearing their tipping point. As Bill McKibben said last week, “Trump’s presidency comes at a moment when we could least afford it.”

On Sunday, tragedy once again struck the Standing Rock Camp in North Dakota. Police forces sprayed peaceful protesters with water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures. In the same week as a holiday that celebrates gratitude, inclusivity, and cultivation of common ground, militarized police and political powers chose instead to continue a 600-year American legacy: destruction of land, sterilization of culture, and denial of the full humanity of indigenous people.

Yet at this moment, in this 600-year continuum of violence against Native people, the Water Protectors at Standing Rock still stand, resolute in their right to their own land and water. And alongside more than 200 indigenous tribes and thousands of others gathered at Standing Rock, millions stand in solidarity around the world. Thousands have trusted in the power and voice of the people to send a strong message to our leaders: “This is what democracy looks like.”

This moment is a sign of hope, and a reason to give thanks.

The movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline gives us hope for the next four years. Bill McKibben told the crowd gathered last week in D.C., “Standing Rock is the moral center of the universe right now.”

This is a place of sanity in a time of insanity. #NoDAPL is a movement that follows the core tenets of the Gospel: giving voice to the oppressed, confession and turning from sin, and grounding work in cosmic relationship to the divine Creator. This is what action in an age of Trump must look like.

For too long, the environmental movement has orbited around the white agenda. In a departure from the past, the #NoDAPL movement is turning the colonial narrative on its head. Who led the march to the White House last week? The very people who have been trodden on throughout history by that house’s white occupants.

Our Christian duty is to stand behind those who have been systematically oppressed on our own march to the White House — to listen to their demands, and elevate their needs above our own.

On Nov. 3, more than 500 clergy gathered at the Standing Rock Camp to support and protect the Water Protectors. Part of the interfaith gathering included a ceremonial burning of the "Doctrine of Discovery." This 15th-century Spanish document issued by the Pope allowed any land unoccupied by European Christians to be discovered, claimed, and degraded. More than 600 years later, Native lands continue to be systematically discovered, claimed, and degraded. But for the first time, Christians are standing up to say “no.”

Prayer, in many forms, has been a guiding light of this movement. The indigenous leaders at speeches, protests, and marches begin with a prayer to thank our Mother, to heal broken relationships, and to acknowledge “Mni Wiconi” — Water is Life. In a video released last week, Dave Archambault II, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman, says, “The only thing that keeps me going is prayer, and I have to have faith that my prayers are being heard.”

We need prayer now more than ever. The Thanksgiving tale tells us that 600 years ago, pilgrims and indigenous Americans cultivated common land and shared a meal. Today, we would do well to remember that white Christians are the guests in this land. Thanksgiving can be a time of reconciliation and healing, but reconciliation and healing are incompatible with violence.

If we can learn anything from Christ and from our Mother Earth, it is that out of death comes transformation into beautiful renewed life. The natural elements of transformation are soil and water. If we protect those, we have hope for a restoration of life. It is with soil, water, and cultivated land that seeds can grow. As I saw on a marcher’s sign headed toward the White House this week: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

Avery Davis Lamb is Federal Policy Associate for Interfaith Power & Light and Director of Faithful Advocacy for the DC, Maryland, Northern Virginia affiliate.

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