Update on Standing Rock: protest, ruling and a Pagan reaction

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CANNONBALL, N.D — Friday marked a significant victory for the Standing Rock Sioux’s protest against the Dakota Access pipeline being constructed near their territory and through their watershed.

In the weeks since The Wild Hunt’s last update on the Standing Rock Sioux protest, national attention on the issue spread, attracting support from commentators and even celebrities, to the chagrin of some involved.

Pagan support and involvement has also expanded dramatically, since that report. Donations have been collected by groups like Ár nDraíocht Féin, Solar Cross Temple and more, an active petition was set out by the Reclaiming Tradition and a number of Pagans showed up at the protest to act as witnesses and support the action.

As noted in our original story, Linda Black Elk, an ecologist and teaches ethnobotany at Sitting Bull College, told us, “It doesn’t matter what spirituality you practice, it doesn’t matter what culture or race, everyone is welcome because this really is about all of us. As we come to the end of the fossil fuel age, they get more and more desperate to take the last bit of blood they can from our mother. We need that unity and we need people here with us.”

But, troubling events happened as well. A security firm allegedly hired by Dakota Access LLC, the company building the pipeline, tried to provoke a violent response from protesters after they attempted to prevent construction vehicles from excavating. On September 3, using dogs and pepper spray, security officers attacked many of the protesters and several of their horses. At least six protesters, including a pregnant woman and a child were bitten by dogs and many more were hit with pepper spray before the security team fled.

As one website noted, the attack happened to coincide with the 153rd anniversary of the Whitestone Hill Massacre, which occurred near the present-day camp.

The construction that protesters failed to halt ended up going through several sacred sites. According to a news release from Tribal Chairman David Archambault II, “sacred places containing ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were destroyed Saturday by Energy Transfer Partners.”

“This demolition is devastating,” Archambault said in the release. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”

The following week, and prior to the September 9 decision on the tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt construction, the governor of North Dakota moved the National Guard in, near the site of the protest. It was beginning to look like things were not going to turn out well for the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies.

And to follow, on Sept 9, U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg denied the Sioux request.


Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

However, minutes after the court’s decision was announced, an unprecedented joint statement was issued by the Department of State, Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior, at the behest of the Obama administration stating, “we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

The statement also created a framework for “formal, government-to-government consultations,” between United States and tribal governments, for future infrastructure projects and protection of tribal lands, and whether or not to propose new legislation to ensure those goals.

Activists and leaders across the Pagan community have shared their opinions and, while the mood is generally positive, there is a definite note of caution as well. What follows are a collection of statements among the many that were issued directly to The Wild Hunt or publicly.

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Mathew Sydney, a Florida activist and founder of the Pagan Environment Alliance

This is an exciting moment but construction has only been stopped temporarily. We must continue pressuring the government and also the banks and businesses that are invested in this project. We must transform the way we relate to our land. This is just the beginning. Please donate goods to the water protectors. Please continue to talk about this issue. Yes, the native peoples are on the front lines. Yes, their lands are being threatened but this project threatens the water that sustains ALL of us: native and non-native alike. We must be as brothers now. We must stand together against ignorance and greed. We are all related.

Colleen Cook, a witch of the Reclaiming Tradition and Sacred Stone camp volunteer

While I am glad that the court order (to allow the pipeline construction) was halted, victory for the water is not yet won. The pipeline company is being asked to voluntarily pause while “further consideration” can happen. We need to not let this pause in pipeline construction make us complacent in our ongoing support. People are still coming together and the ongoing prayers for the water are as important now as ever. Sometimes these pauses are tactics to calm the power of the protectors. I for one, will continue to do my part to ensure that the world keeps watching.

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

Ivo Dominguez, Jr., author, teacher

I am speaking as an individual rather than as a representative of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, because we have a process for making group statements and our next meeting is in December. That said, many of our members have already taken action as individuals in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and all the Indigenous Peoples being affected by this crime against them and the Earth. I have given money, signed petitions, called legislators, worked at my altar, and boosted the signal on social media. I will do more and have encouraged others to do the same, but this is not the first nor the last struggle.

Perhaps the greater challenge will be to remain connected and vigilant after this has resolved or receded in the stack of issues of the moment. Many of our related Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist communities are late to enter into awareness or action in this matter because there is a gulf of communication and cooperation with the First Nations. I admit to being distracted by trying to follow too many issues, and that is not an excuse, it is a description. It is neither easy nor painless, but it is my hope that we will work to educate ourselves and reach out often enough so that trust will be built and true alliances forged for all that is ahead. We are the ones that need to be proactive. Alliances between people that know each other last; alliances built on agreements on issues and ideology are fragile and tenuous.

T. Thorn Coyle, Solar Cross

The temporary halt on pipeline construction called for by the Departments of the Interior, Justice, and Army is a good thing, and hopefully offers some measure of breathing room for the protectors gathered at Sacred Stone Camp.

That said, it is only a stay of construction on 20 miles of the pipeline, not a total work stoppage, and therefore, is not enough. Fracking, drilling, oil pipelines, and mountain top removal continue on the Dakota Access Pipeline and throughout the U.S., destroying sacred land, poisoning water, decimating communities of animals, plants, and people, and causing earthquakes where there were none before.

As a nation, we must re-evaluate our values, and start making harder choices around resource consumption and distribution of wealth. Those who have little, are taken from. Those who have much, take more. This is out of balance. Solar Cross continues to stand with Standing Rock and all the nations gathered at Sacred Stone Camp. We will continue to organize to send supplies until the pipeline project is stopped completely.

Those of us who were not calling victory were unfortunately correct to be cautious, as arrests are now being made. From Unicorn Riot: “There are multiple lockdowns at two Dakota Access Pipeline construction sites. All work has stopped. A surveillance plane and helicopter are circling overhead. Police have blocked all road access to both sites. Approx 100 riot police have arrived, to at least one site, armed with assault rifles and less-lethal weapons. Arrests underway, and Facebook is censoring our live video stream.” #NoDAPL

The Coalition of Earth Religions for Education and Support (CERES) and Mother Grove Goddess Temple, Asheville, North Carolina

Earth my body. Water my blood. Air my breath. And Fire my spirit. We also are people of the Earth and people of the stones. The great circles of Neolithic Europe were the work of our beloved Ancestors, the Forebears we honor during the season of Samhain, which is upcoming. Those ancient stone monuments are sacred to Pagan peoples throughout the world. And here in the southern highlands of the Appalachian mountains, our growing community often conducts ceremony on the banks of the third oldest river in the world—the French Broad. The elemental chant above (from the late Nicole Sangsuree) highlights our spiritual community’s deep ties to the classical elements and the whole of the natural world.

From the Standing Rock website: “A broad multi-state coalition of tribes, landowners and environmental groups issued a statement in support of the tribal lawsuits and speaking out against the project. The coalition called the USACE process “an egregious violation of the relevant federal environmental laws and the 1851 and 1868 treaties between the US and the L/D/Nakota Nations, which remain the supreme law of the land.”

These strong and passionate people have had enough. These People—like all people–are not expendable. Mother Grove Goddess Temple and CERES stand with our sisters and brothers as they protect their sacred lands, our sacred lands. We join as the ragged remnants of the once-proud European tribes to stand with the People. May our voices be heard, may our Ancestors and our Divine Protectors join with us in this important work. May our relationship with the Earth be healed and acknowledged in its sanctity once more. Water is life. We are water.

Reclaiming Tradition: A letter of support (authors include: Zay Eleanor Watersong, Starhawk, Deborah Oak, Rev. Claire Chuck Bohman

Dear Standing Rock Sioux and all protectors of water and sacred sites at the camps:
Following the day of global prayer in support of your water and sacred sites, we wish to convey this statement of support, attached below.

This statement has been signed in the past four days by 85 different groups located across the US and Canada, Great Britain, German, Austria, Switzerland, South Africa, and Israel.
It has been signed by over 3,400 individuals who identify as Pagan or following an earth-based spirituality.

Signatories can be viewed here. We fully expect more signatures to be added in the coming days and weeks, and are encouraging people to visit your site as well for up-to-date information on how they can help, knowing that the situation is changing from minute to minute. We were horrified to hear of the destruction of your sacred site and the use of violence against the defenders and pray that the sacrifice not be in vain, but sparks the necessary collective outrage among the American people to stop this pipeline once and for all.

May the strength of the people, the earth, the waters overcome those who seek to destroy them. We stand with you.

We will continue to follow the story as it develops.