Tuesday, Nov. 15 was a nationally coordinated day of action against the pipeline. The protests went ahead despite the Army Corps’ postponement of any decision on whether or not to let the pipeline construction proceed – an act which many viewed as a partial success.
In San Francisco, there was a march and protest held outside of the Army Corps of Engineers office. It was organized by local indigenous people, Idle No More Bay Area, and interfaith leaders, including representatives from Reclaiming and the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood.
Claire “Chuck” Bohman of Reclaiming and The Temple of the Waters said that there were several thousand people who gathered for a successful day of action.“The prayers and action was powerful and effective, and the US Army Corps of Engineers was forced to close their offices for the day,” she said.
Bohman added that, as people who have a deep spiritual connection with the earth, Pagans need to take action and join in indigenous-led efforts.
“Simply doing magic and praying is not enough. Magic is the food that will sustain our spirits. We must push ourselves out of comfort zones and join together with people of different beliefs who also care about the earth and are committed to stopping this pipeline and moving towards sustainable energy,” Bohman said.
In the nation’s capital, Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd, defending the sovereign rights of Native Americans, water quality for the nation’s citizens and affirming the reality of climate change.
“The idea that at this moment in history, when the scientific community is crystal clear that we need to transform our energy system, that at this moment we have the fossil fuel industry pushing for more pipelines, for more dependency on fossil fuel, is totally insane,” Sanders said.
Among the crowd was Gwendolyn Reece, who said she was happy to see Sanders at the rally but she was just as happy to read about the 300-plus cities that took part in the action and the thousands of people who came out.
The issue of protecting the environment seems to be intrinsically tied to the pipeline fight.
“This issue, the environment, should be non-partisan, and most Pagans, the vast majority of Pagans believe in the sacredness of the planet and we believe in the sacredness of water,” Reece said, who heads the Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon, Sacred Space Foundation, and is a member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel.
With an incoming White House administration who has reportedly received more than $100,000 of support since June from chairman and CEO Kelcy Warren of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind Dakota Access, the issue seems to be anything but bi-partisan.
For Reece, the results of the election are a setback, but she said that it has only forced her to change focus and tactics.
“To me the pipeline in addition to being something that is a social justice concern, because it’s of the incredible continuing exploitation of native people, it is also one of the clearest demarcated battle grounds for the environment and the environmental activism including for climate change right now,” she said.
Reece added that she sees the battle at Standing Rock as a part of our nation’s miasma, tied to humans’ treatment of the environment, First Nations, and African American people.
The goal, she said, “is trying to heal the miasma, which is when we’re out of right relationship with the gods, ourselves, the planet. As far as our national consciousness, this exists from the beginning of this nation. ”MaryAnn Somervill, a CUUPs member in Asheville, North Carolina, said that she organized a rolling thunder ritual to coincide with the supermoon. The ritual allows people to remotely lend their aid and is so-called because participants join in at a fixed time, regardless of their timezone. If it occurs at 8 pm in the eastern time zone, an hour later it will occur at 8 pm in the central time zone, and so on.
A few hundred people joined in to cast a cone of protection on the camps near Cannon Ball, ND, the water defenders, and their supporters. Somervill said that this event really moved her to take action.
“This is something that made me step up in a way that I hadn’t before. I haven’t been on the front lines of any protests or anything like that,” she said.
At Standing Rock, Linda Black Elk has been there since the beginning. Black Elk, of the Catawba Nation and teacher of ethnobotany at Sitting Bull College, has two children enrolled with the Standing Rock Sioux, recently stated on Facebook that she sees a paradigm shift at work with Standing Rock right at the epicenter. She sees the presidential election as a reaction to that shift.
“(People are) scared out of their minds because change is uncomfortable, and shifting away from fossil fuels, a culture of consumption, and ultra convenience is annoyingly uncomfortable,” Black Elk said.
“We just have to be gentle, loving, patient, and understanding …but we must also be strong, powerful, brave and unshakable. Walk with power. Respect eachother (sic). Listen to the women in your lives.”
The camps, meanwhile, are growing in size and scope, and their needs are changing with the seasons. As snow and cold fronts move into the northern plains, protestors and water protectors are preparing for a long winter.
Dusty Dionne and Belladonna Laveau of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church are among the countless number of allies who have made the trip to North Dakota to show their support. From their home in Index, Washington, Dionne and Laveau received enough donations to buy a cord of wood, which they transporter by trailer from Washington to North Dakota.
Wood is one of the many supplies that are hard to find and very expensive. That might be unexpected, until you take into account that in the grasslands of North Dakota there aren’t very many trees to be found.
Dionne describes a very militarized, intimidating scene as you approach the camps. Countless numbers of police line the perimeter, with vehicles that are outfitted with satellite dishes and radio towers, and “Volkswagen-sized halogen lamps” lining the country side.
Standing in opposition to that is a makeshift barrier made of scrap wood and metal and barbed wire. But once you get inside, the atmosphere completely changes.“I was really moved with how many people were showing up to help and just the sheer energetic power. It was very inviting, not intimidating,” Laveau said.
“They’ve got a big circle of flags and you pull up to Oceti (the camp set up by the Native American water defenders) and it’s just teepees and teepees and teepees and you’ve got buses creating walled off areas for mini-camps and corrals with horses,” Dionne added.
They both describe being overwhelmed by how many people were there.
“I was really afraid that when I showed up there was just going to be a couple of people, not a lot of supplies. (But) this is organized,” said Laveau.
She says that seeing the size and organization of the camps gave her hope that they might win the fight.
“It is a huge area that they’ve made their encampment, it’s the size of a small town,” Dionne said.
In fact, a small town is exactly what the goal is at the Sacred Stone camp, where supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux have begun setting up the infrastructure to support a community, including building a root cellar and a school.
“They need building supplies, they need firewood, they need subzero sleeping bags, canvas tents. They’re building a town, so they need builders. They need people to swing hammers,” said Laveau.
Corey Moore, a Pagan from Kansas City, MO, also brought a trailer full of supplies collected by friends and family to Standing Rock this week.
“We brought lumber left over from a family’s deck project, a few coats, blankets, medical supplies including bandages, milk of magnesia, eye wash kit, and hand warmers. There were also food stuffs and even a few guitars specifically requested by the Rosebud youth camp. In addition we brought nearly $1000 in cash and gift cards to Lowe’s and Menard’s,” he said.
Moore also reported that they helped build the covered root cellar at the Rosebud camp for winter food storage.
“The indigenous people at Standing Rock are sacrificing themselves, their health, their bodies, their livelihood, to protect the planet and the water that feeds us all. The waters they are protecting serve the entire center of this country,” he said.
Moore said everyone who goes to the camp learns to stay oriented toward “prayerful respect.”
He said that, in the face of infuriating actions, it is very important to maintain that approach.
In spite of the forward momentum of the movement and growing awareness of the issue, Dakota Access and the police protecting the pipeline construction are not backing down. As recently as Sunday night, an action to open a bridge that has been blocked by police for month resulted in authorities firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and a water canon on protesters despite below-freezing temperatures.
Democracy Now reported that a team of legal observers noted 20 mace canisters launched into a confined area within 5 minutes, causing those targeted to vomit and lose bowel control. Angel Bibens, a laywer with the Red Owl Legal Collective, said that the water canon had been mixed with mace, so that even medics and observers were impacted. Medics also reportedly revived an elder who suffered a heart attack. On Monday it was also reported that at least 17 people had been hospitalized, a majority for hypothermia after the actions of police and security personnel.
Actions like these have made some Pagan community members question what our future will look like, and what the role of the Pagan community will be.
“We’re all worried about robots rising up and taking over the world in some kind of distant future but right now corporations have taken over the world and they’re not people. The only thing that they value is profit and that is a real fight right now to take the world back from soulless, mindless companies that do not value human life,” Laveau said.
“What kind of ancestors will we be for the descendants? Will there even be descendants of humanity? All of this is at stake and each of us is needed to turn the tides,” Bohman said.
For those interested in contacting local authorities in the area Yes Magazine has put together a comprehensive list with phone numbers, addresses and more.
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[UPDATE 11/23/ 11:22am: The embedded video showing protesters being sprayed with water was removed or blocked at its original source and can no longer be viewed. We removed the embedded bad link. However, the video can still be seen at various online sources, including The Guardian. ]