NOTE: This was written before Donald Trump took office and countermanded the Army Corps’ required Environmental Impact Report. Now in March 2017, the pipeline construction is going forward rapidly, and the main camp at Standing Rock has been forcibly evacuated.
As I write these words on December 4, 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers has just denied an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to drill under the Missouri River, pending a Environmental Impact Statement (which will take months to complete). This occurred on the very day that hundreds of religious leaders gathered at Standing Rock to pray together to stop the Black Snake from further invading sacred lands and waters, while up to 4,000 veterans arrived to protect the Water Protectors.
Water Protectors there and around the world are celebrating, as am I. Who knows what will happen in the days ahead, but for now, we celebrate. We all owe the native tribes and their allies huge gratitude for this monumental event. And we must continue to resist the destruction of our land, water, and air by the corporate hegemony, especially the fossil fuel industry.
We stand at a crossroads exemplified most dramatically by, on the one hand, the US election results, and, on the other, the historic mobilization of indigenous peoples and their allies at Standing Rock (as well as the worldview that inspired that mobilization).
Robin Kimmerer writes of this crossroads as foretold in the Seventh Fire Prophecy of her Anishinaabe ancestors in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkwood Editions, 2013).
The Seventh Fire prophecy presents a second vision for the time that is upon us. It tells that all the people of the earth will see that the path ahead is divided. They must make a choice in their path to the future. One of the roads is soft and green with new grass. You could walk barefoot there. The other path is scorched black, hard: the cinders would cut your feet. If the people choose the grassy path, then life will be sustained. But if they choose the cinder path, the damage they have wrought upon the earth will turn against them and bring suffering and death to earth’s people (p 368).
We stand at the crossroads between theses two paths today. Climate science documents that we are close to—or even past—the tipping point of climate disruption; at the same time resource depletion and species extinctions are accelerating.
The Seventh Fire is a sacred fire that must now be rekindled, as we relearn how to live in harmony with the web of life of Earth. Kimmerer writes of her vision of transformation:
I see the people of the Seventh Fire walking towards the crossroads with all they have gathered. They carry in their bundles the precious seeds for a change of worldview…So much has been forgotten, but it is not lost as long as the land endures and we cultivate people who have the humility and the ability to listen and learn… The path is lined with all the world’s people in all the colors of the medicine wheel–red, white, black, yellow–who understand the choice ahead, who share a vision of respect and reciprocity, of fellowship with the more-than-human world (p. 369).
In a civilization gone mad with greed and deception, the path of the Seventh Fire seems very hard to find and follow. Instead we can find ourselves swept along on the paved highway, driving fast and blind, often without noticing the land we speed through, nor the deteriorating condition of the pavement ahead.
Yet the people of the Seventh Fire are rising up everywhere now, often under the leadership of the peoples indigenous to the land. “They are using the fire stick of the original teachings to restore health to the people, to help them bloom again and bear fruit” (p. 368). We see them gathering by the thousands at the Standing Rock in prayer and peaceful protest.
And the forces of the cinder path are gathering, too: urban police gunning down unarmed people of color; militarized police wielding mace, tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets to defend the profits of the fossil fuel industry against Water Protectors; hate crimes on the rise AND a man like Donald Trump is elected to the Presidency of the United States. (I can’t even bring myself to call him President-elect.)
So we may indeed be in a time of prophecy: the time of the Seventh Fire; the time of the Shambala Warriors. How shall we each respond? How shall we find the grassy path, in spite of all the obstacles thrown in our way, and all the voices of fear, self-doubt, and confusion?
I continue to believe we must each go deeply within to hear the call of Life as it manifests in each of us. We must find silence and calm from the fray, listen within, and trust whatever guidance comes. Maybe we misinterpret what we hear, and go off on a tangent. Maybe we hear the voice of conditioning instead of the voice of wisdom. How will we know unless we take at least a few steps along whatever path we believe we’re called to follow? So we take action and pay attention to what happens and how we feel. It’s always possible to modify our actions, when we get the feedback that we’re off course. But we must step bravely into action to discover if we’re on track, and when we are, continue on with courage and delight.
We are at a crossroads, undergoing a Rite of Passage. My friend and colleague Jen Myzel wrote in a recent article:
Humanity seems to be going through a Rite of Passage. It’s hard to believe that we are only a teenage species, but it seems that is exactly how we’ve been acting (or some of us at least): disconnecting from our Mother Earth and thinking we can make it all on our own, meanwhile exhibiting extremely self-destructive behavior. When people are faced with a rite of passage, which indigenous cultures held as sacred practice for thousands of years, they are faced with their own death. They must shed layers of themselves to become humble and ready to be of true service in the world. And they must learn how to pray. Even if you don’t believe in prayer, to simply get quiet inside and give great thanks for all of the blessings of this life and to understand that this is all a gift. That is a good place to begin. (Deep Times, Fall 2016).
This brings us full circle back to Standing Rock, where the main action has been prayer—public prayer, group prayer, chanted and sung prayer, prayer from many traditions. This is an amazing and revolutionary shift in consciousness. Even the powerful Occupy movement a few years ago didn’t call for prayer. Prayer brings forth humility and surrender to something more powerful than one’s own knowledge, skill, and strength, or even one’s belief system. Our indigenous brothers and sisters call for something different than the formulaic prayer many of us white folks were taught in Sunday School. Now we are called to prayers of thanksgiving, prayers for peace and opened hearts, prayers of forgiveness (even in the face of violence), prayers for the police and pipeline construction workers as well as Water Protectors, prayers for guidance and love.
Standing Rock exemplifies the three interlocking dimensions of the Great Turning (as described by Joanna Macy): 1) holding actions, physically blocking the construction of the pipeline; 2) creation of new/old systems, in the cooperative camps inhabited by an ever-changing population of people while maintaining cohesion and an organic order; and 3) a shift in consciousness through presence, love, and prayer.
We will need the lessons of Standing Rock in the days ahead, as we grapple with the last gasps and grasps of the dying Industrial Growth Society in the Trump administration, and seek to walk the grassy path towards a Life Sustaining Society, which must arise if humanity and complex life are to survive at all.
Statement from Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Dec. 5, 2016
Yesterday we were notified that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not grant the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the Dakota Access pipeline. Instead, they will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement regarding alternative routes for the pipeline. This action strongly vindicates what the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been saying all along – that we all have a responsibility to protect our waters for future generations.
This is an historic moment. For centuries, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and tribes across the country, have faced fundamental injustice at the hands of the federal government – which time and again took our lands and tried to destroy our way of life. Our Treaties and our human rights were ignored, our interests in protecting lands and waters were considered unimportant, and our voices were not heard.
It was this shared history that led Tribes to come together as never before to seek the protection of our waters against the threat of the Dakota Access pipeline. With peace and prayer, indigenous people from hundreds of Tribes said: our future is too important. We can no longer be ignored. The goal was to protect these sacred waters, and to do so in the name of our children.
And, with yesterday’s decision, it is clear that our voices have at long last been heard.
Yesterday’s decision demonstrates that, despite all the challenges that Tribes face and all of the terrible wrongs the federal government has committed in dealing with us over the years, justice for Indian people still remains possible. My thanks to the Obama Administration, and particularly to Assistant Secretary Darcy, for upholding the law and doing the right thing.
Yesterday’s decision belongs in large measure to the thousands of courageous people who put their lives on hold to stand with Standing Rock in support of a basic principle — that water is life. At Standing Rock, our youth played an important role in spreading our message and I am so proud of what they have been able to accomplish.
But Standing Rock could not have come this far alone. Hundreds of tribes came together in a display of tribal unity not seen in hundreds of years. And many thousands of indigenous people from around the world have prayed with us and made us stronger. I am grateful to each of you. And, as we turn a page with yesterday’s decision, I look forward to working with many of you as you return to your home communities to protect your lands and waters, and the sovereignty of your tribes.
My thanks to all of our allies, here and around the world, each of whom contributed to this effort. I want to give a special mention to the veterans who have come to Standing Rock in recent days. I am sure that the strength of your message in support of Standing Rock, and the rights of the Water Protectors, had a powerful impact as the Army made its decision. I appreciate all you have done.
While today is a great day, there is still much that needs to be done to protect Tribal rights and ensure justice for indigenous people everywhere. Using peace and prayer as our guideposts, and with the teachings of our elders and with inspiration from our youth, I believe there is much we can accomplish for the future.
Dave Archambault, II, Chairman
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe