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By Sister Maureen Barzantni, OP
I went to Standing Rock, North Dakota, with a delegation of Dominican Sisters, to be in solidarity with the Native American Sioux Tribe, which has taken on the role of protecting the water and their sacred places from the Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The Sioux fear that the pipeline will leak crude oil into the Missouri River and poison the water supply of downstream communities such as Fort Yates, the tribal center of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
What makes this even more troubling is that the pipeline was originally set to run north of the mostly white town of Bismarck, but the route was changed when the Army Corp of Engineers decided that was a “high consequence area.” The Sioux Tribe spoke out against the obvious implications that their community is an area of low consequence for an oil spill. The non-violent actions taken by the activists, who call themselves “water protectors,” have at times met with police in riot gear who have fired water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades to disperse the activists.
To stand with the Sioux Nation was not a difficult decision to make. I wanted to go because I value the traditions of the Native American communities and hope to learn to live in a way that reveres Mother Earth. The people at Standing Rock have a great sense of leaving Earth in conditions that will benefit the future generations. I heard repeatedly, “We have no choice. It is for our children.” Their choice, however, comes with pain. They are living in teepees, yurts, tents, and campers among thousands of strangers who have come to support them. The Dakota winter is severe. Some have suffered injury from police action against them. Could I do that?
I do not know how this will play out. My guess is that the pipeline will win, but the decision each “protector” made to engage in the struggle to value life over profit is not in vain. The Standing Rock Community is a beacon of hope, hope that we can get our priorities in order even while faced with the power of greed. As I finish this reflection, the lyrics of Trevor Hall’s song, “If You Are a Rock, Stand up Like a Mountain” are running through my mind.
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Adrian Dominican Sisters
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Adrian, Michigan 49221-1793
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