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November 17, 2016, Standing Rock, North Dakota – Eight Dominican Sisters – including Adrian Dominican Sisters Kathleen Nolan, OP; Maurine Barzantni, OP; and Marilyn Winter, OP – stood in solidarity November 11 and 12 with activists opposed to the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) on sacred land.
Rounding out the Dominican contingent during the weekend were Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters Kathy Long, OP, Evie Storto, OP, Julie Schwann, OP, and Peggy Ryan, OP, a well as Sister Ceile Lavan, OP, a Blauvelt Dominican.
Also participating in the two days of prayer and action were Native Americans from near and far; indigenous people from Canada and New Zealand; and environmental activists from around the world. Some 250 bands and nations were represented, Sister Maurine recalled.
In an interview at the Motherhouse after the weekend, the three Adrian Dominican Sisters recalled the highlights of their experience at Standing Rock. They participated in prayer and celebrations at of one of five camps that had been set up near Standing Rock. The camps have grown since they were first established in April to protest the construction of the pipeline on Native land. “Now there are five camps and thousands of people involved,” Sister Kathy said.
As a group, members of the Dominican contingent participated in a celebration of Native American veterans and in a training session for non-violent action on November 11. The next day, they took part in a women’s ceremony of the pipe and stood along the road in support of a caravan of people who were prepared to be involved in a nonviolent civil disobedience action that could result in arrest.
In between the formal events, the Dominican Sisters observed the action around them and took part in conversations and in the almost round-the-clock prayer in the camp. “The eight of us began and ended each day with a prayer, and we shared and reflected at night on what had happened – how we were affected during the day,” Sister Kathy said.
“One of the solid theses of the group is that you can only bring about change in community,” Sister Maurine said. “Change will come about if we work in community – and they certainly showed that in every aspect of their being together.”
“It was an experienced of the hope of the world,” Sister Kathy said. “When people come together and unite to make something better, there’s power in that. To me it was very clear that this was a modeling of what we aspire to be – a unified people coming together for the common good, and acting out of that.”
Sister Marilyn was especially impressed by the gratitude exhibited by the native people of Standing Rock. “They started the protective action, and they were really happy that people supported that,” she said.
The Sisters were impressed by the high principles put forth by the organizers in their ongoing, non-violent resistance to the building of the pipeline. The sign outside the meeting dome delineated such principles as respect for the local people, respect for the camp as a place of prayer and ceremony, prohibition on weapons or property damage, and the need for orientation before direct action.
Other Sisters and Associates participated in nonviolent protests against the pipeline, especially on November 15, the national day of action against the DAPL. Sister Mary Carr, OP, reported that the Chicago rally drew about 500 marchers who traversed Washington and State streets, chanting, “Water is Life.”
“It was about a 30-minute walk to the Army Corps of Engineers,” where members of the rally presented 5,000 letters, asking that the permits for the pipeline be revoked,” Sister Mary reported. In addition, she said, participants in the rally carried a 30-foot long puppet representing the oil pipeline and listened to speakers from the American Institute of Chicago.
Sister Susan Gardner, OP, participated in a rally in Traverse City, Michigan, in which participants lined both sides of a parkway commonly used by people driving to and from work.
“It was great, as we all gathered with our signs and welcomed each other with smiles,” Sister Susan wrote. “It was wonderful to see the young mothers bring their children, especially girls, and have them stand there with their signs, too.” She said that the rally participants received signs of support from both Native and non-Native passersby.
Feature photo: Members of the Dominican contingent at Standing Rock are, from left: Sisters Kathy Long, OP, Evie Storto, OP, Peggy Ryan, OP, Julie Schwab, OP, Ceile Lavan, OP, Maurine Barzantni, OP, Marilyn Winter, OP, and Kathleen Nolan, OP.
By Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP
November 13, 2016 – Sisters Maurine Barzantni and Marilyn Winter and I came together recently to put into words for you, the experience of being at Standing Rock with the Native Americans and people from all over the world. We gathered there to bring attention to the need to protect the water and stop the building of the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL). This is no easy task, as being there was such a profound experience.
Driving out to the camp from Mandan, North Dakota – about a 40-mile trek across a wide expanse of prairie, hills, and valleys – gave some impression of the devastation that the building of this pipe line has brought to this particular plot of Earth.
As we approached the largest among the five camps and the one that we would spend our time visiting, we were not prepared for the expanse of this camp. We saw tents, teepees, campers, and flags of every tribal nation represented, waving in the brisk, cool wind. At the entry way to the camp, we were greeted warmly and directed to a place to park. Thus began two days of prayer, ritual, celebration, and conversation.
From the first moments we were invited to enter into the ceremony and prayer, which seemed constant. The Sacred Fire burns continuously day and night and provides a focal point within the camp for people to meet and pray. It was around the Sacred Fire that we celebrated the Native American Veterans on Friday, praying for them and with them as well as thanking them for their service. They, in return, danced the warrior dance to the accompaniment of drums and chant. On Saturday, it was at the Sacred Fire that we were invited into the women’s circle to share in the pipe ceremony.
The community spirit in the camp was palpable. Everyone offered a word of welcome and many thanked us for coming, as our sweatshirts identified us as Dominican Sisters coming in solidarity. Each moment among the campers – young, old, Native American, Black, Caucasian, men, and women – was an encounter with the holy because the sense of unity and peace was so pervasive.
We are so grateful to our Dominican Sisters, Julie Schwab and Toni Harris, who initiated this idea to go and be present at Standing Rock. We thank all of you who were praying with us and those at Standing Rock all weekend. We will continue to be in prayerful solidarity with our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock who will continue their action for the protection of the water for all of us.