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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.