North to Standing Rock

As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

For a couple of months my wife, Susie, and I felt undeniably drawn to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the “Water Protectors” attempts to reclaim land. This land, which lay directly in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline, had never been relinquished by treaty. Our duty as people of faith could not be clearer: to stand on the side of the oppressed and to pray for God’s mercy in these difficult times.

So when I heard the call from Episcopal priest Rev. John Floberg in Cannon Ball, N.D., for people of faith to come and “Stand with Standing Rock, we responded. We loaded our truck with food to donate, sacks of Blue Bird flour, and supplies to make frybread. and headed north 600 miles from Denver, Col.

The purpose was to gather in support of the Sioux Nation’s attempts to stop construction of an encroaching oil pipeline near the Standing Rock reservation near Cannon Ball, N.D., on the banks of the Missouri River. Interfaith allies wanted to stand witness to the water protectors’ acts of compassion for God’s creation and to the transformative power of God's love to change hearts and minds.
At the site, we joined over 500 clergy representing 20 faith traditions, who answered the call to show Christian unity with the Native American tribes.

On the morning of November 3, 2016, we gathered at the Oceti Sakowin Camp sacred fire that burns 24 hours a day. Susie was one of the representatives to read a statement from denominations that have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, including the CRC’s Synod 2016. The statement called for support of the Indigenous People of the Americas. The ceremony included a burning of the copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, a document that has been used to justify racism and the enslavement of Indigenous peoples since Pope Alexander VI, who wrote the doctrine in 1493.

“The Doctrine of Discovery is not based upon the gospel,” Rev. Floberg said. “The gospel has Jesus coming among people and inviting relationship with them. The Christian gospel is one of liberating and not of oppressing. The gospel got connected to economic enterprise and it was distorted.”

Thereafter approximately 533 clergy marched a mile from the main encampment of water protectors under the watchful eye of state police, pipeline security, helicopter and drone. There we prayed and listened to words of reconciliation and solidarity. The gathering ended with in a huge Niobrara Circle of Life, an Episcopal tradition in which all of the participants greet each other and say, “Peace be with you.”

The following day, Susie and I set up makeshift table and stove to make frybread at the Sacred Stone camp kitchen. We distributed the hot frybread to a line of about 400 hungry campers.

During our nonviolence training, before the gathering at the Oceti Sakowin Camp sacred fire,  Rev. Floberg said, “We all come here with our own perspectives.” He proceeded to tell a story about driving over the horizon to Camp Oceti Sakowin the first time with his Japanese and Native American friends. Rev. Floberg said, “Now I know how Custer felt.” His Japanese acquaintance said it reminded him of “Japanese internment camps,” while his Native American friend said, “It feels like I am home now.”

I wonder what another tribal man, Jesus, would see, if he come over the hill to see Camp Oceti Sakowin for the first time. I hope he would agree with our Clergy for Standing Rock observing prayer, in a peaceful, non-violent, and lawful witness of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.

About the Author

Richard and Susie Silversmith, Navajo, are leaders at Denver Christian Indian Center, in Denver, Col.

See comments (3)


I am saddened to see such one-sided propaganda published by the Banner. These "peaceful, non-violent" protesters have traspassed on and destroyed private property, set fire to heavy equipment, and even fired guns at police. There may be valid reasons to oppose the pipeline. This article offers none.

Thank you for your presence and testimony, Richard and Susie.

These authors are of course entitled to their perspective, but I would point out two elements of that perspective that are troubling for the reason that they are contrary to facts that are pretty readily apparent to anyone who has not pre-concluded in a way that has no concern for the facts.

First, these protests are not a "peaceful, non-violent, and lawful witness."  The authors might make an argument for why non-peaceful, violent, and unlawful witness is needed, required or justified, but those don't attempt that.   

Second, the authors suggest these protests are about "reconciliation and solidarity."  Solidarity maybe (but the mob has that as well, as does ISIS) but reconciliation?  If reconciliation was a goal of the Standing Rock Sioux, or their not-always-so-lawful-or-non-violent-supporters, they would have participated a whole lot more in the discussions they were invited to participate in before final (legal) decisions were made.  But they quite consciously chose not to, and to take a non-reconciling route instead.  This is made abuntantly clear by the district court judge's decision in response to the Standing Rock Sioux's request for a restraining order (can be found on-line of course).

Rather than reconciliation, the Standing Rock Sioux seek, in this case at least, division, a populist styled (ala Donald Trump), emotion only based call to ignore a rational legal process and replace that with "taking to the streets" with shallow chants and sloganeering, a strategy best calculated (and intended) to divide rather that unite (or reconcile).