STANDING ROCK: Being in a Living Prayer & the Art of Collective Resistance

Standing Rock is an Indigenous led resistance through the power of collective prayer and ceremony. Its context is the 500-year long impact of Colonialism on First Nation People, which inflicted one of the largest genocides in human history, alongside mass invasion of Native lands, a litany of broken treaties, legislated cultural oppression, including removal of children through forced Christianized education at boarding “schools”, and ongoing marginalization of Indigenous rights. This generational domination remains firmly in place illustrated by the State of North Dakota attempting to force, through intimidation and violence, the Sioux Tribe to accept what white society, a few dozen miles away at Bismarck city, rejected; the Dakota Pipeline through the heart of their community. The assurance of Energy Transfers Partnership, who are laying the pipeline, that there will not be an oil spill into the Missouri River, which the line traverses, are empty given that that there have been hundreds, if not thousands of pipeline spills, including those from ETP pipelines.

campStanding Rock, one of the most unique gatherings ever, is a front line against the most powerful corporation ever, the oil industry. Certainly, this is the first time, since the Battle of Little Bighorn in the 1800’s that Seven Lakota and Dakota Nations have come together, alongside over 30 other Indigenous Nations. This gathering of Indigenous Nations from all over Turtle Island (the Native name for America) has not been known in historical memory. The tribes represented have been joined by First Nation peoples from South America, New Zealand, and beyond, and allies from around America and further afield. Also joining are over two thousand military veterans who have vowed to protect this courageous and determined community.

sr-stand-offAt the heart of this resistance is commitment to break the cycles of violence born of a colonial mindset, which feels entitled to extract for self-benefit regardless of the impact. This mindset is now the front line everywhere, within and around us all. Increasingly, our choices will be influenced either by a colonizing, psychopathic corporate agenda servicing extortionate amounts of wealth for a minuscule percent of the global population, or they’ll contribute to a necessary resistance upon which our survival now depends.

Standing Rock offers an indigenous template for wise choice from seven Lakota values around which the camp orientates itself. These values, elaborated on by what I experienced and heard at Standing Rock, speak to collective resistance as both an inner training as well as guidelines for family, community, society, and business:

  1. Prayer: Honor and respect the sacred within all life, which includes nature, the earth, the elements of fire, water, air, and those living beings that are not two legged. (The reductive term animals, is not in indigenous language.) Purify the heart, connect with ancestors, and the overall indwelling spirit of creation while aligning within community through ceremony. This involves resistance as ceremony.
  1. Respect: Respect begins with deferential listening, and from that, a willingness to shift into new ways internally and behavior externally. It means not pushing ego agendas and strategies. Instead be willing to listen to wise elders, to feedback, to what is needed for the overall good of the community.
  1. Compassion: Take care of one another. Be compassionate towards ones self, and to self and others when making mistakes. The stronger let the physically weaker go first, for example, at meals, the elders, women and children go first. As a practice, step aside from assuming entitlement due to race, gender, class, wealth, and instead tune into the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable.
  1. Honesty: Be true and authentic with each other, while being self honest about our conditioning and how that plays out in ways that generate harm, even subtly, to others and the environment.
  1. Generosity: Put in more than you take out. Generosity is not just sharing physical goods, but is essential to generating sustainable life for all. It is the direct opposite of colonization, which is based in domination and ownership at the expense of others.
  1. Humility: Be grounded in your own being, while checking your expectations of others and what is around you. Hold off from pushing your agenda, particulalry if it is dominating the space with “I have a better way”, “My idea is best.” Be sensitive to internalized colonized conditioning, and be willing to own it.
  1. Wisdom: We all carry wisdom within us, but within the context of Indigenous or Elder wisdom spaces, listen and be guided by the understandings offered. Resist an “extractive” mindset, or cultural appropriation, of what is not offered. Be respectful of elders and learn to listen to all voices, even those you don’t agree with.

At the heart of this sacred, prayerful and ceremonial resistance at Standing Rock is a commitment to complete non-violence. My understanding of this, from what I witnessed, heard, and experienced, is that there is an invitation to align with a deeper power. This power, articulated as guidance of ancestors, forces of nature, and the overall guiding intelligence of the Great Spirit, pulses within us. At Standing Rock, I experienced my heart being stripped down to its essential rawness. In place of socialization strategies, what arose was strength of authenticity, of sharing, of camaraderie, and a wonder at the resilience of human beings rising up.

Here’s some of what I heard from an Indigenous man who is a Water Protector and leader of the heart and spirit.

What should be remembered about Standing Rock is that it began with children calling us to pray with them. Elders too. We must mean and do what we say. Fighting from violence disrespects the ancestors. The ancestors are fighting the battle also, and they need us to be here without violence. You must pray for yourself, to take out your pain and have love put in your heart instead. As we unify with nature, she will heal us. Respect Mother Earth.

He also said,

One day, at the height of the Iraq War, an Elder Grandmother prayed to the ancestors at the sacred fire to ask that the war stop. They responded by saying to her that her prayer was a good prayer, but it was not enough. That everyone must pray to stop war. We are at a precipice. Everyone must now pray.

to-waterWater is Life. This meme is the underlying stream of consciousness at Standing Rock. The pipeline threatens the clear and beautiful waters of the Missouri River. Every morning, as day broke, the pre-dawn circle around the sacred fire, buoyed by shared wisdom from Elders and water protectors, enacted a ceremonial and collective walk to the bank of the river. There, offerings are made. Sometimes formations of geese fly across the limpid snow grey sky as the still glass waters and spirit of the Missouri responds. It is felt as a subtle jubilant uplift within the heart. This earth is alive and she feels our intentions, our actions, and our hearts.

sr-missouriEveryday we use water. We depend on it for life, and yet we entirely take it for granted. One late afternoon, a woman spoke at the fire. She had come from Flint, Michigan to join forces. She spoke of poisoned water in her city, of people drinking and having their teeth dissolve, of people getting sick, dying, and of her own infertility and pain at not being able to mother children due to the poisoned water.

Standing Rock is not just about Standing Rock it is about everywhere and our struggle to reclaim the sacredness of water, of the elements, and of the Earth. It speaks to our need to reconnect with each other in more direct, generous, authentic and respectful ways, and it speaks to our true spirit, which seeks to release from the mechanistic, disassociated, drudgery of a desacralized life, by undertaking acts of loving service and sacrifice.

Bring it Home! Not everyone can get to Standing Rock, and not everyone at Standing Rock can go on the front lines. But every one of us must now pay heed to what is unfolding there, because all of us need to play our part to ensure a livable planet for future generations. We can’t rely on politicians or other leaders, instead we have to all pull together. We are on a precipice and the lights are going out. We are losing the Arctic, the Great Barrier Reef, the great forests, most wild life, and we are being threatened by a craven political and corporate agenda that cares for no one, except it’s own profit. Those who crave money will find out soon that they cannot eat their money. Those standing at Standing Rock stand for them too, and for their children and their grandchildren.

protectWe do this for all of us. The Army Corps of Engineers, who claim the land of Oceti Sakowin Standing Rock, have stated the intention of evicting the camp on December 5th. It now looks like the peaceful Water Protectors will be confronted by a highly militarized police force, alongside a private, mercenary army on behalf of the State, the pipeline and the oil company, who have already proved their capacity for shameful, wonton violence. Chief Arvol Looking Horse has asked us to join together in prayer and ceremony. To do so can help to help avert this potential catastrophe. Please do what you can.

Whatever happens on that fateful day: whether Standing Rock and its incredible blazing heart stands of falls, what is assured is that voluminous, potent seeds are fast growing in support of collective resistance. The Indigenous People are showing the way, as have many oppressed people throughout history, and for this, words of gratitude seem paltry. What one is bequeathed through the gift of Standing Rock is a clarified, strong, heart, burning with a light of commitment and hope in the face of incalculable odds. This then, is our offering of gratitude. To pick up the flame of hope, and to carry it long into the shadowy night that is fast encroaching us all.

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Here is a fund raiser to support the Dharma Dome @Standing Rock, for practitioners, meditation, and prayer in support of the camp and water protectors. Donations beyond needs of the Dharma Dome go to www.standingrock.org and will distributed according to priority by Indigenous leadership.

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10 thoughts on “STANDING ROCK: Being in a Living Prayer & the Art of Collective Resistance”

  1. You are so right about gratitude not being a big enough word – how to describe the response of the heart when it sees the Truth of what we all could be and desperately need to be, blazing so courageously and steadfastly inspite of the darkness? Thank you for going there and for writing this.

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  2. Beautiful. Niawenhko:wa. Thank you. And over 200 (I think it may be 300 now) Indigenous nations have signed on in support, sent letters of support… One of the widest and most far reaching indigenous “United Nations” ever

    .

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  3. Ralph Steele was just telling me about you yesterday, and today I came across this article. Heading back to ND for the third time, I will try to find the Dharma Dome, I am grateful, I have been able to practice while in lodges there but look forward to a space for sitting and doing my regular practice. Thank you!

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  4. Yes … reflecting back (paraphrasing) what was said here,

    ‘We are all poised on a precipice, and the lights are going out. We, and all our relations (in Lakota, ‘mitakuye oyasin’), are threatened by those following a craven, depraved, and inhuman corporate and political agenda; people whose only concern and motive seems to be money and profits. Already in dire peril are the Arctic, the Great Barrier Reef, the great forests, and most wildlife, and now the very waters of our homelands are under siege and in great danger. And so we now know, finally, that we cannot rely upon politicians or other kinds of so-called ‘leaders’ to protect what is right, and true, and good. Instead, we must all pull together to make the necessary changes happen. No one can do it but us.’

    Please allow me also to offer this song and these lyrics, by my own hand in 1985, which I sang at Sacred Stone Camp in September:

    River Blue (‘Living By Your Stream’) (1985)
    — by John VanDyke Wilmerding (a.k.a. ‘Johnny Van Dyke’)
    facebook.com/john.wilmerding

    Long before we were walking here
    There was so much beauty here to see
    Life was born in the water clear
    In the river, the lakes, and in the sea

    River blue. you’re alive as you flow to the sea
    Long’s we keep you clean
    We need your water so clear as we go through our lives
    Living by your stream

    You and I are now walking here
    And there’s so much beauty here to see
    Trees and grasses grow by our river
    In the valley she made for you and me

    River blue. you’re alive as you flow to the sea
    Long’s we keep you clean
    We need your water so clear as we go through our lives
    Living by your stream

    Here we are by the side of our river
    Can we live in sweet harmony?
    Ask yourself ‘what can I do to give her
    The life she has given to me?’

    When our children are walking here
    Can we say what beauty they will see
    Will the future see water pure
    In your stream, flowing to the sea?

    River blue. you’re alive as you flow to the sea
    Long’s we keep you clean
    We need your water so clear as we go through our lives
    Living by your stream
    We need your water so clear as we go through our lives
    Living by your stream

    Liked by 1 person

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