Hi. This is John. I promised you that I would report from my time last week in North Dakota, where I was among those supporting the Standing Rock Sioux. You already know a lot about the events in Standing Rock:
- How some 10,000 unarmed people – indigenous and immigrants alike – have placed their bodies in the way of the “Black Snake” – the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipe Line – as it advances toward completion under the Missouri River.
- How police have fired on them with nearly every conceivable non-lethal weapon, including water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and mace that have injured hundreds.
- How thousands of American veterans have swelled the ranks of the indigenous protesters, to place their lives on the line once again – this time facing the weapons of American police.
- And how – for now – the US government has decided not to issue necessary permits for the DAPL pipeline to slice further into Sioux treaty lands.
For now, the pipeline appears to be stopped. For now, the military muscle and corporate might behind this enormous project seems to have been overcome by a modern day incarnation of Gideon and his tiny remnant of unarmed soldiers. But friends, it’s not nearly over. It’s only just begun. More on that in a few days…
But for starters, you’ve asked for my impressions from first-hand experience among this peaceful resistance. I can only tell you how my personal biases have been challenged, and my vision has been focused. So without pretense of any special wisdom, here are some of my take-home thoughts from the stance of Standing Rock Sioux:
- The struggle for a survivable climate will not come away clean from other struggles for justice, like indigenous rights, racial justice and inequality.
- Indigenous treaty rights are not a closed book, as though we can just shrug and blame it on Columbus, or Adam, or something else in the distant past.
- Christians must engage with indigenous spirituality, without fear, without prejudice, and with confidence in the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- Many of us prefer to look honestly at unjust laws in our history books, rather than in our newspapers. But there are laws on the books today that are not worthy of our obedience.
- Many Christians insist on seeing their ethics in black and white. But following Jesus into the arena of injustice may challenge our comfortable purity.
It’s All One Struggle
The struggle for a survivable climate will not come away clean from other struggles for justice, like indigenous rights, racial justice and inequality. We are fighting for each other now.
In America, it’s a tragic fact that climate action is largely a Caucasian passion. We see Latinos facing the onslaught of mass deportation from the xenophobic spirit of the age. African-Americans are facing mass incarceration under a system of justice that seems designed with them uniquely in mind. Muslims are fearful of being registered, monitored or interned because of their faith. The poor and sick are afraid of losing their only lifeline to decent medical care. Marginal communities are being bullied, harassed and hated on subways, in stores and in schoolyards.
But in this dark era, suburban middle-class whites have the “luxury” of caring about climate change – something that can multiply virtually every other problem, and ultimately threaten world civilization, but probably not for another few decades.
So they’ve got their issues, we say. We’ve got ours.
But among the thousands at Standing Rock, it’s becoming clear how firmly bound together these threats really are. You’re worried about migration? Climate disruption is driving millions on a desperate search for food and stability – like we’ve already seen in Syria, Somalia and Darfur. We wonder why black lives don’t seem to matter to so many of us? And yet people of color know they are many times more likely to suffer the effects of polluted water, air and soil than white people. And they’re more likely to need related medical care, whether or not they can afford it. We’re worried about religious tensions between Muslims and Christians? Yet much of Muslim Middle East and North Africa is being rendering nearly uninhabitable by desertification and epic droughts.
And finally, the beleaguered survivors of the American indigenous genocide turn out to be the closest thing we’ve seen to the “sons of God” for whom the injured earth is groaning (see Romans 8:19).
My fellow white Christian earth-keepers, if I’m learning anything from Standing Rock, it’s this: Whatever right I once thought I had to ignore marginalized communities in the name of environmental focus, it’s too high a price to pay. If I want God to hear my cries for his creation under the lash of the consumerist petro-state, I’m going to have to heed his call to bind the wounds of my suffering neighbors on the Jericho Road.
End note: Friends, please come back tomorrow to consider Indigenous Treaty Rights. I went to Standing Rock thinking that broken treaties were unfortunate artifacts of history. Not so much anymore.