“We are part mountain. We are part ocean. We are part river. We are part flower and grass and tree.” — Dennis Banks, Co-founder of the American Indian Movement.
The truth of these words rushes like a river in my soul. As thousands gather at Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, putting their bodies and freedom on the line to pray and protest with the people of Standing Rock Reservation, my spirit joins my brothers and sisters as we call upon the Great Mystery, One God of Many Names, the Love in Whom we have our being.
The people of Standing Rock Reservation are crying out to protect their land and water from the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline, transporting over 450,000 barrels of fracked oil a day. A leak would defile tribal ground and contaminate the Missouri River, poisoning the only water supply for the reservation. The Sioux Nation has been massacred and marginalized, betrayed each time the United States breaks a treaty. Now, in further violation of treaties and resolutions, the pipeline poses a threat to their lives and culture. The threat of a toxic Missouri river reaches far beyond Standing Rock, and radioactive elements leached into the earth from fracking put the whole planet in peril. So it is in solidarity with my brothers and sisters of the Sioux Nation that I pray for God to mold my grief and anger into resolve, hope, and loving action.
“We are part mountain. We are part ocean. We are part river. We are part flower and grass and tree.” This is truth too many have too long resisted. This is truth too many are too blind to see.
When my white ancestors came to this land few could accept that truth. They saw men and women living in harmony with the earth and water and sky and couldn’t see the image of God reflected them. Under the cross of a false, weaponized, white Christ they sought to civilize or exterminate the native peoples, bringing disease, destruction, and death. They saw idolatry in the reverence for the land in those to whom God first this land entrusted, but failed to see the blasphemy in their own violence.
“Fill the earth and subdue it,” Scripture says, “and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the over birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Thus Christianity arrived on this soil largely in dominance and conquest; the white man moved onto land nurtured and preserved by others and expelled the people to exploit the land. Generations later, I reside on this stolen land and live a life that cannot preserve and sustain the earth. All around, the ground and water and sky thirst for the wisdom of a people pushed aside, and we also thirst. I feel sick to my stomach considering how my ancestors cast out God’s children in the name of the God who became an outcast, and how I reap the privileges, and consequences, of those actions today. And still there are those who refuse to hear earth’s cry, and decry the wisdom of the native peoples who find the spark of divinity in creation. Because native people see in nature spirits to be honored instead of objects to be used, there are many who still say they worship “false gods.”
But it’s because God revealed God’s self as Love that I know I have much to learn from my brothers and sisters of the Great Sioux Nation and the other original nations of this land, whose language of worship is different from mine. It is because God is Love that I know that we are united with all of creation. It is because God came to humanity in Love that I’m finally beginning to learn what our native brothers and sisters have always known, that the dominion to which we’re called is not domination over but fellowship with the earth and all its inhabitants. Just as God relates to us in compassion and friendship, so we are to relate to each other and all of creation, which God created in and from Love. Love collapses all hierarchies, so that we are not above creation but part of it. Just as love should draw us in humility to those who know God in different ways, or reflect God’s image in a different color skin, so it should draw us in service to all creation.
We cannot serve the God of Love when we destroy God’s land and deafen our ears to the cries of God’s children. For generations we have sacrificed to bottomless-bellied Mammon, prioritizing profits above people. We continue to worship false gods of greed and fear when we destroy other lands with our violent imperialism and shun or deport those seeking refuge on our soil. For daring to step foot on land we stole long ago, we lock people in inhumane detention centers before sending them back to lives of poverty and violence, yet we continually destroy the land and people of sovereign nations with drones, occupations, and in this case, oil pipelines. We are a nation of hypocrites and idolaters. And now the false gods to whom we have devoted generations of self-deception are set to devour us whole. Our greed and violence are literally destroying this world.
Now is not the time for fracking oil, a pipeline destined to leak, another broken treaty, or further racist, heartless disregard for a people who have already suffered unconscionable cruelties. Now, while we are deep into the Anthropocene – a geological shift brought on by human recklessness and destruction poisoning the atmosphere, in which our survival is inextricably tied to the health of the earth – now is the time for intensive care for a dying world. It is also a time for reparations – to the indigenous tribes of this land, to African Americans, and to all those around the world on the receiving end of our violence. By reparations, I mean not just compensation, but real healing of relationships. War, arrogance and greed have pulled us all to the brink of destruction, and only cooperation, humility and generosity can save us.
In other words, we must live into the Love in whose image we were created. And that means we must learn that we are not only interdividuals – inextricably connected to our fellow human beings – but we are also interconnected in an ecology of Love that binds us to all of creation. We must learn the truth that “We are part mountain. We are part ocean. We are part river. We are part flower and grass and tree.” Living into that love will unbind us from self-destruction; living into that truth will set us free.
Editor’s Note: A federal judge will rule on the request from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of others to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline on Friday, September 9th. You can add your voice to the cry to protect the land and water by signing this petition.
Image: Screenshot from Youtube: “Standing Rock Sioux Chairman: Dakota Access Pipeline Is Threatening the Lives of My Tribe” by Democracy Now.