March 13, 2017

Native Nations Rise & Standing with Standing Rock March 2017

This past Saturday, I returned from my whirlwind 48-hour trip to Washington DC with my cohort of the Justice Ministry Education program that I'm in. 

What follows is the itinerary and schedule we had, and some initial reflections...  

Unfortunately, one of the members of my group decided at the last minute not to make the trip because of health concerns, including issues with mobility and keeping her energy up. Given the cold, rainy-snowy weather we had during the 2-mile, 3-hour march and rally on Friday, we all thought of how miserable our colleague would have been, had she been with us. 

Also, another member of our group is Oglala Sioux and had traveled with her family, so we seldom saw her.  It seems she and her family were heavily involved in the indigenous-centered activities...  She and two others from our cohort had gone to Standing Rock in North Dakota last fall, including the supervisor of the cohort, who had been twice. They all provided us with a bit of context and history of Standing Rock--nothing beats first-hand experience!  Another of us had gone to the March on Washington as a boy when Martin Luther King Jr had given his "I Have A Dream" speech. So among us, we have a lot of history of involvement in movements for social change. 


Thursday, March 9
  • Depart just before 9:00am; arrive Washington DC around 1:00pm. 
  • Grab lunch. Leave our luggage at where we would be staying.
  • Head to the office of Al Franken, who is one of Minnesota's U.S. senators and sits on the Indian Affairs Committee.  We met with his aide for about 10-15 minutes and spoke with him about Standing Rock and the need for the federal government to receive *consent* (not just have consultation) before proceeding with the construction of pipelines that would cross/desecrate indigenous land.
  • Head to the National Cathedral for the interfaith prayer service. A video of the 3-hour service is here:

Friday, March 10
  • Head to breakfast at First Trinity Lutheran Church, with brief program about Standing With Standing Rock before the march
  • 10:00am-1:00pm Native Nations Rise/Stand With Standing Rock March & Rally.  (This was a "permitted" march, meaning that there would be minimal disruption to the city and its traffic, and cops would be prepared ahead of time to redirect traffic.)
  • FREE TIME the rest of the day
    • We had lunch near where the rally was held at the end of the march. Then we walked to the Mall in front of the Pentagon where the indigenous community had set up (with permits) large tipis for events, ceremony, presentations, etc. 
    • We also walked to the new African American Museum nearby and took photos of ourselves in front of it. Tickets currently go on sale--and sell out--3 months ahead of time.
    • Then those of us who were wiped out went back to where we were staying, in order to rest for a couple of hours (including me). Others went onto the American Indian Museum nearby.
    • A few of us went to dinner at the Langston-Hughes inspired restaurant/bookstore/bar Busboys & Poets. Others got together with friends or just stayed put. 

Saturday, March 11
  • Depart Washington DC at 5:30 am to catch our flight home


Thankfully, we all seemed to get along alright with one another, although we have met together only 5 times in the month we've been together.  

We have different gifts:  One person recently had moved from Washington DC, so he knew all the good spots to eat and how to get around. The supervisor of our cohort is super-connected, so she had made plans for us as to where to be when, and with whom.  She's also an experienced traveler, so she was familiar with the various forms of transit we'd be using.  Another of us has a great sense of humor and tremendous stamina, so their easy spirit at times lifted us up. And then two of us were more like shepherds (that was my role/gift), keeping our eyes on the small flock of us and doing what we could during the march to keep us together, checked in with everyone, texted each other when any of us wandered off, etc.  

I think because of my organizer training and my experience in Ferguson, I grew concerned when one person from our group--the person most familiar with DC--really did just go off on his own, without saying anything to any of us, and we lost track of him for about 45 minutes or so.  Then I had the idea to text him, tell him we noticed his absence, and asked him to find a place to settle when he was ready and just let us know his whereabouts.  A little while later, he replied and said he had gotten too cold and needed a restroom, so he took care of himself.  Then I suggested he think of a place for us to eat lunch, so we could head there right after the rally, which worked out great. And we reconvened at the rally without too much difficulty, once he found an easy spot to meet him at.

During the interfaith worship service on Thursday night, it was a challenge for me to be still.  There were a lot of speakers; sometimes it was hard to hear because of the enormous space that is the National Cathedral--lots of echoes, and using a microphone didn't always help. And yet, to be in that holy space--holy because of our purpose together and because of the people gathered--with hundreds if not more than a thousand people gathered for the purpose of inward preparation for the next day's march... to hear from the father of Dallas Goldtooth, and the young adults, and the elders, and the women... about the history of Standing Rock, the vision of the people, spiritual well-being of the wider community... the drumming, the singing, the Native flute, the burning of the sage...

The most powerful part of the evening for me, personally, was when four elders--some of whom were dressed in clergy garb--and two young people carrying candles approached the center of the worship space. (This is at the 2-hour 10-minute mark of the video, I think.)  The elders lit the sage sticks they were carrying from the candles and walked around the entire room, allowing the 1000 worshipers to bless themselves with the smoke of the burning sage ("smudging")... The last time I received such a blessing was maybe 15 years ago, when I was in Milwaukee... It took about 20 minutes for the 4 elders to smudge everyone, and it was all done in silence and with great respect.  To me, it felt like an affirmation that we can practice abundance and generosity of Spirit; that there is enough time for everyone to receive a Blessing; that there is no need to rush.

Our indigenous colleague was also part of the clergy procession during that interfaith worship, and she likely knew many of the indigenous speakers. She seemed very peaceful and at rest...  whereas I myself could not help but stiffen up each time I saw the outward Christian symbols that Friends traditionally don't use:  lit candles; large wooden crosses; tall steeples; prayer books and hymnals...  Being both from a Jewish family and worshiping now among Friends, these customs unsettled me for a while...

Other times, I relaxed into receiving the prayers that were offered in an indigenous language.  Something deep among us seemed to be healing, as these Native people and their languages were honored and invited into and lifted up in such a colonized, Christianized space... Remember: The U.S. and its boarding schools--including Quaker-run schools--had all but criminalized and obliterated Native American spirituality, ceremony, traditions, culture, and language. 

One speaker invited us to look around at the enormous holy space we were in, the National Cathedral... to reflect on how long that steeple house had been there, and how many religious events and sacred communions with the Spirit had taken place over the years... and then to imagine what our response would be, if the country had found valuable mineral deposits and other critical resources beneath where this sacred space had been... Imagine how we'd respond if the government told us that the whole thing would have to be torn down, razed, and dug up...  How would we feel?  "Well, that is what is happening to our sacred sites..." he said.

And then a few minutes later, we were being smudged in the Holy Silence.

. . . . . . . . .

It was a long day of travel, followed by a long worship service. I wasn't able to meet up with members of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) who had some gatherings that day, but after the worship, I had a few minutes of time to visit with a Facebook Quaker friend from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Tina has been active there in that city's version of the Occupy Movement (they called it UnOccupy, out of respect for the indigenous people who lived there before European settlers occupied it).  She had also traveled to Standing Rock last fall; and she and I have called on each other for support around whiteness, white privilege, and racial justice issues.  It was a gift to connect with her and with her daughter in person.  Her daughter told me she has written online about her experiences:;  Look at her posts from March 9-12, 2017: she writes about events that I hadn't known about or wasn't able to get to...

I don't have much to say about the march:  our group was in the middle of the thousands of people, so we couldn't see or hear what was happening at the front of the march-- we stopped in front of the controversial Trump Hotel, where apparently a temporary tipi was erected and a Black Snake danced outside the lobby-- but smelling the burning sage and hearing the drums and chants around us, while also having some fellowship with the folks in my group kept me going.

I'm glad I went, despite it being such a short trip.  Thanks to all of you for your prayers and support.