Dakota Access Pipeline

I’d say this isn’t inherently political, but even if it were, I don’t know if that would be a bad thing. After all, Scripture proves over and over again just how much God cares about legislation. However, I don’t want this particular space to be political because that sort of rhetoric often becomes divisive. I’m not here to judge who you did or did not vote for, whether you affirm or reject the current administration, or even your particular, nuanced views on certain issues. We’re allowed to hold opinions and even disagree, while upholding a mutual love and respect for one another. We may have forgotten just how to dialogue with any sort of civility, but that’s always been allowed. Perhaps liken this to my posts on things I’ve learned from refugees and about refugees. This is less about a political leaning and more about giving a voice to people who have been stripped of that for centuries.

DaPL-Sacred-Water-PosterYou’re allowed to have your own opinion about how we should and should not go about controversial issues like this. We’re allowed to disagree about what is best for the world, based on utilitarian and deontological arguments. We are all called to think deeply and come to humble, yet well-reasoned opinions.

But here’s what we aren’t allowed to do: we aren’t allowed to be ignorant or live into our blindspots. That is, we cannot be content in the places where we may not realize marginalization is happening simply because it doesn’t affect us.

Do you know about the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines? Not just in a “I read a news article earlier this morning” sort of way, but in a deeply felt, impactful sort of way. The kind of way that compels us to care because regardless of where we stand politically, this is an issue that affects real people with real emotions, identity, communities, families, hopes, and dreams. It affects a people who have been historically and illegally oppressed, impoverished, and seen as “other.” That’s not political emotionalism; it’s cause for deep lament. It’s not propaganda; it’s true. Up there with scars in our nation’s history like the Dred Scott decision, we can trace the sort of prejudice against Native Americans back to the 15th century Doctrine of Discovery. The doctrine allowed colonialist settlers to take possession of any land they discovered, regardless of who was already there – the epitome of “finders keepers,” despite the fact that someone else had technically already “found” it first. This thing has roots in the church, folks. That’s to say nothing of the revocation of the 1865 treaty of Fort Laramie or that the Indian Citizenship Act wasn’t implemented until 1924. I haven’t even mentioned something like the Trail of Tears. It highlights just how deep seated the prejudice and systemic injustice lie. That’s not to say that people are even consciously living into racist patterns, but often that people just don’t know. The prerequisite for caring is always understanding.

So, it’s time to understand.

In case you don’t know what the DAPL even is, here’s some background: this week, the Dakota Access pipeline ripped through the Native reservation, Standing Rock (home to the Lakota nation), after months of delay and protests. The controversial pipeline will carry tons of crude oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois by the Energy Transfer Partners Company in Texas. The project, originally scheduled to run outside of the capital city of Bismark, was later redirected through the Standing Rock reservation in the name of minimizing casualties if the pipe were to leak (which is more common and life threatening than you might think). That, and it’s a lot easier to force Native Americans off the reservation than it is to fight billion-dollar cooperations in court. More than just a threat to water, the pipeline has ripped up Native land, destroying sacred burial sites and defacing the very thing that gives the Lakota Indians identity (and the one thing they’ve been promised autonomy over by the government) – their land.

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photo from ecowatch.com

We should care because these people are made in the image of God. These people have inherent value because the image of God is stamped upon them (Genesis 1:27). This means their bodies, their 60% water-filled bodies, have value. The incarnation of Jesus speaks to their dignity and worth, regardless of any political agenda or hidden racism we have harbored (myself included). They deserve to be heard and seen because they bear the very beauty of our Creator.

We should care because Native spirituality (both Christian and otherwise) understands things about our faith that we often miss. This point deserves much more than a few sentences of  summary and people like Steven Charleston articulate this much better than I can (and from the perspective of Native Christians, which automatically makes it more authoritative). It’s the idea that these people understand the significance of God promising land, vowing to redeem the Israelite’s land, and promising blessing when the people had no land better than we do. They understand the significance of a God who hovers above the waters (Gen. 1:2), who the winds obey (Matt. 8:27), and who is described as being akin to a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24). People who’ve never fallen into the sin of gnosticism because the very fabric of their culture is rooted in a deep sense of embodiment and worship. We need them to help us understand who the Great Spirit, the I Am that I Am, is and how He works in the world.

We should care because the way the First Nations have been treated historically is wrong, unjust, and illegal. Do I need to elaborate? Read any of the aforementioned articles and treaties that have been used, abused, and breached over the centuries of colonialism and settlement. Whatever your feelings are towards the DAPL, these people deserve to be heard because they’ve spent centuries being silenced.

We should care because we should care about environmental issues and the wellbeing of the earth. I hear lots of poking fun and joking at the expense of “eco-friendly” people, but the truth is that they have something right when it comes to our mandate for caring for the earth. There are so many reasons that the sustainability of our planet matters: as a command from God, as a part of the eternal renewal of the “new earth,” as a generational legacy, and ability to sustain life. I may be enjoying the warmer days for February in Chicago, but that’s because melting ice caps doesn’t directly affect me. Just because it doesn’t directly affect me doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter.

We should care because we should care. At the end of the day, these are people who are being affected by something and that is cause enough for us to lend an ear and listen. We may not get it, understand, or agree but we don’t have to do anything other than listen and advocate on the very basis that these are people. People matter; people should always matter. Their feelings, their homes, their livelihood, their land – it matters because they matter. And we haven’t lived with a perspective that Native bodies matter in a very long time.

You no longer have an excuse for not caring because you can no longer claim that you didn’t know. To learn more, visit Stand with Standing Rock.

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