Spiritual wounds from Dakota Access Pipeline protest won't soon heal

MANDAN, N.D. -- The Dakota Access Pipeline protest started with Standing Rock Sioux tribal council concerns over leaks and water purity and involved spirituality and values.

Valerie Wolf Necklace lives west of Cannon Ball, N.D., with her husband, Delnoe, left, and a sister, Bernadette Hill. She has allowed several former protesters to live there in a "cultural education" encampment. She was concerned about human waste in the camps, but thinks flooding concerns and other costs were either unnecessary or were worth it to make points over treaty rights and the environment. Photo taken at Cannon Ball, N.D., March 4, 2017. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

MANDAN, N.D. - The Dakota Access Pipeline protest started with Standing Rock Sioux tribal council concerns over leaks and water purity and involved spirituality and values.

While the "Water Protectors" were praying in the camps, many affected ranchers and farmers were praying for peace in local churches, including the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, whose national leaders urged members to "Stand With Standing Rock" against DAPL.

Doug Hille of Mandan is a longtime member of an ELCA congregation in Mandan, and he started his own church protest when he saw a letter from the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, his national bishop, officially titled the presiding bishop of the ELCA in Chicago. She suggested congregations Stand with Standing Rock and provide "advocacy when requested" and "resources ... when asked."

Mark Narum, the ELCA bishop from western North Dakota, had hosted Eaton on a visit to the conflict and acknowledged he'd scheduled Eaton's "very limited amount of time on the ground" without visiting ELCA parish members, but noted their concerns were brought up with her meeting with the North Dakota attorney general. Later, the ELCA announced it would look through any financial investments to make sure they're not supporting DAPL and notes that the pipeline runs through "disputed lands, called the 'Unceded Territory,' which Standing Rock claims was a part of the Fort Laramie Treaty to which the Lakota should still have a claim."

Just 'thoughts'


Jodi Slattery, an assistant to Eaton, says Eaton's original letter simply expressed the national bishop's "thoughts" and didn't mandate anything, and she couldn't say whether any effects were measured. She said Narum is working to "build relationships on the ground."

Hille says he doesn't know whether tribes have a legal case to enforce treaties, but says some consideration should be given for productivity of the land.

Hille thinks relationships between farmers and ranchers and tribal protesters have been set back for 50 years or more due to fear and indifference. The small town of St. Anthony had a conceal-carry permit class designed for women that brought in 50 people instead of the anticipated 20.

"If that doesn't tell you the level of fear these people lived in for several months, I don't know what else could," Hille says.

Native view

Meanwhile, on Highway 1806, where the protests were sited, visiting law enforcement man the blockades, only letting in pipeline workers.

A few miles to the southwest, Valerie Wolf Necklace of Cannon Ball, N.D., lives with her husband, Delnoe. Her sister, Bernadette Hill, has been staying with her since last April. The sisters spent considerable time in the protest camps. They're hosting a small group of people in tents - some non-natives and some from Oregon, and all former residents of the camp. There is ceremonial smoke, rituals and buffalo hide tanning. The residents declined to be photographed or interviewed, but said they'd been chased around the reservation by authorities.

Despite the public costs, Valerie Wolf Necklace says the whole "movement" was a good thing.


"I think it opened up the world's eyes to the treatment of indigenous, native people," she says. "I don't believe it is over. I doubt it will ever be over. It will be a continuous fight because we're here."

Wolf Necklace says the security and inconveniences were worth the cost.

"It don't bother me at all. Money is the root of all evil," she says. "What we were fighting for here is water."

She thinks the people could have cleaned the camps up themselves. She is skeptical of flood potential this year but acknowledges she was concerned about human waste at the camps.

A turning point for Hill was when organizers extinguished the ceremonial fires when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the drilling permit while Barack Obama was president.

"They extinguished the fire too soon," she says. "They thought they had won."

The permit later was approved after Donald Trump's inauguration.

Hill thinks the primary accomplishment of the camps on Standing Rock is awareness of treaty rights. She says the "world has seen how the Dakota Access Pipeline has desecrated sacred burial grounds," a point of debate in a corridor that already contains a natural gas pipeline.


She says the costs to the state of $30 million or more was necessary.

"We went with our hearts to save the water and to save Unci Maka (Lakota language for Grandmother Earth). They paid someone to turn violent and do what they did to us, and we were just peaceful, prayerful. North Dakota put their own selves in debt," she says. "To me, Dakota Access Pipeline wants to rule, to say, 'We beat those guys.' Like we're nobody."

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