Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Global Ministries Holds Press Conference in Support of Standing Rock and Indigenous Peoples

By Yvonne Njoroge*

ATLANTA, Dec. 13, 2016—The General Board of Global Ministries held a press conference yesterday at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Ga. The press conference was organized to show support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and to reinforce the call to stand with all indigenous people across the globe. The ongoing construction of the pipeline could potentially contaminate the tribes’ main source of water and devastate sacred land. Global Ministries invited guests to speak on their experiences at Standing Rock as part of the press conference.

Watch highlights from the Press Conference.

For the past several months, water protectors have held prayer vigils and direct actions on the Standing Rock reservation, calling other people of faith to stand in solidarity with Native Americans to demonstrate love and respect for all members of creation. “We have a right to exist, and nothing more. We have a right to exist as we see fit, as members of this world and this body of creation,” said Chebon Kernell, executive secretary for Native American and Indigenous People’s Ministries.

“As from the beginning, water has been one of our sacred elements of life,” said Kernell. Tribal towns have always been located near water. The DAPL would create an unhealthy and unsafe environment not only for the indigenous people who rely on the Missouri River for water, but for approximately 18 million people who live downstream as well.

IMG_2060 copy.jpgGlen Chebon Kernell. Photo: Cynthia Mack

Clean water, a major concern for all people, has inspired a movement centered on unity, community, and prayer resistance at Standing Rock. “Standing Rock is a oneness issue,” said Mary Lyons, great grandmother in the Ojibwe Tribe. To make a change, we must all come together for future generations and indigenous people around the world. “We cannot do anything if we are separate,” said Henrietta Nelson, elder in the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Imam Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, O.K., explained his reason for going to Standing Rock. He reflected on his time as a young boy watching "cowboys and Indians" on TV and cheering on the cowboys to beat the savage Indians, ironically, while living in a Palestinian refugee camp.  “It is my silent apology, my silent repentance for the indigenous people, for cheering on the aggressors.” He also described a moment years later when he visited his father's childhood home with his wife, a member of the Cheyenne Tribe, and was forbidden to take a photograph because his home had been resettled. This firsthand experience of feeling like a stranger in one’s own home, reflects the treatment given to the indigenous people from the 1800s to the present day. He adds, “Maybe I was there because I am an interfaith leader, who indeed looks at things from a totally different perspective. There is no such thing as Muslim water, Christian air, or a Jewish environment. There is a place we call home, on earth, and we all cherish it.”

On Dec. 5, 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the DAPL to cross the Missouri River near the reservation. The fight is not over. Not only with the issue of the DAPL but with indigenous people everywhere fighting to keep their way of life and protecting their land from being desecrated. “If we stand in our truth, we will wake up to those four elements (fire, earth, air, water), and those walls of separation will come down, and we will become the oneness,” said Mary Lyons.

IMG_2152 copy.jpgMary Lyons. Photo: Cynthia Mack

In recent news, a pipeline about 150 miles from the Standing Rock camp has spilled an estimated 176,000 gallons of crude oil. A landowner discovered it the same day the permit was denied. The leak from the Belle Fourche Pipeline flowed into the Ash Coulee Creek near Belfield, N.D., and into U.S. Forest Service land along the waterway. Some of the oil remains frozen over since the spill, but could potentially flow into the Little Missouri River. According to Wendy Owen, spokeswoman for the Wyoming-based True Companies, they have yet to determine the cause of the break. The oil cleanup is set to go on until spring. This is a reminder that the DAPL could potentially affect anyone who drinks and uses water. As in any fight for justice, there is a continued call to stand for basic human rights.

Water is sacred. "Because," explains Henrietta Nelson, "without water, there is no living entity. No plants, no animals, no food."

Mni Wiconi. Water is life.

Yvonne Njoroge is Digital Media Producer, Communications for Global Ministries.