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To Friends In New England,

We write to you on our return from the prayer encampment of the Oceti Sakowin—the Great Sioux Nation—in what is now known as the State of North Dakota. Led by the Standing Rock Sioux and the other tribes of the Seven Fires Council, thousands of Indigenous and non-Native people from across the country and the planet have gathered in this camp as winter comes. United in prayer and ceremony, they commit their bodies and spirits in deeply prayerful nonviolent direct action to ensure that Native sovereignty is recognized, that the so-called “Dakota Access Pipeline” is stopped, and that the precious water and ecology of their region is preserved for this and future generations of living beings. We were honored to be guests of the camp from November 24–26, 2016.

We traveled with prayers and donations from New England Friends, and with New England Yearly Meeting’s statements of support and solidarity: the Minute Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, the Minute of Support for Standing Rock from the Committee on Racial, Social and Economic Justice, and the public statement “A Call to Prayer and Support for Standing Rock” written by the Presiding Clerk and Yearly Meeting Secretary. We also delivered a banner created by teenage Young Friends in support of the water protectors. We stood together as our Yearly Meeting secretary, Noah Merrill, offered words of gratitude and shared what he was given to say on our behalf with the tribal elders. He spoke of our commitment to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and our prayer that we will continue to discover how to live more fully in right relationship with our Indigenous relatives and with all Creation.

Vision

The Oceti Sakowin camp is located on the banks of the Cannonball River on land controlled by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers—land promised to the Sioux by treaty, but taken for other purposes although the treaty was never revoked. The camp, situated on river bottomland, is a vast field of tipis, tents and improvised structures. Perched on the ridgeline above the camp, which includes an ancient Sioux burial ground, is a continual heavy surveillance presence: military vehicles, armed police, spotlights, helicopters, airplanes and drones encircle the camp.

When we saw the camp it struck us that we were witnessing a vision of the future. We understand this to mean two things: We were reminded that growing climate disruption will increasingly force people from their homes, creating many more such makeshift camps in our world, in the shadow of repressive force. But equally striking was the fierce assurance we felt that many more will be led to such bold acts of holy obedience, coming together across our differences to do the work of God in these times.

It is our deep hope that as Friends we will find ourselves following the way of Jesus—standing with and recognizing in ourselves and our faith communities the condition of the poor, oppressed and vulnerable rather than struggling to protect whatever relative affluence, comfort, security or privilege some of us possess. It is in protecting our own vested interests and maintaining the illusion of our superiority and separateness that we lose sight of the sacred relationships upon which all life depends.

Service

As guests in the camp, we dedicated our time to service—simple tasks of sorting donations, splitting firewood, and making food. Working alongside others who had come for this shared purpose, we found relationships across boundaries of distance and background. Through this experience of service we were reminded that common labor binds us together, and that no contribution offered in faith is too small. While it can be tempting to view the work of building the Beloved Community as being about heroic deeds or grand projects, far more often it is these small unnoticed acts of service that provide the space for us to meet each other and—through the Love we find together—to meet God.

Gospel

Our time at Standing Rock closed by attending a press conference(link is external) led by David Archambault II, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, responding to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers letter stating their intention to close public access to the camp on December 5, 2016. In the voices raised in that press conference we encountered the living God—the same Spirit attested to by Friends throughout our history.

Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, lifted up these words:

“Where we arrived at as a people … we went through a lot of healing, we went through a lot of ceremonies, and what’s left is pure love for our land, pure love for our people, and there’s not a place for fear in that. And so to the Army Corps who sent that letter, the message from Indigenous people here is the letter means nothing to us.”

Facing the threat of the forcible closure of their camp, the speakers on the panel expressed fearlessness—a fearlessness arising from a Power that comes not from institutions, uniforms and guns but from inward conviction, from the unquenchable fire they have found in their hearts. Their articulation of this inward experience was an example to us, and we hope that we too can learn to stand ever more solidly in this Power.

Once again we are invited, through faithfulness, to the quiet yet profound voice of Truth that whispers in our hearts and gives us courage and power to walk boldly in uncertain times. When we give ourselves over to it, we know we too can enter into this Kingdom where our hearts are clarified in purpose, where we cling less to the illusory safety of our culture, where we feel more closely the security and Love of God.

We ask all Friends to continue to pray that the Spirit protect the Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock and to continue to advocate, by all means possible, in support of their holy work to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline and to re-envision a world where we all live in right relationship. We affirm that following the guidance of Indigenous leadership is essential for all who seek to support this witness. While conditions may change rapidly, we encourage Friends who may be led to respond to the invitation of the Native elders to travel to North Dakota in a spirit of solidarity and service to seek ways to do so, with humility and boldness.

In the Love that binds us together and frees us from fear,

Christa Frintner (Cambridge, MA), Meg Klepack (West Falmouth, MA), Noah Merrill (Putney, VT), Jay O’Hara (West Falmouth, MA), Kim West (Cambridge, MA), Honor Woodrow (Framingham, MA)

insideNovember 3, 2016

In North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies are struggling for the future of their land and people. Where those without worldly power stand in the Truth in the face of empire, God is at work and our faith calls us to support them.

For months, the Indigenous people leading this witness have embraced their role as “water protectors” in opposition to the completion of an oil pipeline that threatens the water supply, sacred sites, sovereignty and survival of Native people. Their nonviolent stand to protect the water, land, and climate for future generations faces escalating violence in a militarized, state-supported assault.

On behalf of Quakers in the six New England states, we affirm that we see God at work in the courageous actions of those in the protector camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. In their ongoing resistance, we see the convergence of struggles for Indigenous rights, climate justice, and liberation from white supremacy, moving with the power of the Spirit, raising up a vision of a world renewed.

Many New England Quakers and local Friends meetings are engaged in supporting this witness and we pray for those who plan to deepen their involvement. We are keenly aware that winter is coming to North Dakota and that direct material support is needed for those continuing this work.

We encourage all Friends to keep this unfolding confrontation in their prayers and to keep themselves and their communities educated about nonviolent resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock and elsewhere. We urge local meetings across New England to consider how we might offer practical and spiritual support to those standing for Life in the face of violence.

In support of this witness, we hope Friends and meetings will prayerfully consider the following possible actions:

  • Prayer: Hold all involved and affected by these events—on every side—in the Light, including Friends from New England who are working to support the water protectors and those planning to travel to North Dakota in the coming days
  • Advocacy: Join the advocacy work of Friends Committee on National Legislationin solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
  • Support: Respond to the call for timely and direct support of those gathered at the Sacred Stone Camp

In faith,

Fritz Weiss, Presiding Clerk
Noah Baker Merrill, Yearly Meeting Secretary
New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

P.S.– In recent days, New England Yearly Meeting’s Committee on Racial, Social and Economic Justice approved a minute in support of the Standing Rock water protectors. We encourage Friends seeking more background to refer to this minute, as well as the Minute of Annual Sessions 2016 affirming a divine call to respond to the climate crisis.