En Route to Standing Rock

Written by Emily Brewer

I write this as I’m sitting at the breakfast table of Abbi and Ben Heimach-Snipes in Chicago, where we stayed last night after six of us drove from New York City to Chicago. Once we got here we met Colleen Earp, who flew in to Chicago from Richmond, Virginia. In a few hours we will be commissioned at the Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago and then the six of us from New York, plus Ben and Colleen will head toward Minneapolis, where we’ll have dinner at the Church of All Nations and pick up three others in our delegation before heading on to Standing Rock.

This trip began several weeks ago when Activist Council Bob Ross texted me and said, “Is PPF planning on going to Standing Rock?” “No,” I replied, “but we should!” We decided on Thanksgiving week, because professors and students can take time away, but also because it felt significant to plan to spend Thanksgiving with the water protectors.

Like many of you did, I assume, I grew up with the story of Thanksgiving as one of friendship and unity, a coming together of the Native Americans and the European colonizers to share one big meal together to celebrate the cooperation and mutuality established between the two groups on Turtle Island. That was not true. Perhaps there was a meal, and perhaps the Native Americans did in fact help the Europeans survive their first months in the place we now call the United States of America.

However, this story that many of us learn as children completely ignores the violence of colonialism, the violence that the settlers--my ancestors--perpetrated against Native Americans. That violence continues today.

This summer at the General Assembly, the PC(USA) passed a document repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery was a papal bull issued in 1493 that gave religious permission and mandate to “discover” the Americas to European colonizers. It stated that “explorers” (colonizers) who “discovered” a new land and people should be “subjugated and brought to the faith.” This Doctrine has been the basis for so many European policies and interactions with Native people that have resulted in violence, the stealing of land, and an attempt to erase culture and eliminate indigenous people.

Related to this, the 222nd General Assembly also issued an apology to all Native Americans abused, mistreated, or diminished through church schools and boarding schools that were run by the Presbyterian Church. You can see a video of this apology being read in Alaska.

We go, this delegation of eleven people, to stand with the water protectors. We are nine Christians and two Jews. Those of us who are Christian go with this history and legacy of colonialism and violence against Native peoples. All of us go as US citizens whose government and culture has ignored and sought to eliminate Native Americans, both at the founding of our country and to this day. Those of us who are Presbyterian also go with the GA’s beginning steps of apologizing and repenting for the roles that our church has played in this violence. We go to learn, to support, to repent, to be able to be better advocates when we leave.