Their water is our water.

Written by Colleen Earp, former PPF General Assembly intern currently serving the Presbytery of the James as an environmental educator at Camp Hanover and attending Union Presbyterian Seminary.

The Cannonball River is fairly unassuming. Tucked quietly among rolling grassy hills now brown with winter, its waters flow quietly along its muddy banks. Last Wednesday morning, I stood with hundreds of others by the riverside, praying as quietly as the water flowed. This peaceful direct action was meant to be healing and encouraging following the violence the previous Sunday night, in which water protectors were met with water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas.

The Oceti Sakowin Camp, where the PPF delegation stayed, was a bit uneasy following that incident, and understandably so. We arrived the following day, and as we attended ceremonies around the sacred fire, camp orientation, and direct action training, we heard stories of miscommunication and disagreement about how peaceful actions should be. The message remained clear from those leading these sessions: Oceti Sakowin is a peaceful place of prayer and ceremony. "We are non-violent." "This is a ceremony-- act accordingly." "We are protectors, not protestors." "Property damage does not get us closer to our goal." Written on signs all over camp and said aloud in every meeting I attended, I found these statements to be incredibly true as people offered kindness, respect, and help throughout the place, all day every day.

Wednesday morning's direct action began around the sacred fire with a morning prayer and countless stories of what the river, the land, and the people meant to different tribal elders. It was tearful and prayerful, a mix between devastation that their children would not be able to grow up with the same experiences once the sacred burial mounds and waters became construction sites, and hope that something would change here and now, not just in Standing Rock Sioux country, but well beyond.

Hundreds of people moved quietly toward the river when the elders announced it was time. A surveilance plane dropped lower and circled, but the noise from its engine could not distract the crowd. We walked together across the camp, climbing down to the muddy banks of these headwaters of the enormous Mississippi River watershed. I stared at my feet while elders prayed. I stood, boots absolutely caked in the clayey mud, pondering the makeup of the soil-- my background is geography and conservation, and these are the things I notice. The mud was thick and grey with red streaks, and I thought about where I'd seen those features before.

When it was time for all of us to pray, offering to the river pinches of tobacco we'd be given at the sacred fire for this very purpose, I looked up. I saw the water quietly moving by, and thought about the places I've lived and traveled downstream from here. I spent a year in South Louisiana as a YAV, doing wetlands restoration work, dealing with the end of the watershed which the river in front of me helped begin. Thousands of miles of river systems are connected through the center of the United States, and what happens to these waters will affect millions of people and animals and ecosystems downstream. The Cannonball River leads to the Missouri River and then into the Mississippi, eventually pooling in the Gulf of Mexico which leads to the Atlantic Ocean.

Our water is all connected, so how do we stay connected to the water protectors themselves? Perhaps the most pressing issue right now is the new order from the Army Corps of Engineers that the camps be completely cleared out by Monday, December 5. By removing the water protectors from the scene altogether, it makes it quite a lot easier for Energy Transfer to install the Dakota Access Pipeline, with or without the appropriate permits. Will you take a few minutes to stand with Standing Rock, and stand up for the water that we are all connected to? Here are some offices you can call:

White House Comment Line: 202-456-1111

Assistant Secretary of Army Corps of Engineers Jo-Ellen Darcy: 703-697-8986

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple: 701-328-2200

Morton County, ND Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier: 701-667-3330

Morton County Commissioners Chairman Cody Schulz: 701-391-9698

North Dakota Senator John Hoeven: 701-250-4618

North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp: 701-258-4648

North Dakota Representative Kevin Cramer: 701-224-0355

Energy Transfer Executive Vice President Lee Hanse: 210-403-6455

For more contact information, check the Oceti Sakowin Camp official site, this Yes! Magazine blog, or find your local representatives. Calling is more effective than emailing, and calling local offices is better than calling Washington offices. Here are some topics you might ask questions or offer concerns about:

  • peaceful protests being met with police violence (see here)
  • fast tracking of the pipeline despite the lack of full environmental impact study (see here)
  • environmental racism in rerouting of the pipeline from its original track nearer Bismarck over concerns of environmental safety (see here)
  • the eviction of the camps and restriction of free speech to an area south of the river (see here)

You might like to use language like, "As a person of faith, I am deeply concerned about (the violence, the environmental consequences, etc) and urge you to (stop the pipeline, protect the people instead of the business, etc)."