Climate Justice

“Join me at Standing Rock”

A United Methodist Women member visits the water protectors at Standing Rock.

“Join me at Standing Rock”
Gary Niemann, Louise Niemann, Erin Hawkins, David Wilson at Standing Rock.

“Join me at Standing Rock,” was the invitation of Rev. David Wilson, Superintendent of Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. I had to do it, and with less than a week’s notice, I was headed to North Dakota. With each mile I thought about my commitment to stand up for water justice against the Dakota Access pipeline.

My husband and I drove 550 miles to North Dakota to meet David and Erin Hawkins, the general secretary of the Commission on Religion and Race. The first stop was Sam’s Club, where we bought all the fresh blueberries in stock to honor the request of those at Standing Rock, so they could have fresh, healthy blueberries to add to their diet.

We passed through the highway checkpoint, deputies taking a quick look in our vehicle, asking if we had been in the area before and knew what was happening here. I thought about the native peoples at Standing Rock going against big oil, and I felt I had a pretty good idea of what was happening there.

As we neared the camp, we were welcomed by a long line of flags representing the tribal nations supporting the water protectors at Standing Rock. Two thousand people were at the camp, representing 206 tribes and 30 nations united in solidarity with the Cannonball tribes demanding to stop the Dakota Access pipeline.

We drove to the eastern end of the camp to the Missouri River, protected by hundreds of tents forming a human barricade between the precious water and the threatening oil pipeline.

A Humbling Experience

It was a humbling experience to be at Standing Rock. Those at the camp had given so much, uprooting their lives and leaving their jobs. People brought their entire families, and children were attending school in one of the teepees.

There was no water supply, no electricity and sporadic cell service. In a primitive camp setup, it seemed out of place to have mountains of bottled water and a recycling area. The grounds were pristine and well managed.

At the campsite we met a young man from South Dakota. He greeted me as his neighbor; he was Lakota and the Lakota tribe reaches into Nebraska. He told us he was unemployed, he did not have a job, but this was his work now. He delivered an eloquent testimony of working for climate justice, safe water and standing with his people. He asked if I could give him a hug. I hugged him. He held on for a very long time. When he took a step back, he pressed his forehead to mine; his eyes looked deeply into my eyes as if he were searching my soul — solidarity, sincerity, silently cementing our resolve to stand for Mother Earth.

We also met a local Cannonball Sioux native. He took pictures of our team standing in front of a sign with the camp rules of no violence, and prayerful and peaceful action. Cody relayed how that morning he had gone with a prayer group to the drilling site. He said about 150 from the camp were met by 50 deputies. “We were peaceful, singing our warrior songs, women were praying. We even shook their hands.”

When I read the news of Standing Rock the next day, the paper reported of the disturbance the protestors had created. What I heard and what I saw was not what I was reading in the news.

The original route of the oil pipeline was to cross closer to the city of Bismarck. But this route was turned down because it was too close to the city; it might endanger their drinking water. The oil pipeline was reassigned to the south, under the water supply of the Cannonball reservation, without their consent — endangering their water and desecrating their sacred sites and burial lands. 

David Wilson introduced us as we traveled around Standing Rock and Cannonball: “David Wilson, Superintendent Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference; Erin Hawkins, Washington, D.C., General Secretary Commission on Religion and Race. Gary and Louise Niemann, representing Nebraska and Kansas. Louise, United Methodist Women, a human rights activist for women and children.”

I have never been given such an important title. As a United Methodist Women member, I am adding my voice to a call for justice. The native people at Standing Rock asked me to tell their story and share their message to everyone who would hear my voice.

The message from Standing Rock camp is very clear. They are determined to stay put until the drilling is stopped. They are not protestors, they are protectors, defending the water. Water is a human right, because water is life!

Louise Niemann is a member of United Methodist Women and a human rights activist for women and children.

Posted or updated: 11/23/2016 11:00:00 PM