Spirit Alive at Standing Rock: Nathan Holst’s Experience

This is a post by Nathan Holst.  Nathan works in faith formation and does racial justice work in Duluth, MN.  Nathan an his partner Sarah have led presentations at Call to Action events.

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photo credit: Matika Wilbur

Spirit come alive

Let us follow the current

Trace the sacred sighs

In the call of the earth

With seven generations

Standing before us now

May the Spirit come alive

 

These words from a song I wrote years ago were ringing in my ears this last weekend as I came with folks from the All Nations Indigenous Center in Duluth to join thousands of indigenous people at the incredible gathering at the Standing Rock Reservation to protect the water (and burial sites) from the Dakota Access Pipeline, slated to run just North of the reservation.   There truly was an incredible Spirit coming alive in that space where elders, children, families were all tracing the call of the earth to protect the water for future generations.

Here is a picture of what it’s like there: the front line camp is right off the main highway, situated right next to a river. When you first enter, you see signs that clearly mark “No drugs, no alcohol, no weapons”. It is a space for families (of which there were countless) and a space of nonviolence (which was made clear to us again and again in our time there). As you continue on, there are flags from every nation represented flying high, which was reported to me to be between 90 and 150. Then there is the check in tent, a tent for donations, a tent for media, and the main circle gathering space where there are constantly speakers sharing their story with anyone gathered to hear. At night, this space is filled with musicians and spoken word artists, ready to lift each other up with their songs and words. Drum ceremonies and sweat lodges run constantly. Both by day and night you can find people gathered in their small, spread out camps based on tribal affiliation, but porous as family, always intermingling with each other. There are elders telling stories and making jokes, people sharing meals together, and building family as well as a movement.

As reported (best, in my estimation, by Democracy Now), on Saturday afternoon, shortly before we arrived there was a group of peaceful protectors who stood in front of bull dozers to stop them from destroying burial sites where the people managing the Dakota Access Pipeline knew there were burial grounds and still chose to dig. In some news outlets, this has been reported as protestors attacking security guards, when the story from Indigenous folks is that they were peacefully trying to stop them from destroying their graves, only to have dogs unleashed on them, as well as pepper spray. And as the Huffington Post asked, “How would you feel if a construction company bulldozed a family plot in a local cemetery that contained the remains of your family?” These are courageous men, women, and children that know what they are willing to fight for and stand in the way of the violence being done to their ancestors, being done to our water.

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Folks from Duluth’s All Nations Indigenous Center at Standing Rock.

On Sunday, we marched with 500 people on the highway to the edge of where the graves had been unearthed. We gathered in a huge circle for a ceremony for the ancestors who had been disturbed, where all the spiritual men and women leaders were called to the center. Singers began, followed by medicine men praying to the four directions, as well as dancers joining in this incredible prayer for the ancestors. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and as I was filled with awe and wonder at what was happening, I tried to imagine if I felt this way as a white person, what might all the indigenous folks who are there feel? So many of those who came with us from Duluth said at the end of the trip, speaking through their tears, “I feel home”.

So after leaving what then felt like family and returning to Duluth, I am back here wrestling with fire in my belly, which I see as the longing for justice for my relatives, and showing up in the best way I know how, trying to share what I experienced with my community. I am trying to get the word out to everyone I know, especially since many newspapers are either not picking up this incredible story or distorting the perspectives of those at the camp.

But I am also caught with a vision. I have seen, tasted the incredible culture of elders, spiritual leaders, nonviolent warriors, and families and I can’t help but wonder: where are my people? Where are my elders? What would it look like for my white community to have this kind of powerful gathering to protect our water? I heard African Americans speaking to their history, acknowledging the help they received from Indigenous people to escape slavery. Now they’re showing up to support them in this movement and putting their lives on the line in gratitude. Is there someone in my white community that can speak in this way, to share gratitude for when indigenous people welcomed them to this land, even when we repaid hospitality with brutality? Is there a path for us to regain our humanity and to have this same kind of historical clarity, to recognize our place in this great story?

I believe we have an invitation in front of us. There is an incredible gathering of tribes from across this land (and the world) standing up and protecting our water that gives us life. What is the legacy that we want to leave? What story do we want to give those who come seven generations after us? Though life can often be complex and simple answers sometimes elude us, the choice is still right in front of us, and those who come after us are waiting to see what we will do.

 

 

 

Call to Standing Rock

This is a post by current Young Adult Catholics blog editor, Sarah Holst. Sarah is a Masters of Divinity student and artist living in Duluth, MN.  She plans to be ordained a Roman Catholic Women Priest and start a survivor-centric, watershed discipleship church community.  Sarah is active in racial justice work in Duluth.

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Yesterday at dawn, my partner Nathan Holst left with a group from Duluth’s All Nations Indigenous Center to bring supplies and support to the Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp on the Standing Rock Reservation.  Over 5,000 indigenous people representing over 100 tribal groups have gathered at the camp in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which not only threatens Standing Rock cultural and burial sites, but could possibly affect all people, farmers and ranchers that rely on the Missouri River for clean water.  This is a historic event, the first time the Seven Fires Sioux Nations have come together since Little Bighorn.  Even historical enemies, like the Crow Nation (which I am connected to), brought gifts and joined hands in the effort to stand for Treaty Rights and protect the land and the water.  This is a gathering both created and sustained on prayer.  Many believe that it is a fulfillment of the White Buffalo Prophecy.

I could have gone along, but opted to stay in Duluth so to not to miss the first week of classes.  Thus, I found myself in the position of reading Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets and receiving notice that things at the Red Warrior Camp had escalated.

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“To speak about God and remain silent on [Standing Rock] is blasphemous.”  “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” -Abraham Heschel

The company behind the pipeline, Dakota Access LLC, had skirted the protestors’ camp and started “preparatory work” on another tract of land without completing standard procedures such as Environmental Impact Statements.  The company steamrolled through sacred burial sites.  When the Water Protectors heard of this, they ran out and bravely put their bodies in front of the bulldozers.  Private security officers, hired by Dakota Access LLC, were there and intimidated protestors with pepper spray and dogs.  Several people were bitten, including a pregnant woman and a young girl.  (You can watch Democracy Now’s coverage of the event here.) Nathan and the rest of the group from Duluth were fine.  I, at home at my desk, was outraged.

Continue reading

On Bearing Witness at the Minnesota Governor’s Mansion

This is a post by Emilie Bouvier: a community organizer and artist living in St. Paul, MN. Emilie serves the Minneapolis area ELCA synod as Congregational Organizer for Environmental Justice. Her art website is www.emiliebouvier.com. These are a few words that Emilie shared with us in a spirit of ecumenism about her experiences last week/weekend holding vigil for Philando Castile at the Minnesota Governor’s residence.

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For the first few days I felt kind of numb. Gathering for prayer, for worship, for lament was what I needed, but I could hardly even start speaking about things. It all felt like a jumbled pit in my stomach… disgust at the state of racial injustice in our nation, heartbroken that yet another black body was broken in the street, 1.8 miles from my apartment, overwhelmed by the horror of the particular glimpse we got into the last few moments of Philando’s life, bitterly angry at the constant resistance on behalf of white folks to the radical re-orienting of our selves and the structures of a society built on oppression.

Spending some long hours at the Governor’s Mansion yesterday afternoon and evening didn’t change those things, but it was such a powerful place of community, story, compassion, and truth-telling that I suddenly could feel my feet on the ground again — re-grounded and recommitted by the love and voices of those who showed up in that space to process the events, tell their own stories, give hugs, and even just dance.

I watched a beautiful healing dance performed by two Native American teenagers who made powerful statements about standing in solidarity with the black community – dancing as a way to show support, offer healing, and inviting all of us who were gathered around to join in.

I heard a young African American man start a story with “you know, when it’s hot out and you just really want an icy?” and end with describing how an officer demanded he confess what he was hiding, sure that the empty icy cup was a drug stash. It was nothing other than a soggy paper cup. (Can I just say, never in my life has anyone interrogated me about and then actually gone into the trash can to examine something that I’ve thrown away.)

I listened and teared up as an eleven year old African American girl stand up and speak through tears about how adults say that if you’re in trouble you should call the police, but now she’s sacred to. Even in her nervousness and occasional pauses to wipe tears, she had the most courageous strength and composure of anyone I heard come to the mic. And she kept talking. She talked about how things need to change. She talked about how she wasn’t going to stop speaking. Someone in the crowd asked for her name again, then shouted “Ellen for President!” We all started cheering her name and she smiled and cried as the leaders at the mic came around her and held her in a group hug. I hope she now knows that her community sees her as a leader and that she will in fact run for office. I vow to work on her campaign.

I heard a mom talk about how her daughter is 18, got straight As in school, was involved in her community, and went on to serve in the military. She’s proud her daughter is serving. But then her daughter calls her up and says “Mom, I feel “conflicted,” I feel like I’m serving a country that hates me.”

I also listened to people processing the events of Saturday night’s protest. Some talked about their own experiences being held in handcuffs that weren’t cuffs but ties that were drawn so tight they still had wounds on their wrists. Others talked about how moved they were by the white allies who helped act as a buffer in the midst of the 94 shutdown. Another talked about how someone in the neighborhood offered her a warm shower and lent her clothes. She said “I’m still angry, but I understand love now. I understand humanity now.” And many talked about how they saw and participated in peaceful demonstration – how violence was not present and not what we’re about here. How those white anarchists who were throwing bricks were not with us, and how infuriating it is that the media and those we’ve elected as officials don’t see the difference. There is a huge difference. The movement of people standing up for racial justice, taking the streets, disrupting business as usual, is not violent. We need our cities’ leaders to be held accountable, not let a few unaffiliated protesters be political grounds to write off the movement.

If you’re like me, you might be feeling overwhelmed and frustrated and like you’re just floating, or in a slog, or paralyzed, especially when reading about this stuff online or trying to process by yourself or even just trying to process with people who look like you. Go out to the Governor’s mansion (or join the Black Lives Matter folks near you). This community space to gather and hear stories is not going away. Is a place of love and story and openness. Go and sit for awhile. For a few hours, actually. Just listen. Just do it.

 

“We like it here”

I’ve always had an interest in architectural oddities, so when news of the Metrodome roof collapse hit the airwaves in 2010, I became obsessed with finding out all about this unusual building.  One of the articles that I stumbled across, part of an old ESPN review of every stadium in baseball, mentioned a sign that used to hang there that said “METRODOME – Minneapolis ‘We like it here.'”  The article goes on to express the true meaning:

Yeah, you people from New York, California and Florida might think our weather is cold and miserable and that our stadium sucks, but we don’t care — WE like it and that’s all that matters. And is it loud enough in here for you, then?

metrodome_with_new_roofIn thinking about why I stay Catholic, I think some of the same logic applies.  Those who have left the church or who are proud of their own faith tradition will see the “cold and miserable weather” that we’ve gone through as Catholics (the sexual abuse scandal, bishops and Cardinals getting in the news for being unwilling to welcome LGBTQ Catholics, etc.) and ask us, “why stay Catholic?”  And the best answer I can give them is that “we like it here.”  If that’s the case, I thought, I’d better seek to understand why I like it here.  This lead me to decide that what I should “give up” for Lent this year was negativity.  In other words, I sought to focus on the positive this Lent.  And it turned out that my pastor was right there with me — part of his prescription for Lent was to spend ten minutes a day counting our blessings.

I consider myself to be a fairly positive person, but I found that the goal of “giving up” negativity demanded effort.  It is easy to get sucked in with others when they talk about shortcomings of religious leaders or the undeniable mess that is politics in the United States.  I kept coming back to the question of “What good can I say?”  What good can I say of Pope Francis when my progressive Catholic friends point out that he doesn’t seem to be acknowledging LGBT Catholics as much as we had hoped?  What good can I say of President Obama when I am confronted with a list of things that he has failed to accomplish?

Fr. Tim’s wish that I count my blessings didn’t prove as easy as I would have thought, either.  My thought process often went something like family, good weather … gotta finish that report at work, gotta talk to my boyfriend about Easter plans … people that love me ….  I couldn’t even list 10 things without being distracted by everything I “needed” to get done.

But if I can count one big blessing, it’s that I feel that this Lent really has been different.  I have made progress in my Lenten goals, if imperfect.  And I have gotten to take advantage of three Sacraments: Eucharist, of course, but also Healing and Confession.  I didn’t get the opportunity to go to much of our parish mission in person, but I’m taking advantage of the YouTube recordings to slowly experience it on my own.

As you head into Holy week, I invite you to consider the blessing that this week and this season is for you.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

Circling Up

This post is by CTA 20/30s Member John Noble and was originally published on Dr. Jennifer Harvey’s blog livingformations.com.

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“Malcolm X was a freedom fighter, and he taught us how to fight!”

“Sandra Bland. Say her name!”

“Black. Lives. Matter!”

The New York City subway rang with chants and songs echoing off the tiled walls. Our coalition, gathered in the city for Union Theological Seminary’s Millennial Leaders Project, had just returned from Union Square where we were protesting the killing of Sandra Bland at the hands of the state. As we moved from train to train, we sang these freedom songs, our grief and rage filling cars and stations.

The responses that our group received were varied. Some passengers expressed encouragement. Some sang along when we invited them to, while others actively mocked our chanting and muttered “what is this actually going to change?”

At each station, we had made the decision to have a member of the group bless or pray over the space. I decided to initiate a prayer at the final station, but I was quickly interrupted by a local activist, who instructed me that I needed to stop. Concerned that I had done or said something wrong, I began talking to him to clarify the situation. However, before the situation was resolved, a stunned silence fell over our group of freedom fighters. As we looked around the crowded subway station, we saw that police officers, who slipped in unnoticed, had filled the station, and more were coming down the stairs.

I quickly looked around to find our group surrounded. There was at least one officer for every protester, if not more. I became very anxious, and noticed this anxiety spreading through the rest of the group. The train was nowhere to be seen. As we frantically looked to each other, trying to decide the next steps, someone shouted “White people circle up! Outside barrier!” Continue reading

The Moral Crisis of the Fourth of July (A White Reflection and Call to Action)

I recently heard Jennifer Harvey speak about her book “Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation”. Harvey held my rapt attention, had my pen glued to paper fervently trying to record every one of her awesome, prophetic words. She said many things that really stuck to my ribs in their truth and potency, but the thing that will particularly stay with me is, “To be white is to exist in a state of profound moral crisis.”Declaration-of-Independence_merciless-Indian-Savages-506x600

I feel this especially on days like today: the fourth of July. I write this from my in-laws’ cabin in Wisconsin, where family has gathered over the weekend to enjoy the lake, share meals and play games. I see this with renewed enthusiasm through the eyes of my cousins who are seven and five. For them, the phrase “we’re at the cabin” is meant to invoke a feeling of Sabbath—here, we don’t have to take off our shoes as we run outside to inside, we can jump on the beds in the basement, and there is a spaciousness of imagination that I can only attempt to recover as an adult. I enjoy the time as well: two days ago, I saw a family of turkeys and four baby raccoons as I was walking down the winding lakeside roads. I’m also having cheeseballs for breakfast.

How do I reconcile this seemingly joyous time with the bloody history of our country—the reason we all have the days off? There is so much privilege inherent to our time together. Additionally, I struggle with how to name systemic racism, the fact that our country was built on the cultural genocide (and plain genocide) of Native American and African people and how that (so starkly seen in recent events) continues to live out and how our time at the cabin is not separate, not a vacation from that reality. Continue reading

Marriage for all and #morethanmarriage

In honor of the Supreme Court hearing the cases for Marriage Equality, here is my beloved and I sharing about how for us, family means for all moments I love you.  Our family is no less and no better than anyones, our family is equal.  We are #morethanmarriage and will continue to fight until all are equal truly mean all are equal…not just in terms of marriage or family structure but in all facets of our humanity and life experiences.

delfin bautista is a member of the CTA Vision Council and the board of directors for Trans Bodies Trans Selves; delfin is also a member of Dignity’s Young Adult Caucus and is co-chair for Dignity’s Trans Caucus.  delfin currently serves as the Director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University.  delfin “preaches” on their own blog “Mi Lucha, Mi Pulpito” and  is a contributor to the Young Adult Catholic Blog and to Believe Out Loud.