Students heed call to stand with peaceful water protectors

Written by Matt Stone, DAS ’17


Southwest students gather at Standing Rock under the Episcopal flag, the only church flag that was flying at the camp. (Photo by Lauren Kay)

In early November, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry called on Episcopalians across the country to stand with the native peoples of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation as they protect their sacred lands and water from a crude oil pipeline. Six Seminary of the Southwest students and a student’s son responded to this call and spent two days at Standing Rock during Thanksgiving break. Students unable to attend helped collect non-perishable food items for the camp and raised money for the Episcopal churches on the reservation.

We were on the bridge on Sunday, November 20th, when militarized police used CS gas, concussion grenades and water cannons against peacefully gathered water protectors. We would use the term ‘war zone’ to describe what that night was like and it was certainly the greatest injustice any of us have personally experienced.

We also witnessed great beauty. The Episcopal Church has been at Standing Rock for over 100 years and has two parishes there. We officiated Morning Prayer at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Cannonball and spent time with Father John Floberg and the vestry learning about their mission and discussing ways the church can continue ministering to water protectors. The Oceti Sakowin camp is an amazing picture of an Acts 2 community. The camp is always in ceremony and you can hear prayers of various kinds being offered almost all of the time. It is a  self-sufficient, all-volunteer community with thousands of residents who all chip in to help. We spent time volunteering in the camp by providing Reiki services, similar to the laying on of hands for the sick, and by helping prepare food.

Christine Brunson, one of the students in our group, described her experience in this way: “We went to Standing Rock to listen and learn. We returned as witnesses to profound generational racism and violence against a peaceful people. We are forever changed.”