The Rev. Lewis “Sitting Panther” Powell has traveled all over the world. Recently, as the Native American missioner for the Diocese of Northern California, he journeyed to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in their peaceful protest over the Dakota Access pipeline, which has been scheduled to be constructed on sacred lands protected by treaties, as well as under the Missouri River just upstream of the reservation.
Even after all his travels, the deacon was awed by the sight of the flags of more than 300 indigenous tribes from all over the world.
And there was the flag of the Episcopal church, Powell said, flying as a sign that “the Native American community felt comfortable having that flag amidst the indigenous community flags.”
As Powell drove down from Bismarck, North Dakota toward the area where the protestors were camped along the Cannonball River, he was stopped at a checkpoint manned by four or five state police, fully armed. Powell was shocked by the show of firepower, but the police were friendly enough. “Do you know what’s going on down there?” they asked. When the deacon said he did, they waved him through. Though the encounter was peaceful, it put Powell in mind of what Presiding Bishop Curry had said a few days before – that Standing Rock might be our next Selma.
The camp itself left Powell with a tremendous feeling of community – of so many people from all over the world, speaking different native tongues, of the organization of feeding facilities, sleeping areas, bathrooms – even a school for the young people. “People were there from Germany, England, Denmark, Australia,” he said. “People who were touched by this concept of fairness and preservation.”
There were even three women representing the Sami tribes of Norway, Sweden and Finland who presented a gift of water in a moving ceremony “that reminded us we are all interconnected,” he said.
Powell read aloud Bishop Barry Beisner’s letter to the people of Standing Rock as people were gathered around an eternal flame that was always kept burning. “It was very well received,” he said.
That also was a particularly personal moment for Powell as, in his own Cherokee tribe, he is a “fire keeper.” A fire keeper is the person who keeps the flame going during the entire time of the gathering. “It’s an indication that the spirit of the Creator is present,” he said.
On Sunday, Powell preached at St. James, Cannonball, where Presiding Bishop Michael Curry had preached the Sunday before.
“I preach about the use of scraps,” Powell said. “And how God uses scraps – reconditions them, reprocesses them and makes them strong to create God’s kingdom.
“And sometimes, indigenous people and other people are considered scraps – but God uses them to show us how God’s kingdom is coming – at places like Standing Rock,” he said.
The camp is well provided for. There are kitchen and bathroom facilities, several trucks with solar panels that provide power – even a school. People are planning to stay through the winter on another location nearby.
There had been some scares – a crop duster flew over the camp and sprayed it shortly before Powell arrived. “But so far the inhabitants haven’t reacted negatively,” he said.
“It’s intimidation, but I have faith that they will hang on, find a way to resolve this issue and then keep the lessons learned about the inter-relationship between all people,” he said. “That’s where I have my hope.”
On Sunday, October 9, the protesters received a setback as a federal court denied the tribe’s request for an injunction. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II vowed to continue the fight by all lawful means, according to a statement in news reports.
“We are guided by prayer, and we will continue to fight for our people,” Archambault said in the statement. “We will not rest until our lands, people, waters and sacred places are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline.”
Click here to read Bishop Barry's letter to the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Posted on Thu, October 13, 2016
by Paula Schaap