Reflections and Photo Essay on DAPL Day of Action in St. Paul at the Army Corps of Engineers

 

The rally started in Mears Park in Downtown St. Paul.
The rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline started in Mears Park in Downtown St. Paul.

Hundreds of people opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline gathered today in downtown St. Paul to ask President Obama to stop the project altogether. They carried colorful homemade signs and chanted in a call-and-response,”Mni Wiconi … Water is Life!” The rally started in Mears Park and participants then marched to the nearby local headquarters of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — an agency that holds a key to the pipeline.

This was part of a National Day of Action against the pipeline, sponsored by indigenous and environmental groups. Locally, the sponsors ranged from the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Honor the Earth to the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth. According to an MPR story, this was one of 300 rallies held across the country, including 10 others in Minnesota.

The rallies focused on the Corps of Engineers offices. The pipeline company needs an easement from the Corps to bore under the Missouri River. Yesterday, less than 24 hours before the rallies, the Corps announced that the project needed more study. (More here.)

Some continued to Wells Fargo to protest the banks financial involvement in the project.
Some rally-goers continued to Wells Fargo.

Following the rally, approximately 50 people splintered off and marched to Wells Fargo Place. It was an effort to draw attention to the fact that Wells Fargo is one of the 38 financial institutions providing credit to the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners. This is part of an effort to embarrass these banks into pulling their funding. This tactic has had some recent success. (We recently wrote that DNB, the largest bank in Norway and a pipeline financer, is now doing its own investigation into the project. More here.)

Here are four takeaways from the rally, and more photos.

Rally in front of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters in downtown St. Paul
Rally in front of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters in downtown St. Paul.

 

Native youth helped lead the call and response: "Mni Wiconi -- Water is Life!"
Native youth helped lead chants.

Takeaway #1: This was an indigenous-led event, and included young leaders. Kelly Sherman-Conroy (Oglala Lakota), a student at Luther Seminary, was one of the speakers. She told how she traveled to Standing Rock with hundreds of other religious leaders Nov. 3 to stand in solidarity with the water protectors trying to stop the pipeline. (Here is Sherman-Conroy’s account as well as a story from the Baptist News Global.) Sherman-Conroy told the Mears Park crowd: “We are here to stand in prayerful action … We are here to lift up our Indian brothers and sisters today.” Later, at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters, young people helped lead the call-and response: “Mni Wiconi … Water is Life!” Other younger adult leaders came forward to speak.

Mary Lyons, Anishinaabe kwe elder.
Mary Lyons, Anishinaabe kwe elder.

Takeaway #2: Don’t let anger consume you. Mary Lyons, an Anishinaabe kwe elder, gave a powerful speech about doing this work with a good heart. She asked people to pray for “all the people destroying this world.” She asked for prayers for the police officers “spraying our people” and for the people who are rushing to get the oil out of the ground: “Pray for their spirit to awake.”

She cautioned people: “Don’t walk in that space of anger. … Don’t. That is feeding the beast. You are losing yourself.” Instead, take care of the foundation, she said. “We take care of our children and grandchildren. … Don’t teach them the anger. Make sure that they can carry that positive within them.

Chillin' with the bison.
Police chillin’ as the bison clomp by at Wells Fargo Place.

Takeaway #3: The Morton County Sheriff’s Office could learn something from the St. Paul Police Department. Think about what has been going on near Standing Rock, with the militarized response, the tear gas, the arrests. Now compare that to what happened when a number of pipeline opponents marched into Wells Fargo Plaza in downtown St. Paul and started chanting: “No more pipelines … Water is Life!” The procession included a number of people dressed up as bison who went stomping around the plaza, too. Check out this photo (left) with St. Paul police and the bison.

ELCA Pastor James Erlandson read a prayer that had been offered at Standing Rock.
ELCA Pastor James Erlandson read a prayer that had been offered at Standing Rock.

Takeaway #4: The term “Doctrine of Discovery” is becoming more and more part of our vernacular. Sherman-Conroy talked about the Doctrine of Discovery in her Mears Park speech. Until recently, this was an obscure term that interested lawyers and scholars but few else. Thanks to people like filmmaker Sheldon Wolfchild, scholar Steven Newcomb, and religious leaders, the term is becoming more familiar in conversation.

(OK, just in case, here’s the quick summary: The Doctrine of Discovery refers to the religious and legal justification used by Europe’s colonial powers to claim lands occupied by indigenous peoples,. The Doctrine has its roots in 15th century papal edicts granting Spain and Portugal permission to seize foreign lands as long as no baptized Christians had a prior claim. The “Discovery Doctrine” was put into U.S. law through a series of 19th Century Supreme Court decisions. It still applies today.)

Several religious denominations have taken formal steps to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. One of the more recent was the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The ELCA also has added its voice to the religious communities Standing with Standing Rock. (More here and here.) Senior Pastor James Erlandson of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St. Paul was invited to say a prayer at the rally. He used one that was read at Standing Rock Nov. 3 when members of many religious communities gatheredvthere. (Find the Solidarity Prayer for Standing Rock here.)

Lastly, I enjoyed walking around the crowd and taking photos of people who came with creative signs.

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