Sacred Land, Sacred Water: Fight For Rights

A Native American bishop’s persective and experience at Standing Rock.

Former California Lutheran University religion professor Bishop Guy Erwin returned to Cal Lutheran to share his personal experiences with students, staff and faculty about the Standing Rock protest in North Dakota. Erwin is a member of the Osage Tribe in Oklahoma, which makes him the first Native American bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in The United States.

Erwin said that to be native is to be connected to the soil and that these tribes feel a sense of “oneness” with the land that these companies are trying to build a pipeline through.

“It’s still the land on which their ancestors lived, the land that received them when they were born and then takes them up again when they die. That sense of connectedness is something I think is hard for Western-thinking people to appreciate,” Erwin said.

Erwin said he is a citizen and a member of a Native American nation who is deeply concerned about what is going on in North Dakota.

Erwin was originally contacted by fellow Associate Professor of Religion, Lisa Dahill, who thought that Erwin’s Native American heritage would give Cal Lutheran a different perspective on the Standing Rock protest.

“It just felt like a nice way to not just hear about Standing Rock in the abstract but specifically from him because he’s our bishop, a former professor and he has this native voice,” Dahill said.

Dahill also reached out to the Director of the Center for Equality and Justice, Cynthia Duarte, to help publicize and coordinate the event. Duarte said that she wanted to have an event to discuss Standing Rock because it is a time-sensitive issue.

“It is something that is happening right now. It has got so many implications from a native perspective, from an environmentalist perspective, also post-election since it is part of the 100-day plan,” Duarte said.

Duarte said she and Dahill almost decided to host the presentation next semester but they are glad that they changed their minds since the authorities are requesting that these nonviolent protestors leave the site by Dec. 5.

Erwin also said in a follow-up email interview that after experiencing the Standing Rock protests, he believes them to be so much more than just protests.

“I think it’s important not to see them just as protests, but as an attempt to create a community of resistance based in prayer and human solidarity. They have a goal, to be sure to stop the pipeline. And they believe that numbers and non-violence will prevail over money and force,” Erwin said.

Duarte said that although protestors are concerned with protecting their land, they are more concerned about protecting their fresh water supply.

“The protestors that are there are not just protesting for their land, but they’re protesting for a resource,” Duarte said.

Duarte also said that if this pipeline were to burst, millions would lose access to fresh water because of contamination from the crude oil.

However, Erwin said the companies mentioned that this pipeline is the safest way to transport the crude oil in order to avoid the chance of a disastrous explosion.

“No matter how dangerous it is to transport the oil through the pipeline, it is still safer than carrying it in trucks and trains where it would cause danger of explosion,” Erwin said.

Duarte said the particular issue feels far away from people in Southern California but there are many ways that someone can contribute to the efforts in North Dakota.

Erwin said that when donating, the safest way to send monetary donations is to the Standing Rock Sioux tribal government directly. Erwin said that monetary donations are the most efficient due to many road closures surrounding the camps at Standing Rock, making it increasingly more difficult for the supply trucks to make deliveries.

“[You can] donate or show your support by calling particular federal offices. There are things to do but we can’t really ask people to do anything on this campus unless they know about the issue,” Duarte said.

Sam DiMaggio
Staff Writer