I am appalled by the lack of media coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Were it not for actor Mark Ruffalo, star of the Academy Award-winning movie Spotlight, these protests would have certainly received less.
So, what’s it all about anyway?
It's a $3.7 billion oil pipeline project that would carry more than 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois, 1,172 miles. It would also run near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation, which is a huge problem. Not only was the Standing Rock tribe not consulted by the federal government, but the pipeline would carry crude oil underneath the region’s main water supply, which over time would most likely leak and contaminate the water.
This past Thursday, 141 protesters were arrested, many of whom were peppered sprayed, shot with tasers or rubber bullets, and placed in dog kennels.
As of Friday, October 28, 2016, construction at the site resumed, and protesters continued to position themselves to alter attempts to proceed with construction. Hundreds of protesters gathered this weekend for prayer and ceremonial dances. The mood is both defiant and hopeful.
Senator Bernie Sanders has been vocal in his support for Standing Rock and against the DAPL by highlighting the long-term detriment to the environment and planet: "If we have any hope of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change, we should not be building new oil pipelines that lock us into burning fossil fuels for generations to come.”
Native American spirituality has stressed to us the invaluable lesson that we are all part of the created world---river, forests, sky. When we exploit creation on behalf of corporate interests, we harm ourselves, the environment, our grandchildren, and beyond.
On Monday, supporters of the Standing Rock protests took to Facebook to voice their solidarity with the Native Americans that are being oppressed by a militarized government on behalf of corporate interest. After all, Native American lands have been seized now for almost half a millennium for the same captialist pursuits.
In Luke 19, the author tells the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, ruler of a region of tax collectors. Zacchaeus was a very rich man working for an oppressive occupying government, the kind that gets rich by taking what isn't theirs while continually subjugating a people group. When Jesus enters the town, Zacchaeus finds himself in a strange circumstance. He wants to see Jesus, but for whatever reason, cannot. He climbs up in a tree and Jesus almost instantly recognizes Zacchaeus and invites himself to his house. The oppressed people witnessing this interaction grumble, because, after all, Jesus has come to set the captive free, not drink wine with the oppressor.
Reflecting on his own oppression during his imprisonment during Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, commented on his views of liberation, "It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed."
What would it look like for both the oppressed and the oppressor to be liberated in Standing Rock? As disciples of the Liberating Jesus Christ, how do we radically love and stand up for those experiencing unending oppression at the hands of a cooperate America while still seeing the oppressors as humans created in the image of God?
At the end of the Zacchaeus story, we find that sometimes who we assumed were oppressors are actually doing the liberating work all along. May we join in the liberating movement of Jesus, which is good news for both the oppressed and the oppressor.