Thoughts on Standing Rock – Nov. 1, 2016


November 1, 2016 – by Bishop Mark Narum

We stand witness to historic events.  A gathering of native peoples from around the world gather along the flood plain of an ancestral home.  Historic in that, for the first time in 140 years the seven council fires of the Sioux bands have come together.  Historic in that 320 tribes have staked their flags at this location.  For me the question is: What will the legacy of this historic event?

We are part of a church which this summer took action to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.  A legal construct which is as old as the Lutheran Reformation itself.  It is a doctrine which in essence says white Christians have the right to conquer the lands of indigenous “heathen” people.  This doctrine was the legal basis of the settling of the prairies, the missionary movements and the founding of boarding schools.  The question arises: In light of the historic events of Standing Rock and the actions of a churchwide assembly what shall we do?

As with much of life, what a person sees of this historic gathering (or for that matter any historic event), or how they interpret it is influenced by his/her own life experience.  Two people watch the same events unfold and their reactions are profoundly different.  Whose interpretation is correct?  Whose eyes saw most clearly?

I have listened to various perspectives, read e-mails, listened to television news reports, flipped channels between “liberal” and “conservative” radio talk shows, fielded phone calls and sat over meal working to sort this all out in my own mind.  Listening, praying, questioning, defending, reading, engaging – actions aimed at sifting out a nugget of truth.

What I notice is that where one sees peaceful protest, prayer circles, clearly defined rules of conduct; another sees lawlessness and the destruction of private property.  Where I see law enforcement acting to protect private property while protecting themselves – announcing that people must leave private property or be arrested, others see law enforcement marching on prayer circles.  I could continue with a list of polar opposite reactions to such things as judges’ rulings, political leaders’ statements and more – suffice it to say these oppositional views may lead an independent third party observer to conclude we were not witness to the same event.

Maybe that is the most important realization, we are both going to continue to live in this bit of space, this prairie that we all call home.  An elder Native American woman said, “One day a decision will be made.  Either the pipeline will be built or it won’t and all these people will leave.  My question is, ‘How will my grandchildren be treated when they go to Mandan?’”  While this is a local question, it really has national significance.  Might one legacy of this historic event be the beginning of a movement founded on mutual conversation, open and honest conversation?  Could we, the people of the Western North Dakota Synod, become a people where conversation is more about listening, learning and understanding – not a verbal sparring match where my winning means your losing?  Is it possible to listen to the painful stories of how Native people have been and are being treated in our midst?

I have invited you all to be people of prayer.  I raise that again.  Prayer for native people’s across our territory, for protestors and protectors, for farmers and ranchers, for pipeline construction workers, for law enforcement officers, for those who are trying to find a peaceful way through a jungle of posturing-positioning and pontificating, for political leaders, for our children, for God’s good creation and more.  I am certain I have missed people and parties and priorities to be prayed for so add more petitions but what I ask is that you pray.

At the same time let your prayer move you to action.  I want you to take a stand – or maybe a seat, with a coffee cup and an open posture of humility to sit with someone different than yourself and just talk, honestly and openly about the state of life around us.  If you can find a person whose skin color is different than your own, see if they might become a conversation partner.  Learn who they are, listen for their story, wonder aloud with them what life is like here on the prairie being a minority – what are the joys and what are the sorrows.  Let prayer move you to deeper relationships across economic or social divides, be a listener who works to build a community of understanding.

As I write these words they sound utopian, maybe even naïve.   Then again, if we could start such a movement on the prairie, maybe, just maybe, we would get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

God Bless,

Rev. Mark Narum
Serving as Bishop of the Western ND Synod – ELCA

Download a Printable PDF of this statement on letterhead: Standing-Rock-Thoughts-Nov-1-2016.pdf

For more visit:

Posted in Blog, News, Standing Rock