Pilgrimage to Standing Rock (1)

November 1, 2016

A pilgrimage is often thought of as a journey to a sacred destination, to a Mecca or a Jerusalem, an Arunachala or a Lhasa. The journey my wife, Rabia, and I have just begun feels like a pilgrimage to us, though there is no holy edifice or memorial at the end of it. Instead there is a frontline of conflict: Standing Rock, where a few thousand Native Americans from tribes around the country, along with folks sympathetic to their cause, are standing in the way of the construction of an oil pipeline cutting through their ancestral lands and endangering the water source of the Standing Rock Sioux and potentially millions of people down the Missouri River.

standing rock 3We had been considering going to Standing Rock for the past month, but there were dozens of reasons not to — commitments, work, distance, health, our age, the cold winds that sweep across North Dakota, and we were not sure we would be welcome. After all, white people like us had stolen the land and betrayed every treaty made with the native people of this continent.

But then we heard Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, call for religious leaders from all traditions to come join the people standing in prayerful protest against the pipeline. “If you can find it in your heart,” he said, “come support them, stand side-by-side with them because they are standing in prayer.”

So we canceled our appointments, packed our van with camping supplies and food to give away, and headed north this morning at dawn. We expect to arrive at Standing Rock late tomorrow, November 1.

Instead of my usual “Notes from the Open Path” for this month, I hope to send you several short updates as our pilgrimage continues (assuming I can send text out to be formatted like this.)

I’m not sure what we’ll find at Standing Rock, and whether my feeling that this is a pilgrimage toward something sacred is any more than a spiritual projection. I hope you’ll accompany me in the days ahead and see what can be discovered about the sacred, and conflict, and the meaning of this confrontation between men with uniforms, guns, and humvees and people saying, “Stop. Enough.”