Praying For the People In Standing Rock
by Anne Wennhold
It was about eight o’clock in the morning, right after breakfast at the Ashoken Retreat Center located on ancient Mohawk territory in New York State where we gathered outdoors in a large circle.
The sky overhead was grey with winter. A gaggle of geese honked their way from south to north while a hawk screamed at their passing. Bare trees shivered in the air. A sharp little wind darted about looking for openings in the coats, hats and blankets we wore for warmth.
There were one hundred of us from a variety of backgrounds and all walks of life who had gathered for an annual Native American Dance For All People, held every year during a long December weekend. We assembled outside to hold ceremony in partnership with the Native Americans protesting the pipeline in South Dakota.
A Mohawk elder commenced to pray for the Standing Rock people determined to halt the pipeline’s presence on their ancestral land and near their water supply. He prayed in his own language because, as we were told, there are many words in the native tongue that refer to the land, to the wind, the waters, the stars, the animals: to the life upon and within the earth that have no equivalent in our language. We have so lost touch with our original home that we have forgotten how to talk with it.
He prayed for fifteen minutes. We were attentive.
He prayed for thirty minutes. We became chilled.
He prayed for forty-five minutes. As an elder, I had to sit down on a nearby rock, regretful that I could not stand with the others as I would have done a few years ago. A young man ran to the lodge to get me a blanket to sit on.
The Mohawk chief continued to pray.
We became cold.
We became tired.
Some huddled together against the wind. A few leaned on a neighbor for support, each of us aware that the Standing Rock people have endured the same, more likely worse, discomforts in the stinging winds of a South Dakota winter.
No one left. Not even the few children in attendance.
The name Standing Rock is no coincidence of time, place or situation. The words Standing and Rock are the English translation of the Lakota words In’yan Wosla’ta Han: a name coming from an old native American myth whose meaning is loosely translated as ‘Upright Stone. ’
The word Stand itself calls up an image of erect physical and emotional stamina. And when coupled with another word it becomes Withstand, a hallmark of resistance and of opposition, which, according to Dictionary.com, can suggest a successful outcome.
Rock carries its own weighty energy. It is defined as a composition of minerals united together as an aggregate. In today’s situation, that is a metaphor for the variety of people linked solidly together in person, in prayer, on site and online with the purpose of withstanding the illegitimate invasion of property and the desecration of limited and sacred resources; gifts of the earth to all.
The governmental treatment of the original settlers, natives of this land, who had welcomed strangers to their continent, who had fed them, and shown them how to care for themselves in an unknown world is a travesty of power: returning an act of kindness with brutality, ugliness and abuse that betrays the heritage of those Christian peoples seeking refuge from persecution for their own less than popular belief system.
I am an American-born daughter of Austrian and English immigrants. In my recent transition from the vigorous 70’s with lots of go-to stamina to the 80’s where the body ‘s wear and tear has begun to slow me down, make me sit rather than stand, walk rather than run, nap rather than work. I had been wondering what my mission in the world might be as life continues to flow more fitfully within. What can I do now?
This weekend experience was a lesson in the stamina of presence, attention to, and mindfulness of the truth in the needs of fellow beings and those of our earth. However it may be that I am physically trapped by age, I can always ‘be there’ when needed: be there in presence, in prayer, and in intention to support the truth for whatever is sacred in the world. I can be in support of all emergent causes for the well being of our people and our planet.