Prayers Against a Pipeline

IT’S ALWAYS AN honor to be invited to help with someone’s good work—to be a guest in their house, especially when that house is as big as all outdoors.

Early in the summer, the Indigenous groups that had been leading the fight against the proposed Line 3 tar sands pipeline in northern Minnesota asked everyone to join them. Freed by the vaccine to travel, many of us took up the offer; it was my first journey since lockdown. And so we gathered on the banks of the Mississippi—so far up the great river that you could, in fact, hop from one bank to the other. There were two big protests on the same June morning; one, at a pumping station, ended in hundreds of arrests of brave activists and real aggression from the police, who buzzed demonstrators repeatedly in a helicopter that kicked up choking clouds of dirt. I was about 20 miles away, and our protest was much more peaceful—indeed, it was mostly spiritual.

Its leaders were a series of Native elders. Along a usually deserted county road, several thousand of us mustered to listen to a water and pipe ceremony led by a pair of Anishinaabe women; it was a hot day, and the drone of their voices against the beat of drums both lulled and emboldened. Soon, a few of us struck out across a marsh, past signs declaring that we were trespassing, aiming for a wooden road that the pipeline company had built across the swamp to carry its equipment. We gained it, and soon there was an occupation underway—tents going up, people making plans for sanitation and food supply and security. But mostly there was prayer and ceremony: Within hours a sacred fire had been lit, and five days of ceremony were underway.

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