[Episcopal News Service, by Mary Frances Schjonberg] The US-based Episcopal Church’s solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation remains resolute after nine days of emotional events in the ongoing effort to protect the tribe’s land and water supply. The latest string of events began on Sunday 20 November when some of the hundreds of people who tried to remove burned-out vehicles blocking the Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806 on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota were hit with rubber bullets and doused with fire hoses in sub-freezing temperatures. The bridge had been blockaded since a confrontation on 27 October.
Seven students from the Austin, Texas-based Seminary of the Southwest, who were on a pilgrimage to Standing Rock Reservation, witnessed to the confrontation and wrote about it on social media.
“Here is what we witnessed tonight,” wrote Matt Stone on his Facebook page. “three water cannons, tear gas, a concussion grenade and rubber bullets fired at nonviolent protectors. This is the most grave injustice I have ever witnessed.”
On Monday (28 November), the Water Protector Legal Collective, a National Lawyers Guild group, filed a lawsuit against Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier and other law enforcement agencies for using excessive force during that confrontation. The suit asks that the US District Court in Bismarck prevent future use of those tactics.
A few days earlier, on Friday (25 November), the US Army Corps of Engineers imposed a 5 December deadline for emptying the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Two days after that, the Corps said it would not forcibly evict water protectors and supporters from the camp on the banks of the Cannonball River.
But yesterday (28 November), North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple announced he was imposing a mandatory evacuation of the camp, citing the harsh winter storm that was blanketing the area with heavy, wet snow. The storm rolled over North Dakota on Sunday evening (27 November) and the reservation area could get a foot or more of snow from the storm that is predicted to last until Wednesday. Daytime temperatures yesterday were just below freezing with winds gusting to 40 mph, making it the first real test of the camps under typical North Dakota winter conditions.
Contacted at his home in Bismarck, yesterday, the Revd John Floberg, supervising priest of the Episcopal churches on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock, told Episcopal News Service that he and other Episcopalians are continuing to provide support to the water protectors.