When I sit and journey to the center of my heart, I find there a deep and absolute love. In this place of deep intimacy—within the stillness and nectar of hiradaya, the Spiritual Heart—the intuition of who we are is said to reside. It is there that we can realize the presence of the ultimate Witness. The limitlessness of the Spiritual Heart is mostly beyond comprehension. It contains totality.
And it is there that I discern that I must stand for Standing Rock. The struggle at Standing Rock has entered my heart in a way undeniable, creating a sharp pain where previously there was peace, and bringing tears as I witness what is happening there. The message is clear: Physically, emotionally and spiritually, I must stand—with resolve for those who protect our water, and for those who unite against oppression, injustice, and greed.
And so, heeding the message of my heart, I traveled to Standing Rock in November.
Standing Rock, North Dakota, is the frontline, opened up by the indigenous youth of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. What is happening there deserves both your attention and your action. In spite of the Obama administration calling for a halt to all activity in the land that is in dispute, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP)—the company pushing for the pipeline (and standing to profit from its development)—has issued a statement saying they will continue to drill, and that this changes nothing. Standing Rock has been called a protest and a fight, and indeed it is. Far more than that, however, the elders at Standing Rock are standing in nonviolence, asking that all action be grounded in prayer and ceremony. As yogis, we may recognize this as the observance of ahimsa, the principle of nonviolence toward all living things. Standing Rock is a call to those who would protect our water, our earth, and our people against violence.
A Brief Timeline
In May of 2014, the proposed route of the Bakken Pipeline (the name of the entire length of the pipeline that will move millions of barrels of crude oil), was on a trajectory that passed 10 miles north of Bismarck, North Dakota. Due to widespread opposition from Bismarck’s 95% Caucasian population, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that the proximity of the pipeline to municipal wells and protected wetlands and grasslands would pose too great an environmental threat in the event of a spill. The Bismarck route was determined by federal regulators to be a “high consequence area,” and the plan was rejected.
By September of 2014, the Army Corp of Engineers had re-filed their application to cross the Missouri river—with that section of the pipeline, and the portion currently at issue, now known as the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL. ETP kicked off their public relations campaign for the new route with a press release citing their own in-house study that claimed that the DAPL could have positive economic and fiscal impacts across the four-state region of this section of the pipeline.
The rerouting of the pipeline places the water of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe at perilous risk in the event of a spill. The tribe was quick to point this out in their response to a February 2015 letter from the Corps that initiated the permitting process. The tribe also pointed to recently discovered and protected sacred burial grounds that pipeline digging would disturb. The Army Corps of Engineers did not respond to their letter.
By September of 2015, neither independent archaeological study nor the Environmental Impact Study required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been initiated.
Then in December of 2015, the Army Corps hired a non-tribal consultant and published their own “environmental assessment.” The EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the American Council of Historical Preservation all sent letters to the Corps critical of that assessment.
Other tribes then began voicing their own concerns, stating that they had not been appropriately consulted about the presence of traditional cultural properties, sites, or landscapes vital to their identity and spiritual well-being that the pipeline would disturb.
On April 1, 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux established Sacred Stone Camp at the mouth of the Cannonball River, a few miles from where the pipeline proposes to cross the Missouri River. They erected tipis in the snow, and prayed for allies to help them defeat the DAPL.
On April 22, 2016, the Army Corps determined that no historic properties would be affected. In response, young people—native and non-native alike—ran a 500-mile spiritual relay from Cannonball, North Dakota, to the district office of the Army Corps in Omaha, Nebraska, to deliver a unified statement of resistance against the construction of the pipeline. Despite this, in July the Army Corps proceeded to issue the majority of the permits required for the construction of the entire pipeline project, and construction began in all four states. The Standing Rock Sioux immediately filed an injunction against the Army Corps asking for further environmental impact studies and archeological assessment. ETP responded with notification of their intent to begin drilling at Lake Oahe, despite lacking the permits for that particular section.
It is important to note that the American government has a long history of seizing native lands when valuable resources are discovered there. Because the scope of that history is far too great for this article, I urge you to inform yourself about this important part of America’s history. Particularly relevant here is that the land in question was granted by the Treaty of Fort Laramie (ratified in 1851) to the Ogallala, Miniconjou, and Brulee bands of the Lakota people, as well as to the Yanktonai Dakota and the Arapaho Nation.
Fast forward to the present day. Despite a pervasive nationwide media blackout, news of the native struggle against Big Oil’s DAPL has spread—throughout the country and around the world. The Standing Rock Reservation has quickly become the largest gathering of indigenous peoples in the history of our nation, with more than 300 recognized tribes represented—from Hawaii to Alaska and around the world. With non-native participation, including the arrival of more than 2,000 veterans during the weekend of December 4, it is estimated that the population of the camp is now close to 15,000.
Most of these individuals, I would imagine, have looked into their own deepest hearts and heard the call to stand against the violence of both a multinational corporation and our own government. I understand, of course, that those who would perpetrate this travesty need our compassion and our love. It is only because our species has so lost touch with nature that it can do what it does to the earth and to each other.
Standing Rock Tribal Chairman, Dave Archambault II, was asked this month to address why he believes this particular issue at this particular time has attracted attention from all over the world. He responded:
“It’s very basic and very simple. Water gives life to everything that has a soul or a spirit. And if you are standing up for water, there’s a lot of people that will stand beside you. We know that there’s a shortage of clean, fresh water. We see states—California or Nevada—where there are water shortages. We have countries where they do not have clean water. What we are trying to do is protect our water for future generations, and this pipeline poses a threat… so we need to do what we can to protect what is precious to us, and that is the water and the land.”
When he was asked how people could help, Archambault went on to say:
“Follow your heart. If you want to be here, you’re welcome. If you want to pray from home, pray from home. If you want to send a letter of support, send a letter of support. If you want to send a contribution, send a contribution. I would just say whatever you want to do to make you feel like you’re contributing comes from within, that it comes from your heart.”
[Chairman Archambault’s statements come from an interview by Sarah van Gelder published in Yes! Magazine on November 10.]
Perhaps I stand in the minority, but I have always felt that the essence of our practice of yoga, meditation, and contemplation is an invitation to awaken to our deepest and truest nature—an invitation to step onto a path where we walk as the highest embodiment of personal and universal love, kindness, and compassion.
In discerning what I felt my heart was telling me, I turned to the Yoga Sutra, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads. What I found there—the imperative of personal and public morality—is also echoed in the Ten Commandments of Judaism, the Five Precepts of Buddhism, and the Eight Beatitudes of Christianity.
The Bhagavad Gita tells us that “Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.” I believe that to refuse to protect the water, and to abandon our Mother Earth and our relations, is to turn away from my own deepest heart and more than 25 years of yoga and meditation.
Standing Rock is yoga. This is your invitation to practice.