Rev. Dr. Laurie Pound Feille, senior minister at First Christian Church in Minneapolis, first visited the Standing Rock reservation (stretching over 3,500 miles in North and South Dakota) in November 2016. As part of an ecumenical clergy visit, she stood in support of the Sioux Tribe protesting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline on their land.
This impactful visit sparked a call to return with others. “When I came back,” Feille remembers, “I thought, ‘We can’t just come to the media events – that isn’t really standing with the tribe. We need to do more.’”
In response to several Disciples attending the ecumenical clergy visit at Standing Rock, Rev. David Bell, Minister for Indigenous Peoples Concerns at Yakama Christian Mission, along with Feille, organized a trip for Disciples to the reservation in January 2017. They visited the Oceti Sakowin camp, learned about the culture and challenges there, and looked for ways to offer support. The Upper Midwest region also gave a reconciliation gift to the tribal offices.
Still, Feille felt there was more important work to do together. “The only way we’re going to change things is for people to come here and learn. The media wasn’t accurate, and there’s a long history of land being taken from Indigenous peoples that we don’t talk about enough.”
The idea she developed with Bell and Rev. Bill Spangler-Dunning (regional minister at the time) was a youth camp to teach groups the real history of Standing Rock and the tribes living there.
They partnered with Rev. Dr. John Floberg, supervising priest for the three Episcopal churches at Standing Rock, who agreed to share their camp on the reservation with the new youth camp.
The last two summers, the region has facilitated this camp for high schoolers from across the Church and ecumenical partners. During this week-long experience, the group tours the reservation, meets with tribal elders to learn about Sioux culture and traditions, and spends time together processing what they learn with camp leaders. They learn about the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (repudiated at the 2017 General Assembly) and Native American history.
While the camp is open to high schoolers from any region (2020 dates are June 6-13 and registration information will be shared when available), there are a variety of ways to incorporate Native history into your congregation or youth group discussions.
Feille offers a few suggestions: “Look in your own region for a similar opportunity to offer a camp of listening. Build relationship with indigenous siblings there. Learn who’s land you’re on. Research what happened on that land, and if there aren’t prominent Native communities present, why aren’t they there anymore?”
Disciples are also invited to join the Upper Midwest region’s Disciples Public Presence Facebook group, which grew out of early efforts to support the Standing Rock protests. This group is used to connect Disciples with opportunities to participate and learn about justice issues and events.
Regardless of what programs you choose, awareness and education are important steps for everyone. “When Standing Rock came in the news,” Feille remembers, “I realized no one was listening. It’s in our region, and even though at that time we didn’t have a congregation nearby that doesn’t mean we don’t care. I knew we were the ones to go. I went and learned and listened, and I can’t let go of it now.”