The Power of the Sacred Lakota Prayer

November 5, 2016 by Barbara With

It’s been eight months since LaDonna Brave Bull Allard opened her land on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to establish the Sacred Stone Camp as a way to defend her people and their water against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) using sacred Lakota prayers.

Allard is the tribe’s Historic Preservation Officer. In 1863, her great-great-grandmother Nape Hote Win (Mary Big Moccasin) survived the Whitestone Massacre. The camp represents the continuation of her family’s long history of fighting for survival against resource extraction corporations, the Catholic Church, and the US government. But in organizing this resistance, the Lakota Dakota Nakota peoples known collectively as Oceti Sakowin or the Great Sioux Nation, seems to be at the center of an extraordinary moment in time, a perfect storm for an emerging world-wide peace movement.


Militarized police tear gassing water protectors, November 2. Photo: Adam Alexander Johansson

Since last April, the camp has grown from a handful of Sioux to an expansive community representing over 300 tribes and various nationalities from around the world. It has also gone from a place of celebration to a war zone, complete with LRAD, rubber bullets, mace, snipers, dog attacks, helicopter and plane harassment, percussion bombs, road blocks, illegal arrests, strip searches, destruction of possessions and sacred items, tazers in the face, emotional trauma, and something called an “Active Denial System,” a machine that operates like a giant microwave, heating the skin of the targeted human subjects.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers from across the country are perpetrating these outrageous, blatant human rights abuses against the tribe and their allies, who are fighting to protect the water of the Missouri River from the $3.8 billion pipeline that will pump 470,000 barrels of Bakken oil a day. The tribe risks genocide if they allow the pipeline to be built. After months of withstanding these assaults, the camp has grown to over 9,000 people and supporters are streaming in daily, coming to follow the Lakota’s lead of non-violence, prayer, and direct action.


Jingle dress dancers praying in front of the road block set up by DAPL security. Photo: Barbara With

A Cornerstone of Prayer

From the beginning, prayer has been the cornerstone of their resistance. Armed only with their sacred objects and ancestral traditions, the Lakota are answering every attack with prayer, as they have been taught for generations.

Many in the camp are naturally experiencing helplessness and anger. Indigenous people have been treated like this for generations, but today the world is watching live as militarized forces are using violent tactics against elders, medics, journalists, young people, women, and horses in order to protect the corporation building the pipeline. Meeting these violations with only prayer and non-violence is a testament to the Lakota resilience and their commitment to embody their spiritual ways.

Doug Good Feather, a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member, recently spoke to us about one reason why the Lakota are so devoted to their spiritual practice. Good Feather runs Lakota Way, a wellness program that uses the traditional Lakota way of healing. He recently returned to Standing Rock from his home in Colorado to stand with his people.

Doug Good Feather at Standing Rock. Photo: Adam Alexander Johanssen

Doug Good Feather at Standing Rock. Photo: Adam Alexander Johansson

Good Feather spoke of a vision Sitting Bull had before the Battle of Greasy Grass, or Little Big Horn. In his vision, Sitting Bull saw the white soldiers falling from their horses, indicating that the Sioux would be victorious. However, he instructed his people not to take anything from the fallen soldiers, otherwise oppression would come to the tribe:

But the people didn’t listen. They started collecting trophies—rifles and flags and different things from these dead soldiers. When that happened, I was told that if you took things at that time from this battle, oppression will come on the people, a depression, a sickness would come on the people. Because they didn’t listen to Sitting Bull’s vision, people were oppressed. They were put on reservations, sickness came upon the people, depression came upon the people, poverty came upon the people, hence now.

Good Feather interprets this vision and how it relates to the commitment to prayer and non-violence at the camp. Not just limited to trophies and physical objects, the curse will continue if the water protectors take the abuse and turn it into anger and throw it back at the attackers:

What does that mean? What do we not take? That is for you to answer. Some people say it’s anger, it’s vengeance, it’s cursing … You do not let them take you, to take your power away.

We have a culture, a spirituality, a way of life, and with that comes a language of thinking and believing on how to feel and how to act on that feeling in action. With that action, we share it with people. That’s why a lot of people come to the Lakota way because it is a very powerful center, this history of this world. We were brought a sacred way of praying, just like Jesus brought a teaching over there. Over here was brought a teaching to us as well, that was the sacred Buffalo Calf woman, Pte Ska Win.

A member of the clergy prays in front of a burnt out truck of the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Reuters

A member of the clergy praying in front of a burnt out truck of the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Reuters

Earlier this week, over 500 clergy came to camp and in a gesture of solidarity, invited tribal elders to burn copies of the Doctrine of Discovery, a papal document issued 40 years before Columbus set sail for the Americas. In it, all non-Christian peoples were declared enemies and it sanctioned the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of those nations and their territories. In the ceremony last week, over ten denominations of Christianity were represented, each denouncing the document and pledging support to Standing Rock. Later at the capitol 14 clergy were arrested by police in riot gear.

The stand at Standing Rock is changing the world through prayer and non-violent direct action. Each day, over 1,500,000 people are checking in to Standing Rock on Facebook, as if they are there, as a way to protect the water protectors from abuse by the Morton County sheriff’s department who use Facebook check-ins to identify who is in camp and then harass them. Prayer ceremonies are being held all over the world in support of this epic movement. Christian, Muslim, and other religions leaders are calling for solidarity with their cause.

In this way, Standing Rock is bigger than just a stand to protect the water. It has become the new world-wide peace movement, started by a grandmother in North Dakota and exploding across the planet to inspire us all to stay in prayer, commit to non-violent action, and not allow aggression, abuse, and tyranny to turn us against ourselves and each other.

Video by Kellie Stewart

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2 Comments on “The Power of the Sacred Lakota Prayer”

  1. Richard J McCormick November 12, 2016 at 6:56 am #

    thank you Barbara

  2. November 29, 2016 at 11:16 am #

    Beautiful thank you will share if OK.

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