Two millennia ago, a host of angels began praising God, surprising shepherds sleeping in the fields. They announced the birth of King Jesus, saying “Peace on earth toward men of goodwill.” I want to tell you about some men of goodwill whose actions helped make for peace in North Dakota.
I already reported about the stand-off between law enforcement and the Indians. The Dakota Access oil pipeline workers were pushing ahead. The Indians believed the project threatened their drinking water. In NW Arkansas, we are sensitive to environmental issues. We empathize with folks defending their liberty against an intrusive government or big business. Some folks from Fayetteville drove up to help. Several returned and shared what they observed.
“Our focus is to get the veterans and anyone who doesn’t want to be there out,” says Michael Wood Jr., who helped organize the group Veterans for Standing Rock. He was quoted by Nathan Rott on NPR, Dec. 6th. The veterans had arrived the day before the EPA announced they would not issue the final permit to the oil pipeline to proceed. It appears the Indians won.
I hope I’m related to Michael, the veteran organizer. Very likely I am since those of us with no “s” on our name are usually kin. Some 2,000 strong, un-armed veterans arrived as things were coming to a head. I think they showed patriotic solidarity with the Ogala tribe of the Sioux Indians.
The Standing Rock “Water Protectors” had kept vigil for a long while. Some were sprayed with fire hoses. Others were jailed. The cold winter weather became a big factor. Some Indians had been forced to move before when a dam had to be built. Haven’t the Indians been relocated enough?
The multi-state aquifer beneath mid-America is called the Ogala Aquifer, the largest underground source of clean water in the United States. Without it, most of our farming industry would dry up. Maybe the rest of us should learn from our Indian neighbors. Once a water source is polluted, it’s hard to get it back. If an aquifer disappears, it may not recover in our lifetime.
Behind the scenes of the media, a miracle took place at Standing Rock after our veterans arrived. Law enforcement stood down. Pipeline work halted. But something else occurred that you might not know about, something more important. An act of reconciliation took place.
Veterans gathered as a group and met privately with the tribe’s leaders. An ex-military man spoke on behalf of the group. In a sense, he spoke on behalf of all of us as a nation. As one of us, this veteran acknowledged to the Indians that the US government had illegally taken their land, lied to them repeatedly, relocated them against their will, and had broken many treaties. They confessed this trespass aloud before many witnesses in a solemn assembly. Then the veterans asked for forgiveness of the United States by the Indians. The Chief showed remarkable grace when he offered a gesture of goodwill by agreeing to their plea. Righteousness can reign if offenses are removed.
Land can lose its pristine nature by pollution. Land can also be spiritually defiled by sin. Did you know that? Our ancestors may have hurt their legacy to us. Future inhabitants may not have seen peace. What causes defilement of the land? What brings a curse instead of a blessing?
A curse comes on the land by the spilling of innocent blood, by the worship of false gods (which is idolatry), and by deliberately breaking covenants (or treaties). I believe the injustices done by white men to the Indians were acknowledged and somewhat atoned for in this act of humble honesty. I believe some of the ancient curses resting on our land were partially lifted by this amazing expression of mutual respect.
Maybe the biggest curse – the one due to fatherless families — will begin diminishing in America. Maybe the Lord will forgive our sin and heal our land and release His rich blessings on us.
Ron Wood is a minister, teacher, and writer. He and his wife live in NW Arkansas near their two children and six grandchildren. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: touchedbygrace.org