By Carol Kuruvilla
Indigenous people from across America have
issued a rallying cry in defence of the earth at the Sacred Stone Camp in North
Dakota ― and many faith traditions are heeding their call.
Members of nearly 300 different Native
American tribes have gathered at the Sacred Stone Camp to protest the Dakota
Access oil pipeline. They claim the $3.8 billion project would snake across
their sacred lands and burial sites, and could pose a threat to the water
supply that serves the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which lies just south
of the pipeline’s proposed route.
Federal agencies have agreed to temporarily
stop construction on the pipeline on land that is particularly significant to
the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. However, the tribe’s court battle against the
pipeline is ongoing.
Several different progressive Christian
religious denominations, as well as the Jewish Voice for Peace, have
demonstrated their solidarity with this movement, which at its core, is a
prayerful and spiritual protest.
In recent weeks, American Muslims have
signaled that they are also entering the fray.
A coalition of Muslim organizations is
teaming up to spread awareness about the gathering in North Dakota― and
inspiring the American Muslim community to get involved. Spearheaded by the
activist groups Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, MPower Change, and by
indigenous converts to Islam, the coalition has raised over $12,000 online to
support the Sacred Stone Camp. The funds will go towards supplying the camp with
items like water, propane, food, and blankets, or towards the legal costs
associated with protesting the pipeline in court.
A delegation of native indigenous Muslim
converts is planning to travel to Sacred Stone Camp with Imam Zaid Shakir, one
of the co-founders of the Zaytuna College, a Muslim liberal arts college, and
Imam Taha Hassane of Islamic Centre of San Diego on October 10. This team plans
to deliver Zam Zam water taken from a sacred well in Mecca, as a symbol of the
importance of water in both Islam and native religions.
Leslie Henderson Oajaca is a
Spanish-speaking indigenous Muslim of the K’iche’/ Maya people of Guatemala. A
convert to Islam, Oajaca will be part of the delegation of Muslims who are travelling
to the camp.
Oajaca said that the protest at Sacred
Stone has helped inspire more indigenous Muslims “come out of the woodwork” and
educate their faith community about environmental issues.
“Indigenous people are the first people to
suffer from depletion of the planet. From South America to Canada, you see
indigenous people getting active and beginning to move because we’re the ones
to suffer first.” Oajaca told HuffPost. “We’re trying to educate our own
[faith] community about what’s going on.”
Oajaca told The Huffington Post that she sees
a very clear connection between the gathering at Sacred Stone and the teachings
of Islam ― in the way Prophet Muhammad treated animals to treat animals and
talked about consumption.
She referred to a hadith, a recorded saying
of the Prophet, in which Muhammad said that if someone has in his hand a
sapling, they should plant it ― even if it was Resurrection Day and the world
as we know it was coming to an end.
“The idea is to finish doing your good
deeds, and it is such a great deed to plant a tree. Whatever benefits come from
planting that tree, if that tree gives shade to someone, you’re getting God’s
blessings from that, if that tree feeds people, you’re getting blessings from
that,” Oajaca explained.
After talking to tribal leaders and
gathering information about the needs at the camp in October, the team plans to
return to Sacred Stone in November to deliver donations and supplies.
“In the Quran we’re told that we are
caretakers of this planet,” Oajaca said. “That means we fight for human beings,
for animals, and for the planet itself, and the preservation of all life,
including the life that lives in water.”
Carol Kuruvilla Associate Religion Editor