STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION, N.D. (RNS) In the Sioux creation narrative, water was one of the first beings the Creator made, and it became a major part of the people’s religious ceremonies.
Now the Lakota prayer over water has become a rallying cry in the mass action to prevent the construction of a crude oil pipeline near this reservation.
“‘Mni wiconi’ — we see that as a cry to rally people, and it’s not just here anymore, it’s worldwide. You see the hashtag, #MniWiconi. That means ‘water is life,’” Standing Rock Sioux tribal councilman Dana Yellow Fat said.
For the better part of a year, the hills along the Cannonball River near Cannon Ball, N.D., have been transformed into a small city, the epicenter of what is in essence a spiritual movement to protect that water from the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The largest encampment is called Oceti Sakowin, which means “Seven Council Fires,” the name of the Great Sioux Nation.
As many as 8,000 people have camped there under the flags of 280 Native American nations. They include representatives of all seven bands of the Sioux Nation, reportedly gathered for the first time since defeating Lt. Col. George A. Custer 140 years ago at Little Bighorn.
As the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe waits for a final court decision, expected in January, on its challenge to the Dakota Access pipeline project — which it fears will endanger the tribe’s water supply and sacred grounds — many at the camps say they feel called to be there.
Camp coordinator Phyllis Young said the movement has been sustained to a large extent by the tribe’s spiritual beliefs, which had been banned for more than a half-century until the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act.