Spirituality at Standing Rock



The recent presidential inauguration has left all news panels flooded with coverage on Trump and speculation on the future. That said, while treading through the mass of Trump-related articles, I came across a familiar topic: the Standing Rock resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). In it I found interesting commentary on both the content of religious experience and the role of the sociologist in producing knowledge.


The activist context is not free of religious expression. In fact, it is central to the work being done at the Standing Rock Reservation. The reports in this article indicate that that spirituality is intimately intertwined with the land. It would seem that for the Standing Rock Lakota, the divine is manifest in the earth itself. Rituals, prayers, and ceremonies have been commonplace throughout the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Individuals like a main interviewee in the article, Spotted Eagle, are pivotal in transferring spiritual knowledge to preceding generations. Just as narratives and imagery are used to preserve communal memory, individuals like Spotted Eagle, as well as shelters that are intentionally designed with symbolic resonance preserve that memory for the Lakota people.


The reservation also harbors a plurality of religious identities as demonstrated by signs like, “Muslims Standing with Standing Rock Sioux”.


The article additionally addresses the role of the university taught researcher. Spotted Eagle states, “Archaeologists come in who are taught from a colonial structure, and they have the audacity to interpret how our people are buried. How would they even know?”. The centrality of spirituality at Standing Rock fortifies resilience in the face of adversity. Another means of resistance as activists is the critique of conventional western knowledge. Indeed, historically, academic researchers like anthropologists studied other cultures to advance imperial agendas.


This article reminds us that the church or temple is not the only space that nurtures community spirituality. Spirituality manifests in sub zero degree weather and across distinct cultures. The article also implores us to, as sociologists of religion for two hours and forty minutes a week, approach this work with thoughtfulness. It also cautions us to realize the limits of our aptitude to explain social reality and to establish social facts.