Steward of God’s Creation Award
The Steward of God’s Creation award is bestowed to those individuals who exhibit courage and commitment in the caring and keeping of the earth in a heroic, distinguished and effective manner. Awardees are determined by a vote of religious leaders and bestowed at a public event, normally the National Prayer Breakfast for Creation Care, which is sponsored annually by a coalition of religious organizations and affiliates.
The Sioux Nation: 2017 Steward of God's Creation
The Sioux Nation galvanized the moral imagination of millions of people because of its prayerful, non-violent resistance to the routing of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) through its sacred lands and water source in Standing Rock, North Dakota. What began as a small, youth-led prayer camp grew into several large prayer encampments. An extraordinary wave of solidarity swept the world as hundreds of once-estranged tribal nations and jurisdictions stood with the Standing Rock Sioux and proclaimed with one voice that water is sacred; water is life. Despite bitter winter weather and brutal treatment by police who wielded pepper spray, tear gas, dogs, rubber bullets and even water cannons in below-freezing temperatures, thousands of Native and non-Native people visited the camps near the Missouri River to resist construction of a pipeline that would endanger the river, Native lands, and the whole of Mother Earth.
The Standing Rock encampment has been called the largest gathering of Indigenous Americans in modern history, and one of the most memorable and significant non-violent campaigns in U.S. history. Today, though the encampments have closed and oil flows through the pipeline, the spiritual energies released at Standing Rock continue to transform and sustain activism to protect God’s creation. From Canada to Louisiana and New Jersey, local movements against pipelines and other threats to water sources have cited Standing Rock as their inspiration.
Chief Arvol Looking Horse accepted the NRCCC award on behalf of the Sioux Nation in the presence of hundreds of people, including leaders and elders of Native American tribes from across the U.S., as part of an event that was held on October 7, 2017, and entitled “Listening to Native Voices: Standing Rock is Everywhere.” The celebration marked the 35th commemoration of St. Francis Day at Agape Community, a Christian community that is located in Hardwick, Massachusetts, and dedicated to social justice, non-violence, and sustainable living.
>The NRCCC was represented by the Rev. Dr. Doug Fisher (Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts), Robert A. Jonas (founder of the Christian-Buddhist prayer sanctuary, The Empty Bell), and the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas (Missioner for Creation Care, Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and Mass. Conference, United Church of Christ). Margaret had last seen Chief Arvol Looking Horse in North Dakota, when she traveled to Standing Rock for an interfaith day of prayer on December 4, 2016.
The crowd erupted in applause when Robert A. Jonas announced, “This year, for the first time, NRCCC wishes to give its award not to a single person but to an entire people. In recognition of the spiritual and moral leadership of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations, the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care would like to present its 2017 Steward of God’s Creation award to the Sioux Nation.”
Bishop Fisher delivered his remarks with clarity and conviction: “We are painfully aware of the history of Christian participation in the oppression, marginalization, and murder of First Nations peoples. We recognize the tragic consequences of the Doctrine of Discovery, which gave the Church’s blessing when colonialists claimed the lands of indigenous peoples as their own. The Episcopal Church has formally repudiated and renounced the Doctrine of Discovery, as have several other Christian groups. Like Pope Francis, we grieve the ‘grave sins’ and ‘crimes’ of colonialism that were ‘committed against the Native people of America in the name of God.’”
He went on to say, “Today the members of NRCCC come to you in humility, wanting you to know that we see your steadfast courage and that we cherish your spiritual vision of an earth-centered, earth-honoring life. Yours is a vision that we want to lift up across this country and around the world. It is an honor to give you this award.”
Margaret Bullitt-Jonas then presented Chief Looking Horse with the 2017 Steward of God’s Creation Award, which is being given to the Sioux Nation and which reads: “Presented in acknowledgment of your inspired courage, leadership and non-violence in protecting God’s sacred land and water.”
For a blog post about the NRCCC award and a ceremony that followed it, a ritual burning of the Doctrine of Discovery, visit here. For a 12-minute video of the burning of the Doctrine of Discovery, visit here.