“Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water.”
We sang that hymn earlier this month when Holly Garrard of Cheyenne and I joined 525 clergy marching to a bridge over the Missouri River in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux, protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The pipeline’s construction threatens tribal sovereignty, endanger water supplies, and infringes on sacred burial grounds. To make matters worse, this pipeline would increase the pace of climate change by adding annual carbon emissions equal to 30 coal-powered plants.
While at Standing Rock, Holly and I heard words of anger and words of love, words of pain and words of reconciliation. Then there was “Wade in the water,” an old Negro spiritual based on a 1611 King James translation of the Gospel of John. “An angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water; whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole.”
The lyrics recall another exploited people, the ancient Hebrews. Moses led them out of Egypt. Pharaoh’s soldiers gave chase. Just as it seemed they’d be destroyed, God “troubled the water,” parting the Red Sea. The Hebrews found safety on the other side. God then released the waters to drown the Egyptian army. The children of Egypt were saved as the Standing Rock Sioux may be, by troubled waters.
Instead of Pharaoh’s chariots, on the day we were there, the other side of the river was lined with heavily-armed military troops and officers of the Wyoming Highway Patrol including a contingent dispatched by Governor Matt Mead to protect the interests of big oil.
Originally the pipeline was planned to cross the Missouri River upstream from Bismarck. Bismarck complained. That threatened their water supply. The route was changed. Now it is planned to run across the Missouri a few feet upstream from Standing Rock. Apparently it’s more politically correct to threaten the livelihood of Native Americans than the lifestyle of the white folks in Bismarck.
Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault explained the Tribe’s resolve, “Water gives life to everything that has a soul or a spirit.”
Completion of the pipeline is surprisingly uncertain as a result of that resolve. As the song goes, God is troubling the waters of the Missouri River to protect God’s exploited peoples.
The first sign of troubled water was a Reuters report saying DNB, the Norwegian bank responsible for ten percent of the pipeline’s financing, got wet feet. The bank is reconsidering unless Standing Rock concerns are addressed.
"DNB looks with worry at how the situation around the pipeline in North Dakota has developed. The bank will therefore take initiative and use its position to bring about a more constructive process to find a solution to the conflict.”
“God’s gonna trouble the water.”
The waters were further troubled by violent police-protester confrontations. The ACLU reports indigenous people yanked from prayer in sweat lodges and nonviolent protesters “confronted by police in riot gear with armored military vehicles, automatic rifles, sonic weapons, concussion grenades, attack dogs, pepper spray, and beanbag bullets.”
The Bismarck Tribune reports some law enforcement agencies decided to no longer be part of the abuses. Minnesota’s Hennepin County Sheriff is one. Another, Wisconsin’s Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said, “After talking with “a wide cross-section of the community who all share the opinion that our deputies should not be involved in this situation.”
Minnesota Public Radio reports legislators found police activities in Standing Rock “inappropriate.” They are considering legislation to avoid future .
Last Monday the Seattle Times reported the Army Corps of Engineers “won’t grant an easement to allow completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline” while it reviews Standing Rock Sioux concerns. We are learning that time is running out for the pipeline to meet deadlines for construction.
Who knows how this’ll end. The odds have always been with the colonizers and the exploiters. But pipeline or no, “God’s gonna trouble the water.”