500 religious leaders joined Native Americans in protest and prayer at Standing Rock.

When Rev. John Floberg wrote a letter about Standing Rock to interfaith clergy members all across the country, he hoped to rally 100 people.

"Our duty as people of faith and clergy could not be clearer: to stand on the side of the oppressed and to pray for God’s mercy in these challenging times," the Episcopalian minister wrote.

In the letter, he urged religious leaders to join him for a day of solidarity on Nov. 3, 2016, with the 200-plus Native American tribes protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline.


And when the day came, he was overwhelmed: More than 500 leaders from 20 different faiths showed up.

‌Floberg stands at the left. All photos by Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service, used with permission.

Episcopalians, Baptists, Catholics, and other Christian denominations joined with Unitarians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and more in a morning prayer circle at the Oceti Sakowin camp.

T’ruah, the Rabbinic call for human rights, released a statement saying, "Throughout Jewish history our cemeteries have been desecrated and destroyed. Jews cannot stand idly by while the Sioux community’s burial grounds are threatened by the planned route of the pipeline."

The leaders marched alongside Native American water protectors down North Dakota Highway 1806 to bear witness to the violence against the protectors.

Meanwhile, other religious leaders headed to Bismarck, where they held a protest that locked down the state's capitol building.

Religious leaders also burned a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, a ceremonial act meant to demonstrate their support of Native American rights.

The papal document, which dates back to the 15th century, has long been used to justify the continued imperialist attitudes that have been used to steal land from and do harm to indigenous people across the world in the name of God.

"By burning copies of the Doctrine of Discovery we were signaling an end to a past that has affected millions and millions of people," explained Bishop Marc Andrus of California. "People who have been colonized and people who have been enslaved, but also the enslavers and the colonizers, it’s affected us all."

And of course, many of them came with charity in the form of food and supplies to ease the ongoing struggles of the water protectors.

Native American protesters, many of whom already live in extreme poverty, have been camping out for months along the path of the pipeline. The Oceti Sakowin and Sacred Stone camps alike are in desperate need of cash and supplies — food, batteries, clothing, warmth, and so on — in order to keep fighting, particularly as the temperature starts to drop.‌

"This is what the love of God enacted looks like," said Rev. Stephanie Sellers.

Sellers is canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism and reconciliation of the Episcopal Church. "As I’m looking around the circle of 524 faith leaders from all over this country, I feel like I’m watching reconciliation," she said in an interview with the Episcopal News Service.

She also led the gathered leaders in song.

"This is not a liberal or conservative thing. This is not a Republican-Democratic thing. This is a human thing and it’s a Jesus thing to do what is right for all God’s children," said Bishop Michael Curry.

Curry is also a representative of the Episcopalian Church. But his sentiment was echoed by many other religious leaders. The president of the Unitarian Universalist Association even released a statement calling the pipeline "a textbook case of marginalizing minority communities."

"Let us not forget ... our native brothers and sisters who are facing the full force of corporate greed and government callousness at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation," said Imam Zaid Shakir.

He also noted, "We need to change ourselves, end our own greed, transform our own souls, and admit our need for Divine aid in overcoming these daunting challenges."

These inspiring acts of faith remind us that we are strongest when we stand together and embrace our differences.

After all Native Americans have been through, they deserve some kind of divine intervention, in whatever form that might take.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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