I am reflecting on my recent experience of walking from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa, as part of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. There has been a path throughout my life that led me to join the March.
I grew up on farms in the area of my Bear Creek (Quaker) Meeting community, just north of Earlham, Iowa. Every farmer is intimately connected to the land, and acutely aware of the weather and it’s effects on their daily work and growing crops.
Living as a Quaker, I believe the Spirit, or God, continues to be present in these times, and that each of us can communicate directly with the Spirit. Believing that everyone has that of God in them means we should cherish every single life, and that we are all equal. Waiting in silence to listen for what the Spirit is asking of me, and then trying to do that, is a fundamental part of my life.
I was very fortunate that we went on family camping trips each summer, most often to Rocky Mountain National Park. As others have said, in some ways I felt closer to God in the mountains. Their sheer size helped put my own life in perspective. I also appreciated their majesty, and enjoyed trying to capture that as a beginning photographer.
I moved to Indianapolis in 1971. This was before catalytic converters came into use (around 1975), so the downtown area I lived and worked in was clouded with noxious, smelly smog. I remember having a deep vision of the Rocky Mountains covered in smog, and that broke my heart. I soon decided I could not contribute to that, and decided to live without a car from that point on. I also rented small apartments in order to reduce my carbon footprint.
Living without a car had many influences on my life. I was outdoors much more often than I would have been otherwise. My running improved dramatically because that was one of my main modes of transportation. Learning to observe more closely what was around me improved my photography a great deal. Although I could do more, living without a car made me feel I had some environmental integrity.
Although I would often speak and write about the need to give up personal automobiles, I don’t know of a single person I convinced to do so. I was frustrated that I didn’t find a way to be more effective in sharing that concern. There were indications this example did cause some to think more about their environmental impact.
When I learned about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance campaign in 2013, I was clearly led to become involved with that. Several of us in Indianapolis were trained as Action Leaders. That involved teaching us how to organize people, and plan nonviolent direct actions. An environmental activist community grew out of that. Following is a video about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance created by my friend Derek Glass, Andrew Burger and I.
2013 was also the year that my Quaker organization, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) held a Climate Conference at the boarding high school I had attended, Scattergood Friends School. (Note: Conservative refers to conserving traditional practices, not political conservative.) As part of that weekend, a small group of students, staff and others walked about 12 miles from the School into Iowa City, with signs about the environment (video follows). We also picked up trash along the way. This walk was a precursor to the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March.
In 2014, Energy Transfer Partners announced plans to build the Dakota Access Pipeline. The original route of the pipeline went near Bismarck, North Dakota. When the people there realized their drinking water would be at risk from the pipeline, the route was moved downstream, right next to Standing Rock. An historic gathering of Native American tribes came to the camp to try to block the pipeline’s construction. And Indigenous people all over the world offered support.
People in Indianapolis, led by Joshua Taflinger and Brandi Herron, of the White Pine Wilderness Academy, among others, wanted to offer support for the water protectors. When those of us who were trained organizers from the Keystone Resistance were contacted to help with the #noDAPL efforts in Indianapolis, we were glad to do so. We held several DAPL awareness gatherings, and several gatherings for prayers. Here is a video of me speaking about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance at one of our #noDAPL gatherings.
One day in 2017, we also went to the Chase bank, and PNC bank, downtown, and account holders withdrew $110,000 by closing their accounts. I wrote about my own experience in closing my Chase bank account here.
Fortunately a large number of Native Americans joined us in these efforts. I felt an immediate spiritual connection as we gathered together that profoundly affected me. I recognized there must be similarities between their spirituality and that of Quakers. I wanted to learn more and sought out every opportunity to do so.
My Quaker meeting, Bear Creek Friends, has been involved in supporting the Prairie Awakening/Prairie Awoke native ceremony at the Kuehn Conservation Area for many years. Last year was my first opportunity to attend, and it was a wonderful experience. (I really wanted to attend this year’s ceremony, but it was held one day after we completed the First Nation-Farmer March, and I just couldn’t make it).
The theme of the 2017 annual meeting of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) was Building Bridges. One evening there was a panel discussion titled Building Bridges with Native Americans. Peter Clay, Donnielle Wanatee, and Christine Nobiss were the panel. That was an excellent opportunity for me to begin to connect with Donnielle and Christine since then.
That evening Donnielle invited us to attend the upcoming annual Meskwaki Powwow at her Meskwaki settlement. Dad and I did attend the powwow that autumn. I asked for permission to take photos. That permission was granted, along with a request to share them with the powwow organizers, which I was glad to do.
On weekend in September, 2017, there was an event at the State Capitol that was part of a new national campaign called StopETP, Stop Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access and many other pipelines. This event involved delivering a petition to the Governor to remove a member from the Iowa Utilities Board (that approves pipelines, etc) who has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, organized by Bold Iowa and Indigenous Iowa. Several people who were on the First Nation-Farmer March attended that event.
Ed Fallon, Bold Iowa, organized a van to take water protectors to Minneapolis the day before the Super Bowl was held there in February. I recognized this is another opportunity to network with environmental activists in Iowa. In the van were Ed, Kathy Byrnes, and Donnielle Wanatee, among others. And at the event we saw Christine Nobiss.
I also saw Ed Fallon and Christine Nobiss at some of the Poor People’s Campaign events this spring.
I was excited to learn about the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March which I knew would provide new opportunities to learn more about the water protector I had begun to get to know. And it was so. I had no trouble hearing the Spirit telling me I should participate on this March.