Prayers from a Protest : Women, Water, Standing Rock and Standing Up

The Dakota Acess Pipeline protest, spearheaded by a young girl of the Standing Rock Nation, bloomed into an international solidarity movement this fall, uniting people from around the world highlighting the intrinsic spiritual and political connections between environmental stewardship, First Nation's land rights, women's rights and the right to free speech. A solidarity gathering was held in Toronto to show support for the courageous men and women who stood up at Standing Rock and I took the time to show my support, offline and out in the world.

In addition to deepening my reflection on my relationship with oil, plastics and big corporations, the greatest impact of this day came from the words of one female elder  who shared her perspective on what water means to the First Nations people: 

Christi Belcourt, Michif Metis artist

Christi Belcourt, Michif Metis artist

Water is life; the lifeblood of grandmother earth as well our own bodies

Women are the protectors and guardians of water

What we do to the water we do to women - how we treat water is how we treat our women. 


Her words rang out across the crowd gathered at Queen's Park and all of a sudden water of my own welled-up at the corners of my eyes. The pieces of me that since childhood longed to protect the planet felt bolstered; those parts of me that as a young woman were born from the feminist brilliance of Simone de Beauvoir and pursued such awakenings ever since felt empowered, heard; the tender pieces of my heart that long for closeness with my family members living on the reserves in northern Manitoba, that desire to learn, integrate and live in respect of inidegous knowledge was infused with passion.

Her words, simple, true and strong united all of these pieces of me. Her words, passionate, purposeful and powerful, carved out a space for women in this crowd as though to say: we have a special role, a respected role and a place and space in politics and activism, in the world. This is our time, again.

Tears of joy and revelation ran down my cheeks as it all became clear: the uprising of women and the perservation of the planet and the great remembering of the wisdom and power of the past is the way to pave a new future; they are one. 


Biking home in the blinding sunset that evening, I wonderd, If I am a part of this interconnected web of realities and possibilities how do I, as a white woman, treat myself? Treat other women? Allow myself to be treated? What is my relationship with water, women and my own body? 

Some of the answers that emerged were was shocking. I've taken for granted, here in Canada, the abundance of water and the clean drinkable water that flows from my Toronto taps. I've taken for granted my strength, my intellect, my power, my talent, my gifts, my education, my health, my privilege.

In my darkest times I've let the voices of naysayers and dream-sinkers rule my mind. I've let fear and anger, jealousy and insecurity get between me and other women; I've even perhaps said more hateful things against women than men. I've let men hurt my heart, my head, my body and my spirit under the guise of love and lust. I've committed acts of self-loathing that have caused me physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and sexual damage.

Only when I look back do I see how easily it all happened - to have my power stripped away, to dishonor water, my spirit and my body, to be separated from the lives and hearts of the women of my blood-family, heart-family and global-family. I know that I am not the only one.


I made a promise to myself during that night. I won't be overcome by fear - I will love and trust again. I won't give in to shame or insecurity, and I will trust myself even more than before to learn from the past. I will look harder, beyond differences and beyond my own ego to bring more compassion and understanding to the women around me. I will not let the cause, to save our watersheds, to preserve life in all it's forms, the dream of a new era where all people all respected, supported, heard and empowered loose hope in my heart. I will live in more power from the lessons and strength I have garnered from my personal obstacles and injustices and from the wisdom of traditions that have been shared with me. I will honor and learn from the Aboriginal peoples of the world and share their message. I can reach out to my family, and grow my heart-family even wider than the visible and invisible borders. I can ask what needs to be done. I can stop censoring my truth. These are things I CAN DO. 


Wade Davis writes in his book The Wayfinders that culture is the most valuable thing that we can preserve because it is the preservation of a diversity of ways of seeing and being in this world - of living and relating. More than ever, we need a paradigm shift.

This is not cultural romanticism, this is pragmatic realism. We can never go back in time, but we can choose how to move forward. We can learn from the past, that is the gift that we can choose to open, the great remembering. This is done by deep listening and reverence to the wisdom of the past that is preserved by First Nations people all around the world whose voices are growing louder and each day as they stand up in peace and with heart, fearlessly reviving their truths.

The political is always personal. In this way we can scale down the seemingly impossibly large issues into meditations on our daily life. In this way, we can effect change by how we walk in this world and this changes our life and the world all at the same time. 

I went to a protest of thousands of people who care about saving the environment, and I came away feeling like a stronger, more empowered women,  a sister to strangers and in an odd way, less of a victim of my personal past.

My prayer for you all is to move into the next phases of your life first in personal power, so as to make the greatest political/social impact. May we live ears, eyes, hearts and minds WIDE OPEN, so we may find our personal truth, live it, and then go out and MARCH IT.