First Nation – Farmer Climate Unity March: An Introduction

Jeff Kisling
First Nation - Farmer Unity March

Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) Friends Peter Clay and I recently walked on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. A group of about thirty that included nearly a dozen Native Americans walked 94 miles along the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline from September 1 – 8, 2018. One of the goals of the March was to bring attention to a case before the Iowa Supreme Court about the improper use of eminent domain to force Iowa farmers to allow construction of the pipeline on their land.

After walking between 9 and 15 miles, most evenings a community forum was held to discuss topics such as farming practices, or the consequences of the pipeline construction. One evening my Scattergood Friends School classmate Lee Tesdell discussed some of his progressive farming practices. Christine Nobiss discussed ways Native farming practices are better for the earth and water. This was an example of how this March helped us come together. As Manape LaMere, one of the headsmen from Standing Rock said, the purpose of the March was to make it possible for us to work together in the future. To do so, we needed to trust each other, and to trust each other we needed to understand each other.

During this March, Quakers in my local meeting, Bear Creek, often sent email messages of encouragement, and held us in their prayers. One of my Quaker friends, Liz Oppenheimer, invited people to offer spiritual support for our March in a couple of ways. One was via a telephone conference call every morning we were marching, from 8:30 to 9:00 am.

The other way Liz created for others to support us was by creating a Facebook group called “Meeting for Worship: Iowa’s Climate Unity March”. Following are a few of the messages shared on that Facebook page:

I see that Jeff has posted some of his recent writing about the march and its issues. My request is that we return to Jeff’s initial questions— sharing our reactions to the idea behind this march, as well as to the issues of pipelines, indigenous rights, misuse of eminent domain, etc.
As we share our own wonderings, questions, and struggle, I hope we can better accompany Jeff, Peter Clay, and other marchers.

George Fox suggested to us that if we answer that of god in others that we can then walk cheerfully over the earth. As I think about Jeff and Peter and the new sisters and brothers they will meet as they march, I realize that this sentiment works the other way also. As they walk over the earth they will then be able to answer to that of god in others.

This morning on the conference call for worship, we heard a vocal prayer of gratitude to Peter Clay, Jeff Kisling, and the other marchers and organizers of the march. We also heard the joyous hymn “Trees of the Field.”
After other Friends had left the call, and literally as my finger was about to hit the Hang Up button on my phone just past 9:00 am, another Friend joined the call. It was Jeff!!

He wants us to know that the marchers and organizers know we are holding them all in prayer and they are very appreciative of our support in this way. When I replied “It’s such a small thing we do,” Jeff reminded me “No, no it’s not.”
We are so blessed to be connected this way, no matter what form our march and our journey takes. And to those of you who are carving out time each day to hold the Climate Unity March in prayer, regardless of when, where, or how, all of us thank you.

Each morning of the March we gathered in a circle to hear about the day’s route and address any questions. The first morning I shared this Quaker support with my fellow marchers during our circle gathering, who expressed appreciation for this.

Some of the most powerful experiences I had during the March were times when prayers were offered. We stopped for prayers every time we crossed the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I was honored to be given the opportunity to give prayers at the pipeline crossing just before we reached Pilot Mound. I briefly described Quaker worship, then our circle, holding hands, worshiped in silence for a while.

Jeff Kisling attends Bear Creek Meeting, part of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Many stories about this march can be found at <kislingjeff.wordpress.com>.