Back in September, MUUSJA: The Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance invited the Rev. Karen Van Fossan, minister to the Unitarian Universalist Church & Fellowship of Bismarck/Mandan (UUFCBM), to join us for our monthly statewide Convening Call to speak about the ongoing battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. At that time, the UU congregation of 60 members and one half-time minister--one of only three in North Dakota, and the only one with professional clergy - had already been building deep relationships with the Water Protectors since April. Rev. Van Fossan spoke of her people’s deep sense of calling in this work of service, followership, and solidarity. At that point they were already offering concrete solidarity by hosting travelers, serving as a through-point for supply donations, and taking a bold public stance with the #NoDAPL movement in a region in which virtually no other religious group would risk speaking out for indigenous people, or the earth that stood to be harmed by the pipeline. Standing Rock was only beginning to get national media coverage at that point, and the story of our UU kin showing up in such a faithful, prophetic way inspired all of us in Minnesota.
Shortly following that Convening Call, Rev. Van Fossan and I spoke again about what a broader, nation-wide UU response to Standing Rock might look like--and how we, as a religious people, might better support the congregation in sustaining their faithful support of the Water Protectors as representatives of our entire faith. More conversations followed, with representatives from the UUA, MidAmerica Region, Standing on the Side of Love, the UU College of Social Justice, and others. As a result of these collaborations, a broad network of UUs from a wide variety of our organizations and congregations mobilized a nimble, accountable rapid response to directly support the Bismarck congregation, and the Water Protectors. Together, by leveraging our relationships and our institutional resources, we supported hundreds of Unitarian Universalist clergy and lay people traveling to North Dakota to attend nationwide calls for physical presence at the camps. We schemed together to get the “Interfaith Living yUUrt” transported from Minnesota to Oceti Sakowin camp, and made that space available to both indigenous folks and people of faith who needed a place to stay. We raised funds to support Rev. Van Fossan’s ministry, and the work of the congregation. And when the needs shifted and the weather changed, we created the Ministry in Residence Program, sending a series of Unitarian Universalist clergypeople for a week at a time to be with Rev. Van Fossan and the UUs in Bismarck, adding to their capacity and representing our solidarity in an embodied way.