Five travel to the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota.

PhD student Abby Mohaupt recorded her experience in photos like this one.
PhD student Abby Mohaupt recorded her experience in photos like this one.

December 2016 – As the world watches the pipeline protests outside Cannon Ball, N.D., students and alumni of Drew University are getting involved.

One student from Drew’s College of Liberal Arts, two from its Theological School and two alumni of the Theological School joined the historic gathering of Native American tribes and activists at the Oceti Sakowin camp to stand in solidarity against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In the past few months, thousands have traveled to the camp to support the tribal sovereignty effort of the Standing Rock Sioux, whose land is adjacent to the pipeline’s path.

The Theological School was represented by PhD students Abby Mohaupt and Dong Hyeon Jeong and alumni Richenda Fairhurst T’13 and Margaret Crilly T’16, who was sponsored by Professor Heather Elkins. The CLA student was William Downey, a senior majoring in anthropology. Mohaupt and Jeong took part in an interfaith prayer, while Fairhurst blogged about her experience and Downey connected with veterans.

“If I had to describe the [students] who went to Standing Rock, I’d use the motto for the Theo School: innovative, rooted, courageous,” said Elkins, who added that Crilly will speak about her experience in Elkins’ cross-cultural class in the spring.

Among those Dong Hyong Jeong met: activist, professor and author Cornel West
Among those Dong Hyeon Jeong met: activist, professor and author Cornel West

Jeong was spurred to act not only as a spiritual leader, but as a Korean from the Philippines. “My heart has been aching for my sacred waters and lands that we were not able to protect throughout the years,” he explained. “When I heard about the fight the Native Americans are leading, I had to join the protest as a way to witness that it isn’t too late to protect their sacred waters and lands, even if it was too late for mine.”

Beyond the interfaith prayer, Jeong spent a lot of time just listening. Handing out energy bars as an ice breaker, he met tribal elders, chiefs, young activists and volunteers.

Mohaupt, who was part of a delegation of 11 from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, said, “I went to Standing Rock to be present as a white person, the descendent of colonizers on the soil, to use my social privilege to witness what was happening from my perspective on the sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux.”

During her five days on site, Mohaupt sorted donated clothing and canned goods, chopped firewood, cooked meals and built shelves for a community kitchen. She also spent a lot of time in prayer, walking with hundreds of other people from a sacred fire to a river to provide spiritual healing. Afterward, she called on those not at Standing Rock to, among other things, pray for protestors and lobby for an executive order that would permanently halt the pipeline project.