Warning: The next sentence in this article is going to be political.
Earlier this month, Americans elected a new President.
Okay. See? That wasn’t so bad, was it? It’s a fact. Zero bias. Just a statement. No spin. But the fact that you most likely felt some emotion when reading either of those two introductory sentences says a lot about where we are as a nation.
We’re on edge. We’re defensive. We’re guarded. We’re hurt. We’re still good people, with good hearts and good souls and good intentions, but our definitions of good vary, and therein lies the potential for conflict.
How about, for one moment a month, we set aside all that shit? How about, for one moment a month, we stop and focus not on who you voted for in that booth but what you’re doing in your community? How about, for one moment a month, we look at someone who is changing their world — and in turn, the entire world — and say, “Bravo! I am inspired by you!?”
How about we consider the words of a girl who sat alone in her annex and wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world?”
How about we get started right now?
This month, as we focus on hospitality, we’re featuring Karla Kloft, a petite Midwestern nun who has dedicated her time to loving on Mother Earth and Sister Water. The Dubuque, Iowa resident recently returned from protesting at with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota as they work to prevent construction of a Dakota Access oil pipeline beneath the Missouri River.
The situation is a complex one, Kloft says, and it’s hard to summarize. She’s not wrong. Anytime folks are dealing with the dual issues of racism and climate change, things are guaranteed to get bogged down in an intersectional swamp. But the gist of the matter is this: The energy company, Dakota Access, wants to build a pipeline from western North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline would transport about 500,000 barrels daily of domestically-produced crude oil, crossing beneath the Missouri River, which is the main source of drinking water for the Sioux Tribe. While the pipeline is being constructed on private property rather than official Sioux territory, the tribe argues that this privately-owned land is ancestral lands stolen from them by the government.
However, their main protest is that the pipeline and its construction would damage sacred lands with cultural and historic significance. Additionally, it would disturb burial grounds. Furthermore, if the pipeline were to leak or spill (which opponents say is quite likely, given the company’s history of leaks and spills), then the Sioux’s water source would be gravely affected.
Here’s what Kloft had to say about her dedication to doing good, her love of the environment, her time at Standing Rock, and her plans for the future:
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: I am a Franciscan nun with the Dubuque Franciscans in Iowa. I’ve been in that community since 1978. Our mission statement reads, “Rooted in the Gospel and in the spirit of Francis and Clair, the sisters live in right relationship with all creation. In our personal, communal and public life, we commit to ongoing conversion as we deepen our relationship with Mother Earth and Sister Water, stand with persons who are poor, make peace, and practice non-violence. This is who we are. This is what the global community can expect of us.”
Q: What do you do in your role as a Franciscan nun?
A: Well, I am a retired chiropractor. I did that for 25 years because I wanted to be in the health field and help people, but after two surgeries, I had to do what I told my patients to do, which is to pay attention to their body. I decided that I would venture into something new, and what I am presently doing is I am in charge of our garden and landscaping and maintenance at our Mother House.
Q: What made you choose a religious life?
A: It was something that I thought about all my life. I’m pretty empathetic, and I just wanted to help people, you know? But, really, Saint Francis is what drew me to religious life, him and everything he stood for. I have loved the Earth and the environment ever since I was a kid, and that’s what initially drew me to Saint Francis, because when people think about him, they think about loving animals and the Earth. But his whole focus was living the Gospel and embracing Lady Poverty and ministering to the lepers, the untouchables, the people who lived on the outside of the community, who were shunned. I just knew that I was going to be a religious sister, and that I had to be Franciscan. It’s one of those things, truly, where it’s a call that you just can’t explain.
Q: How did religious life help you get involved in the Standing Rock protests?
A: Basically, in our community, it’s a matter of addressing the question of what do we feel the spirit is calling us to. We have three arenas — the environment, the poor, and peace and non-violence. And, like I said, I’ve loved the Earth ever since I was a kid. So I got involved with that part of our community, and one of the things we did was set a goal to raise $40,000 to better the lives of people in Honduras by providing good water. And it is a wonderful thing to do, and we have helped lay lines for water in these villages, but that’s there. I started asking, what is going on here? And I only had to look to Flint, Michigan, and then Standing Rock, and it’s just awful. Big money gets what big money wants, and these people have the right to clean water for themselves, and I knew I had to do something.
Q: Why do you think it’s important that people take action? Why is it important that they involve themselves in a cause?
A: I think, you know, that we all have this inner voice that nudges us. Call it the spirit or whatever, but it’s a voice that tells you that you need to do something. This whole thing with Standing Rock. I needed to rub elbows with the people there. I just needed to be present with them. I needed to walk with them. I needed to pray with them. Their struggle is my struggle, because they are my brothers and sisters.
Q: What can one gain by attending and participating in a protest rather than contributing in other ways?
A: What I got when I was there was a profound sense of sacredness and the sense that it is really is a community of people united by one common goal. Walking with them, I was in tears. It was just something that bubbled up inside of me. Even when I talk about my experience there, sometimes I can’t talk. I think part of it is that there’s a sadness in how I see people treating people for the sake of money, for the sake of so-called development. I get angry. I get frustrated. I see how many pipelines do result in spills, and they can talk all they want how safe it is, but it’s not. There’s going to be a spill. It hurts people, and it’s hurting the Earth, and the Earth is already hurting enough, and that’s not even including what it does to the wildlife.
Q: What do you want people to know about the Standing Rock protests?
A: These protesters are nonviolent individuals who are not armed and are peaceful and their world revolves around their families. These are citizens of the US who are being robbed of water. They have a right to their water.
Q: Tell us about your trip to Standing Rock.
A: Well, we drove there, and as we got closer,there were these really bright lights, and then somebody stopped us, and we said we were here to support them, and they asked if we had any alcohol, drugs or guns, and we said no. Then, the next day, I sat by the fire and prayed, and at every fire, they have tobacco and part of a cedar tree, which is part of their ceremony, and then it was time to gather, and we had another prayer ceremony, and then we walked over to the river, where we were going to have a peaceful ritual. This particular demonstration was about freeing Red Fawn, an Indian woman in her early 30s who was arrested. So we knelt in the mud and made the letters “Free Red Fawn.” After that, we got up, and all of the white women were going to walk up to the bridge, to the barricade, followed by the Native Women, to show our support to the Native Women that we stood with them. So we walked up to the blockade, and we sat, and we prayed. And we sat there, and we heard this voice say, “Move now.” And they did that again. I don’t’ know what else they said. So, after about 25 minutes, the police said, “Okay, we let you have your time, now it’s time to disperse.” We started to get up, and the women in the front said, “Thank you, thank you for letting us have this time to do this prayer,” and then we dispersed and had a closing prayer. It was very peaceful and non-violent and emotional and touching and beautiful.
Q: Why are you such a proponent of the non-violent approach?
A: Violence begets violence, and I’ll tell you what, the people at Standing Rock are so adamant about being non-violent. It’s all about non-violence. If people start getting violent, it gives the military more reason. Non-violence is the only way. I’ve seen it work for Gandhi, as well as for Saint Francis. You know, early in his life, he wanted to be a knight. He wanted to fight, but he had a major conversion, and he knew it wasn’t right. There’s never a winner in violence. Never.
Q: How would you describe the mood at Standing Rock?
A: The whole thing has been really sickening and saddening, and there’s a real grief in me, and yet, at the same time, there’s a feeling of hope, because I see how these people draw strength from one another, how people can’t be silent anymore. We’ve got to get the world out. What’s going on is not right. It is wrong and illegal and inhumane and barbaric.
Q: Earlier this week, video emerged of the Dakota Access’ hired security spraying the protesters with water cannons, even though it was freezing outside. They were spraying them with tear gas and rubber bullets and causing injuries. How does that make you feel?
A: I was sick to my stomach, and I started crying, because I sat on that bridge, where those people were standing as they got sprayed. I knew how those people are, in the sense that they don’t want conflict. They want water. And they were saying the whole time I was down there, “Water is Life,” and here they were using water cannons in 20 degree temperature to people who were doing nothing. It made me disgusted. It made me very angry. Very angry. Because it’s just wrong.
Q: What do you do with that anger?
A: I just had to be with it. I had to be with it, to sit with it in that moment. But after that, what did I do with my anger? I called the White House. I called the Governor of North Dakota and told him that it was an inhumane and barbaric. I used it.
Q: Do you think that protests are effective?
A: You have to stand up for what is right, and there’s something powerful about physically standing up for right in that spot. And by standing there, you may educate other people, you may anger other people, but you have to be true to yourself and your spirit. Also, there’s courage and hope in numbers. For example, my boot fell apart one day when I was there, and a guy saw it, and he said, “Here. I have some duct tape,” and he gave me the duct tape, and I taped up my shoe, and I was able to participate that day because he gave me that duct tape for my boots. Being there, you catch the spirit. Or it catches you.
Q: What if you’re not able to travel to Standing Rock and physically participate in the protests?
A: If you’re not physically able to walk or work, prayer is powerful. Also, I recommend that folks write their senators, their governors, Obama. Call. Get on the phones. Donate money or clothes or whatever. Whatever you can gather up, they can use. Study the issue. Educate yourself. Say that what is going on is wrong.
Q: Do you believe in the power of one person? Do you believe that you are capable of making a difference?
A: Wow. I do. Yeah, you know, I do, albeit one step at a time. I can pray. I can do every little bit I can. If I can project one positive thought, that makes a difference for someone. It makes the world a better place. You know they say that one flap of a butterfly’s wing changes something, and everything little thing makes a difference, so, yes, I believe in the power of one person. Like that guy who gave me the duct tape, I wouldn’t have been able to make that walk without him. When he gave me that duct tape, I laughed. I gave him a hug. And he made my day. Everybody makes a difference. Everybody makes a difference, whether it’s good or bad.
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Bekah Rigby, Managing Editor-
Bekah Rigby is a former journalist who now spends her days buying her cats designer bowties and writing for her ill-conceived humor blog, www.theomgspot.com, which isn’t for the faint of heart or pure of soul. She loves Indian curry just as much as she loves Tim Curry, and if she could be anything when she grows up, she’d be a white man, because she’s heard they have it pretty good.