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Sister has life changing trip to Standing Rock Sioux Nation

Sister Joni Luna took this photo of the Sioux Indian Reservation at Standing Rock, North Dakota.

Sister Joni Luna took this photo of the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation at Standing Rock, North Dakota.

Sister of Providence Joni Luna recently traveled from Indiana to stand with the Native Americans keeping vigil of sacred burial ground on the high plains of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in North Dakota.

She prayed together with more than 60 various tribes from across the world, which have gathered at Standing Rock. They call themselves water protectors not protestors, as they peacefully protest the North Dakota Access pipeline. (#NoDAPL).

The struggle at Standing Rock, about 30 miles outside of Bismark, North Dakota, is an effort to prevent the construction of a pipeline route under the Missouri River. This disrupts the only water source of the Standing Rock Sioux Indians. Bulldozers have already destroyed sacred grounds. There is imminent fear of drinking water contamination.

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the oil company from Texas, is hoping to complete the work of installing the pipeline before winter. To no avail, President Obama put on an injunction prohibiting ETP from digging within 20 miles of the reservation. ETP is now two miles from the reservation.

“The tribe is very shocked by what’s happening to them,” Sister Joni said. “They’re asking for our government to honor the Fort Laramie Treaty, their sacred land, traditions and people.

Sister Joni and her friend, Sherry Woods, drove more than 16 hours and spent three nights at the reservation at the end of October.

It may be that Sister Joni was being nudged by the Spirit to go prayerfully stand with and support the Sioux Tribe, water protectors and others because she is currently exploring her own ancestry.

Sister Joni Luna at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation at North Dakota.

Sister Joni Luna at the Standing Rock Sioux Nation Indian reservation at North Dakota.

Last summer, Sister Joni did an ancestry DNA test and was surprised to discover she is 45 percent Native American. She has always believed herself to be Hispanic, so the results shocked her.

“I’ve always been attracted to Native American spirituality. In my head I didn’t know, but I believe my soul has always known and yearned for that which was lost,” she said.

During the four days camping in a tent on the reservation, Sister Joni participated in an anti-racism class, some blessings and other spiritual ceremonies. One morning she attended a sunrise prayer ceremony.

“We asked for guidance from the four winds, Mother Earth, Father Sky, the moon, sun, water and fire. It was absolutely beautiful. It connected me in a most profound way to the Ultimate source within me.”

She said everyone was given raw tobacco to hold during the ceremony. Later, she learned that Native Americans believe tobacco is a unifying thread of communication between humans and the spiritual powers.

“We were praying under this vast sky in view of these hills and this open land. It just does something to your soul. It speaks to something I think a lot of us are missing today because we’re so compartmentalized and disconnected from nature. To be outside for that many days on this sacred land was absolutely breathtaking, cleansing and an incredible spiritual experience. It has changed my life.”

She also shed tears of sadness.

Sister Joni said the area is in the Morton County Sheriff’s Department district. She was told that the sheriff’s department had put a call out to request officers in the adjacent states to serve as “backup” if needed because of the group of protectors that have gathered.

“We were there for four days. There were no guns and no smoking. There was no violence. And no one’s perpetuating any violence. I didn’t see any hate. So it’s interesting to see that the Morton County Sheriff’s Department feels like they need backup. They’re the ones with the guns, batons, and attack dogs.

“All day long, 24/7 there is a helicopter and a plane circling the reservation. By the third or fourth day I felt like I was in a camp, a concentration camp on surveillance.

“I’m praying each and every day that the tribe will prevail. That they can continue their way of life and teach the rest of us how to connect to our Ultimate Source through nature, that truth, virtue and goodness,” she said.


Sister Joni invites you to pray this prayer until the people of Energy Transfer, Morton County and the United States stop the unjust treatment of all people:

May the blessing of peace be upon all water protectors, warriors and relatives in Standing Rock, North Dakota.
May peace run through you like a herd of buffalo.
May you rise like the sun and lay to rest the dark black snake threatening your sacred grounds.
May love, mercy and justice prevail in the land of your beloved ancestors, past, present and future.

The following are some links suggested by Sister Joni to stay informed or support this important issue:

Episcopal News Service press release
Indigenous Peoples Power Project video on Facebook
Video: The Redford Center
Video: MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on the Standing Rock protests
The Official -Sacred Stone Camp GoFundMe page

Nov. 12 invitation

For those near Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the Sisters of Providence invite you to join them from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12, for “Standing Rock Solidarity Prayer” at the north campus lodge. Please bring any appropriate drum or percussion instrument to join in the prayer.

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Cheryl Casselman

Cheryl Casselman worked as a marketing manager for the Sisters of Providence for twenty years. She grew up in Camby, Indiana and now lives in Sullivan County, Indiana. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Indiana State University and master's degree in Leadership Development from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

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  1. Avatar Kathleen Desautels on November 6, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Thanks again, Joni, for sharing your experience and insights. I’ll pray your prayer for the people of that land and for a resolution to the injustices perpetrated against them

  2. Avatar Cathy Campbell, SP on November 6, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    Joni, Thanks for going to ND, thanks for sharing your insights, most of all thanks for your strong invitation to stand with you and the Sioux of Standing Rock. I promise to do that each day in my prayer. Peace and blessings, Sr. CathyC SP

  3. Avatar Mary Ryan, SP on November 6, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    This is a wonderful article. Between this article (very informative) and your presentation (Excellent too), this afternoon, I am now more aware of the plight of the Native Americans at Standing Rock and how it will affect everyone.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  4. Avatar Rita Clare Gerardpt on November 7, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Joni and Cheryl. thanks for your sharing this powerful story of the Native Americans at Standing Rock. I tried calling President Obama this morning but I didn’t get through; however, I will keep trying. Joni, I’m sure this powerful experience has changed your life. I hope to attend the gathering at the lodge on Sat., Nov. 12.

    Rita Clare

  5. Avatar Mary Tomlinson on November 7, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Joni and Cheryl. Thank you for such a moving piece. I congratulate Joni for having the guts and tenacity to go there and stand with the people. America has done such a damaging service to our Native American brothers and sisters throughout our history. Can’t we honor our Native American ancestors by leaving their land and water pure. Thanks, Joni. Mary Tomlinson

  6. Avatar Cheryl Casselman on November 7, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Keep praying, everyone. Thank you!

  7. Avatar Paula Damiano, SP on November 10, 2016 at 9:52 am

    Thank you, Joni for your action, your prayer, your commitment. I “stand” with you and the Sioux.

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