Native American tribal leaders conducted a forgiveness ceremony with U.S. veterans on Monday night, in an emotional event that also honored the Standing Rock Sioux's victory against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) over the weekend.
Chief Leonard Crow Dog, a well-known spiritual leader and member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe, formally forgave Wesley Clark, Jr. after the son of former NATO commander Wesley Clark, Sr. led a group of veterans in a speech pledging the veterans' service to the tribes and acknowledging the U.S. military's longstanding history of violating Indigenous rights.
Watch the ceremony below:
Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn't respect you, we polluted your Earth, we've hurt you in so many ways but we've come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.
The veterans knelt in front of the tribal leader, who then placed his hand on Clark's bowed head. He offered forgiveness and urged world peace, saying, "We will take a step. We are Lakota Sovereign Nation. We were the nation, and we're still a nation. We have a language to speak. We have preserved the caretaker position. We do not own the land, the land owns us."
Speaking to the tentative victory over DAPL, Standing Rock Sioux spokeswoman Phyllis Young, who also took part in the forgiveness ceremony, cautioned, "The black snake has never stopped and if they didn't stop at desecrating our graves of our ancestors, they'll stop at nothing. So there will be a motion filed by the Energy Transfer today to continue the pipeline...We are a peaceful movement, but we may have to make a move to protect our territory."
The ceremony took place at the Four Prairie Knights Casino & Resort on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation near Fort Yates, North Dakota. For months, Native American water protectors have waged a peaceful resistance against the construction of the 1,172-mile oil pipeline that they say threatens their access to clean water and violates treaty rights and tribal sovereignty.
Thousands of veterans deployed to the protest camps over the weekend to protect the Standing Rock Sioux and its supporters from escalating police violence.
Will Griffin, a Veterans for Peace activist and former U.S. Army paratrooper who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote in an op-ed for Common Dreams in October that after two wars, fighting for Standing Rock was "the first time I served the American people."