By J.G. Noll

Veterans beg Native American elders for forgiveness at Standing Rock

On Sunday morning, December 4, the Corps of Army Engineers rejected an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), granting a small victory to the multi-nation group of indigenous protesters. The decision and announcement came after months of peaceful protests by opponents of the DAPL because it desecrated sacred sites and threatened reservation water sources. While at first a small, local protest, the participants (also known as water protectors) gained national and international visibility as the police force against them became increasingly militarized.

The nation was stunned this fall as police forces used water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures, rubber bullets, and tear gas. During this time, a veterans group emerged calling itself “Veterans Standing for Standing Rock,” pledging support to the water protectors as human shields. On December 3, they began arriving in earnest and included notable Hawaii Representative and veteran, Tulsi Gabbard. Estimates place the veterans group at nearly 2,000.

A contingency of veterans surprised Native elders and onlookers alike with an impromptu forgiveness ceremony at the Prairie Knights Casino and Resort on December 5, just a day after the DAPL easement was rejected. Led by Wes Clark Jr., son of Army general and former supreme commander at NATO (and Democratic presidential candidate), veterans stood in formation and then knelt before Native Americans including Chief Leonard Crow Dog, Lakota leader and medicine man, Phyllis Young, the spokeswoman for Standing Rock Sioux, and elders Faith Spotted Eagle and Ivan Looking Horse. More than 500 people participated in the ceremony.

According to, Clark issued this apology:

“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 elders offered forgiveness to the veterans, with Chief Leonard Crow Dog urging  the group to embrace world peace. The ceremony also included the use of burning sage to symbolically heal the group. Afterward, members of the veteran and tribal groups greeted each other with hugs and handshakes.

The National Guard of North Dakota has been activated for the DAPL protests. More than 130 National Guard members have been called up throughout the protests to fortify law enforcement on the ground.

Watch the video here: