Speaker: Cheryl Angel

Standing Peacefully Firm at Standing Rock

Cheryl Angel is an indigenous leader, wise (Sioux) Lakota elder woman, mother of five children, and lifelong devoted water protector who helped initiate and maintain the Standing Rock camp since April 2016, and who was vital in the nonviolent resistance to the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. Her voice among the water protectors is one of integrating deep prayer with nonviolent direct action, guiding two women-led actions at Standing Rock. A spiritual activist from the Sicangu (Rosebud) tribe -- one of the seven tribes that conform the Lakota/Nakota/Dakota People in the Great Plains of North America -- Cheryl moves from a deep space of love and nonviolence as guided by her ancestors and Lakota traditions and ways of being.

Cheryl was born in the Black Hills, South Dakota, known to the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people as The Heart of Everything That Is. Her mother had heart problems, and was unable to care for her, even at birth. Her first baby sitter was a horse. Cheryl didn’t meet her siblings formally until she was 4 years old. At around age 5, Cheryl was taken by her father to the reservation where she lived with the Two Kettle community, and was looked after by 80-year-old elders. In third grade, Cheryl was put in St. Francis boarding school for two years. While at boarding school, she and the other kids suffered from physical and psychological abuse – her braid was immediately cut off and she was given short hair and bangs, she had to take baths in a dungeon, and she was punished for speaking her language or practicing her spirituality.

Cheryl wondered if her life was worth anything. The only thing she’d experience out of life was abuse, neglect and loneliness, until one day a friend told her, “Give it all to the Creator as a gift... Creator doesn’t care what the gift is, but you need to package it and send it over in order for Creator to help you. ... It doesn't matter if what you have to offer is only pain.” Cheryl did. She spent the entire night crying and praying. By the next day, she felt healed. This experience deepened Cheryl’s connection to Creator and gifted her with the understanding of the importance of prayer and surrender. Every morning, and in every ceremony, Cheryl prays, “Please take me to where I can do something good today.” She believes this prayer is what has set her on her journey as a water protector.

One of her sons, Happi, was one of the first Standing Rock water protectors who locked himself down to an excavator to stop the DAPL construction. In an interview about this action of nonviolent civil disobedience, Cheryl said: “Water is sacred to us. We use it every day not just to live, but for ceremonies, for spiritual cleansing, for healing and for blessing.” Later, she participated to set up a camp directly blocking the construction of the pipeline. 

At Standing Rock, Cheryl held several circles around Gandhian nonviolence and she was able to find intersections with the Lakota way of life. In particular, the Gandhian conception of "soul force" (satyagraha) or "clinging to truth" has a direct correspondence with the Lakota concept of "nagi", from Cheryl’s perspective. She often appeals to the '"nagi'" inside each and every one of us, as a way to connect with our best self.

In November 2016, at one of the peaks of resistance at Standing Rock, Cheryl left for New Mexico to attend a ceremony with other healers. After the ceremony, she went to a sacred river to pray with the water. Even though it was in the middle of winter, and the water was freezing, when Cheryl touched the water, her hands became hot. She could feel that the water and she were communicating. The water recognized her. It didn’t feel slippery, it felt of substance. She felt the sacredness of the water, and felt a deep knowing that water is life. This empowered Cheryl to rise into her calling of being a life-long water protector. When Cheryl returned to camp, she led over 800 people in a silent women-led nonviolent direct action to the front lines.  Renowned author, activist and legend, Starhawk -- founder of Earth Activist Training -- recalls the experience: "I stood behind Cheryl [Angel] and listened to one of the most powerful moments of pure nonviolence I’ve ever experienced.”

Cheryl lives by her prayers. Whether she is on the front line, marching on the streets of DC, supporting the indigenous people in Mexico, or with her prayer horses at home, she prays. Cheryl believes that anyone that is around her while she is praying is part of her ceremony, “The police are not the enemy. They are our brothers and sisters. They also need our prayers and they are a part of our ceremony.”

Join us in conversation with this remarkable spiritual activist and leader!

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