Chief Arvol Looking Horse Calls for collective prayer ahead of Standing Rock Camp removals

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations, and 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, is calling on religious leaders from all traditions to pray together at 1 pm PST (4 pm EST) on Wednesday, February 22 — at the time law enforcement is set to move in and clear the camps at Standing Rock.

“My heart is heavy today, for what we are all facing together with tomorrow’s deadline in the removal of the Standing Rock’s Camps,” he wrote on Facebook Tuesday morning. 

On December 4, Chief Looking Horse gathered hundreds of people from all different faith traditions for the Interfaith Day of Prayer at Standing Rock. Several URI members were at Oceti Sakowin for the day of prayer and over 1,000 people sent written prayers to be given to the tribal council.

Today, Chief Looking Horse is calling us to pray again. 

“Because of the seriousness of this situation, I humbly would like to once again call upon all the Religious/Spiritual Leaders, URI and the People who traveled to Standing Rock’s sacred fire on December 4th. Pray with us at your Own sacred places for Mother Earth, her Mni wic’oni (water of life) and the protection of our People who are still at the Standing Rock Camps,” 

You can read his full call to prayer here: 

LISTEN: Standing Rock Interfaith Day of Prayer – Reporting Back and Moving Forward

The following is a video call recorded on Friday, December 16th by the United Religions Initiative, hosted by the Regional Coordinator of North America, Sari Heidenreich; Regional Coordinator of the Multiregion, Frederica Helmiere; and Coordinator of the Environmental Resource Cooperation Circle, Katherine Hreib.

The call is an opportunity for members of the URI delegation to Standing Rock for the Interfaith Day of Prayer on December 4, 2016 to share stories of our time there and to hear from Global Council Trustee Audri Scott Williams about some of the longstanding work with indigenous communities within the URI Network.

We end the call with a series of question that will hopefully inspire reflection on how we can best be allies to the indigenous community within and beyond the URI network.

The call begins with a reading of the United Religion Initiative’s Preamble, Purpose and Principles.

What I learned about movement and stillness at Standing Rock

Sari Heidenreich is the Regional Coordinator for the United Religions Initiative in North America. She visited the Oceti Sakowin Camp on December 3 and 4 for the Interfaith Day of Prayer at the invitation of Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a longtime member of URI. Follow the links to read more about the Interfaith Day of Prayer at Standing Rock and URI’s delegation that attended.

As you drive along Highway 1806 near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, the Oceti Sakowin Camp comes into view.

It’s bigger than I expected and practically takes my breath away — tall tipis and tents covered in snow, banners of support hung along a makeshift fence encircling the camp, over 300 flags lining the road, screaming to the world, “We care about what’s happening here. We care about what’s happening here.”

The Sacred Fire draws you to the center of the camp, reminding you that you are here not as a protestors but as a warrior of prayer and a Water Protector. It is a small but mighty flame that has burned 24 hours a day since the camp was formed this summer. This ceremonial flame continually roots you in the spiritual movement taking place here. It’s a grassroots movement, where everyone needs to be grounded because everyone is expected to contribute.

Standards of conduct are displayed by the Sacred Fire at Oceti Sakowin Camp.
Standards of conduct are displayed by the Sacred Fire at Oceti Sakowin Camp.

This is a place of incredible grassroots leadership.

It is a place held by the Oceti Sakowin (Sioux) people and, as a visitor to the camp, I am here in service to them. In this place that they have molded, resistance is ceremony and prayer, and everything happens in a circle. It is a place where any voice can speak into the PA system at the Sacred Fire and where willing hands find work.

In this place, it feels like everyone can, and is expected to be, a servant leader. This means that within my first fifteen minutes at camp, my arms were full of medical supplies unloaded from a SUV driven across the country. It means that I was learning the difference between impregnated gauze and packing gauze and sorting it into boxes in the medical supply tent. It means I stepped over to the Herbal Healing Yurt to see if they wanted a can of ointment for cracked hands (they did). It means getting up before the sun to tape strips of orange paper to the front of porta potties so camp residents knew about the Interfaith Day of Prayer happening later.

Being at Oceti Sakowin, also meant letting myself be served.

The Interfaith Living Yurt in Oceti Sakowin Camp was built by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bismarck-Mandan.
The Interfaith Living Yurt in Oceti Sakowin Camp was built by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bismarck-Mandan.

I was hosted overnight in the Interfaith Living Yurt built by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bismarck-Mandan. The yurt’s host, Terri, guides us to porta potties and dinner served by Rosie. In different place around camp, kitchens have popped up and Rosie’s is one of them. Inside the green army tent, she heaps mashed potatoes and gravy onto my plate. The fried chicken is the best I’d ever tasted. We all ete without paying a cent and she invites us back for French Toast tomorrow morning.  After dinner, we find our way to the Tea Yurt where we’re greeted by floor pillows and masterfully brewed cups of tea. The stove warms us to the core.

And these servant leaders, serve me.

This beautiful dance of giving and receiving — of serving and being served — with such generosity reminds of the balance exhibited in the United Religions Initiative (URI) Charter: “We united to celebrate the joy of blessings and the light of wisdom in both movement and stillness.”

URI Delegation - Katherin Hreib, Jaya Reinhalter, Victor Kazanjian, Sari Heidenreich, Frederica Helmiere and Fred Fielding (L to R)
The United Religions Initiative Delecation at Oceti Sakowin Camp, (from left to right) Environmental Network Coordinator Katherin Hreib, Global Council Trustee Jaya Reinhalter, Executive Director Victor Kazanjian, North American Regional Coordinator Sari Heidenreich, Mutliregion Regional Coordaintor Frederica Helmiere and Global Council Trustee Fred Fielding.

This balance is one of the things that sticks with me most from my two days in Oceti Sakowin Camp. This is what grassroots leadership looks like: it’s being willing to serve in the most menial and yet significant ways, and it’s being willing to humbly receive the gift of service when you’re the recipient.

I find myself wondering what grassroots organizers outside of Standing Rock, particularly the 800+ URI member in 96 countries, can learn from one of the largest nonviolent spiritual movements of our time. Staying spiritually grounded and constantly aware of the balance in giving and receive service in our own communities, feels like an important place to start and one way we can each honor the struggle at Standing Rock, wherever we are.

URI’s Delegation to Standing Rock Featured in Huffington Post Religion

The United Religions Initiative to Join Hundreds at Standing Rock for Interfaith Day of Prayer


Global Interfaith Network to Join Hundreds at Standing Rock for Interfaith Day of Prayer

Standing Rock, ND, USA – December 1, 2016 – A delegation from the United Religions Initiative (URI) will travel to Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to join hundreds of people of faith for an Interfaith Day of Prayer on December 4, 2016. This comes at the invitation of Chief Arvol Looking Horse, URI member and representative of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations, and 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe.

“The hearts of all people’s faiths must now unite in believing we can change the path we are now on,” says Chief Looking Horse.  “We, from heart of Turtle Island, have a great message for the world to unite for our children’s future. We are asking the religious people to come and support our youth, to stand side by side with them, because they are standing in prayer. If you can find it in your heart, pray with them and stand beside them.”

The URI delegation will be led by Executive Director the Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr. URI is a global grassroots network of 816 interfaith groups in 96 countries, working across religious and cultural barriers to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for Mother Earth and all living beings.

“From its inception, URI has upheld the fundamental importance of including the diverse voices of Indigenous wisdom-keepers and ensures the full participation of the Indigenous Peoples of Mother Earth in every dimension of our work,” Kazanjian says.

“I am deeply moved by the prayerful and non-violent displays of peace and unity of Indigenous Nations and friends at Standing Rock to protect and restore our Sacred Mother Earth on behalf of the whole human community,” says Kazanjian. “Our prayer is that everyone will see the importance of non-violence and dialogue as the path forward. This day of prayer is specifically focused on our common concern for the environment and protecting our precious planet and water, which is one of the issues that binds together the world’s spiritual traditions. I invite people around the world to send prayers for the Standing Rock community, which we will deliver to those gathered for this sacred ceremony on December 4.”

Kazanjian will be joined by URI North America Regional Coordinator Sari Heidenreich, URI Multiregion Regional Coordinator Frederica Helmiere, URI Environmental Resource Coordinator Katherine Hreib, and Jaya Priya Reinhalter and Fred Fielding, members of the URI Global Council, which serves as the organization’s Board of Directors.

Prayers and statements of support to be presented to the Standing Rock Tribal Council can be submitted by filling out this form or sending them to

Members from Indigenous tribes across the United States and the world – and thousands of supporters –  have gathered peacefully at Oceti Sakowin Camp over the last seven months to protect sacred Indigenous sites and prevent the pollution of key water sources. Even as harsh winter weather rages at the camp, more witnesses, representing diverse traditions from around the world, are joining to stand in solidarity with those gathered at Standing Rock. This is a powerful example of strength through interfaith and intercultural cooperation.


Isabelle Ortega



URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. We implement our mission through local and global initiatives that build the capacity of our 816 member groups and organizations, called Cooperation Circles, to engage in community action such as conflict resolution and reconciliation, environmental sustainability, education, women’s and youth programs, and advocacy for human rights. Learn more at


DAPL: “Take a Peaceful Action to Show Support”

dakota access pipeline protest:

United Religions Initiative North America is in the midst of a campaign called #TangibleHope. It focuses on sharing stories of people finding tangible hope in their lives. It is time that we all offer tangible hope to those who need it.

Our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock are facing another critical moment in their struggle to protect their sacred lands and stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I ask everyone receiving this message to take a peaceful action to show support. It could be reposting this message, signing an online petition, or calling on authorities to bring a peaceful resolution to this crisis. Please do what you are able and feel is right. I ask and pray that all involved dedicate themselves to peaceful, respectful communication and interactions.

As a United Religions Initiative Global Trustee and Leadership Council Member representing North America, I reaffirm the following URI statement of support for our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock in stopping construction of the DAPL.

May peace prevail on Earth,

Fred FieldingFred Fielding
Global Trustee, United Religions Initiative
Leadership Council Member, United Religions Initiative North America


I am writing today with a heavy heart and great concern as I witness the events unfolding in North Dakota. Scenes of armed and militarized police from multiple states forcibly moving on non-violent protesters, including elders in the midst of prayer, recalls memories of centuries of violent actions against Indigenous peoples. For how long must we repeat this same horrific pattern of America’s history? While the massacre at Wounded Knee is relegated to this tragic history and out of our reach, Standing Rock is happening right now, in our time, and I believe that we as people of conscience must act so as not to stand idly by and let history repeat itself once again at the expense of our Indigenous sisters and brothers.  

Trustees of the United Religions Initiative traveled to Standing Rock several weeks ago carrying a statement of solidarity. The statement concludes “The United Religions Initiative will pray and stand beside Standing Rock as long as it takes for all Members of our Human Family to fully understand that your struggle is not only for the way of life of the Great Sioux Nation, but for the health, safety and well-being of all current and future generations of the Human Family and Life everywhere on Mother Earth!”

It seems clear that local authorities are not protecting the civil rights of our sisters and brothers at Standing Rock, nor engaging in any reasonable kind of dialogue that could bring the situation to a peaceful resolution. The misuse of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, the arrests of journalists and the mistreatment of citizens exercising their rights to peaceful protest and prayer are among the indicators that the local authorities have ceased to carry out their duties to serve and protect. I urge us all to raise our voices and call upon President Obama and appropriate administration officials to intervene in this situation and protect the rights of the citizens of the Sioux Nation, citizens of the United States, who are raising their voices on behalf of us all and our planet. And most of all, we need to listen, listen to the wisdom being offered through this protest and learn about living in harmony with one another and the Earth. May peace prevail at Standing Rock. May peace prevail on Earth. 

In peace…

The Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian Jr.
Executive Director
United Religions Initiative

Indigenous Chief Calls Religious Leaders to Standing Rock

Standing Rock Encampment

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, is calling on religious leaders from all traditions to come join young people standing in prayerful protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“We are asking the religious leaders to come and support them to stand side-by-side with them because the are standing in prayer,” he said.

The protestors, who say the pipeline will disrupt sacred Indigenous burial grounds and threaten water supplies, are standing along Highway 1806, which leads to the pipeline’s construction site. Looking Horse, a member of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations, said the police and National Guard are moving in on the protestersand he believes an influx of religious leaders to the area can help keep the peace.

“If you can find it in your heart, to [come] pray with them, and stand beside them…the Police Department and the National Guard they would listen to each and every one of you,” he said.

The protestors are standing along Highway 1806 in prayer against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which they say will disrupt sacred Indigenous burial grounds and threaten water supplies.

“The hearts of All People’s faiths must now unite in believing we can change the path we are now on,” he said.

Religious leaders interested in heeding Looking Horse’s call to go to Standing Rock can contact Johnnie Aseron at or 605-545-4545.

Looking Horse is a member of the United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circle Protecting and Restoring the Sacred. You can read his full statement below or at this link. You can read URI’s statement of support presented at Oceti Sakowin Camp here.


Arvol Looking Horse:
October 22, 2016
Protecting the Sacred

Mitakuyape (relatives)!

We are now up against dangerous decisions that are coming from the disease of the mind. We are dealing with minds that hold no values of respect and honor toward another Nation’s Burials and Sacred Sites. Money has contaminated their minds to want the power to desecrate the sacredness of Mother Earth and allow my People’s burial places to be destroyed in order to continue to erase our culture.

As Keeper of this Spirit Bundle of my People, we as the Buffalo People – Pte Oyate, have been able to keep our ceremonies and way of life for 19 generations in tact, which every generation is 100 years. This Bundle has been with us for over 2000 years, which has guided us through massacres and hard times, even when it was hidden until the 1978 Freedom of Religion Act.

Tim Mentz –Tatanka Duta (Red Bull) and his family lineal knowledge are bound by this same woope – Creator’s Law. This knowledge is based on sacred oral history that dictates the word is sacred and stands in truth. Tim’s inherited knowledge in recognizing significant Sacred Sites and holds the same value for our People, as in my position, this is why I am able to carry an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of SD. We both have been raised with traditional knowledge with the responsibility to protect and carry, on behalf of our People. A person that earns a Degree can never attain that same knowledge we carry for our People. The Responsibility that we care for is passed down and learned through our oral history.

For this Oil Corporation to destroy what Tim Mentz, a cultural historical Tracker, identified as our Burial Mounds and Sacred Sites, is a violation to the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This also violates United States’ own Treaty with our People. What has now been allowed to happen is a violation in the highest level of disrespect toward a Nation’s Ancestors. The support this Corporation has are Political Leaders who have given themselves the Power in their elected positions, to violate their own Laws they are supposed to uphold; as stated in their own US Constitution in how Religions are to be treated. Where are the Keepers of their values?

The hearts of All People’s faiths must now unite in believing we can change the path we are now on. We, from heart of Turtle Island, have a great message for the World to unite for our children’s future. Already we have witnessed many Nations of life are now dying because of contamination; those that swim, those that crawl, those that fly, the plant Nation, the four legged and now the two legged.

What we are being faced with is a dark spirit. All life cannot afford to allow the same mistakes to be made any longer, look what is happening to the four directions in the contamination of Mni Wic’oni – water of life. If we do not actively stand up as Leaders and do Creator’s work in uniting our concerns, it will continue to be a domino affect that our Ancestors have warned about in the Prophecies.

This is not a competition of who will lead and who should follow, this is a very serious time we are in. I know in my heart there are millions of People that feel this is long overdue. It is time that all of us become Leaders to help protect the sacred upon Mother Earth – she is the source of life and not a resource.

In a Sacred Hoop of Life, where there is no ending and no beginning.

Onipiktec’a (that we shall live),

Nac’a Arvol Looking Horse
19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe

Bearing witness to, and responsibility for, the Earth

“What gives you #TangibleHope in the world today? How do your values and/or belief systems come into conversation with this #TangibleHope?”

Katherine Hreib, Environmental Network Coordinator at the United Religions Initiative:

Recently during a moment of meditation I returned to a place where I grew up: the meek woods of New England. I’m clothed in a dark night sky polluted only by the glow of the stars, where the cool air invites a deep openness of breath and cradles me in silent aloneness. When I allow myself to return to the woods of Massachusetts in my memory, or when I take an afternoon to visit the Pacific shores near my new home on the west coast, I am reminded of how my sense of well-being, confidence and stillness mirrors my experience of the natural world.

Just as my sense of peace relies on both my physical and spiritual well-being, so too do I rely on the natural world for physical and spiritual health. In this sense my relationship to the natural world—the land, waters, skies, winds and light— is just as much physical as it is non-physical. In an era of climate change and accelerating environmental degradation we are asked to confront how the changing Earth impacts and will continue to impact our access to necessary resources like water and nutritious sustenance, as well as our emotional and spiritual well-being under various ecological stresses like air pollution and saltwater intrusion.

The Earth is our provider. In turn she only asks for our attention, our care, our being-as-witness to her and all that she does. We are to watch the land as we plant, to observe how new life comes into being and to how her many rhythms influence our lives.

As witnesses we are also responsible to attend to the signs and symptoms of illness and weakening. We must direct our eyes to the eroding Bayou of New Orleans, to the sea-life washing ashore the Pacific coast, to the floods around the world that disrupt antiquated agricultural calendars and practices, and even to how industry prods, pillages, and blackens the Earth in the name of a certain type of economic growth.

These past few weeks mark for me a special moment of responsibility: The call to stewardship comes from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota to halt the construction of the four-state Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

The DAPL is a proposed 1,172-mile oil pipeline that has potentially devastating consequences for the All Earth— frequent oil spills, water contamination, biodiversity loss, to name a few; infringes upon the sacred lands, waters, resources and legal standing of the Standing Rock Sioux; and signifies a disregard for the growing consensus to move towards a zero-emissions, non-exploitative, renewables-based energy economy.

The call is loud and clear. Over the past few weeks I’ve received email blasts asking for supplies for the Standing Rock Sioux and for those standing in solidarity with them and for rides to North Dakota to join the growing number of Earth allies. I’ve seen a growing number of people raining their virtual-voices on Twitter, expressing their dissent and care for the Earth and solidarity with those who are on the front lines of justice for the Earth, for life, for sacred land and tradition.

However, on Friday September 9th, we were met with a devastating statement by a federal judge denying the Standing Rock Sioux’s request for an injunction to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. The tone suddenly changed: environmentalists and allies, sighed a sigh of disappointment. The decision was a clear instance of the privilege of profit of the fossil fuel industry over the voice of a people calling for the protection of drinking water and sacred lands.

But within an hour of the federal ruling the US Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a statement effectively halting construction on an especially sensitive area along the pipeline’s construction bordering Lake Oahe, a large reservoir on the Missouri River. This is a clear sign that our calls were heard, and that—as the statement reads—“thousands of demonstrators [came] together peacefully, with the support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sights.”

By raising our voices as One, we showed that we are committed to upholding our responsibilities as stewards of the Earth and as caretakers of our fellow human.

In addition to calling for the protection of sacred waters, the diversity of voices calling for the federal government to respect the sacredness of indigenous wisdom led the Department of Justice to declare a “need for serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”

This is a moment of tangible hope. It is a moment of hope for the Standing Rock Sioux, for their ancestors, and for the caretakers of Earth’s wisdom; it is a moment of hope for all those touched by the waters of the Missouri River, for environmentalists across the country, and for all of us who dream of a healthy and abundant Earth for ourselves and our grandchildren.

When we find ourselves wondering if the fight for resources is an invitation for divisiveness and territorialization, we ought to keep in mind that scarcity and vulnerability is an opportunity for new solidarities and innovation.


katherineKatherine joined the URI team in September 2016. She is responsible for building a strong and diverse network among environmentally focused CCs. A recent graduate of Columbia University, Katherine studied sustainable development, taking special interest in climate change law, environmental anthropology and the sociological impacts of environmental degradation. She is especially concerned with how climate change, while a common problem, has diverse local manifestations with strong negative implications for certain geographic and cultural communities. After working with groups in eastern Uganda, upstate New York and Staten Island, she understands the importance of privileging local knowledge and community engagement in the fight to address climate change issues. Katherine believes environmental justice and interfaith peacebuilding are of the same root and must addressed hand-in-hand. In her free time she enjoys live music, writing prose, camping and reading all things philosophy.

Every Tuesday, the #TangibleHope Diaries series features responses from North American grassroots peacebuilders on what gives them tangible hope in the world today. See you next week! Learn more here.

URI members express support, solidarity for Standing Rock


Several URI members are among the thousands standing in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protestors say the oil pipeline would disrupt a sacred Indigenous burial ground and threaten water supplies.

Hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr., a member of the URI Global Council, and an enrolled member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations, spoke from Sacred Stone Camp on Sunday.

“It’s the prayers and the ceremonies and the kindness and the peace that’s going to distinguish what we’re doing here from other actions,” he said in a video posted on YouTube.

“I am really thankful that I have lived to this day to see the sacred prophecies fulfilled before our eyes,” he said. “Behind me you see the prayer of all the great Indigenous leaders who have prayed for this day when we could all come together with one heart and one mind and many bodies in a prayerful, peaceful manner. ”

19th Generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations published a call to unity around this issue.

“Our vision is for the peoples of all continents, regardless of their beliefs in the Creator, to come together as one at their Sacred Sites to pray and meditate and commune with one another, thus promoting an energy shift to heal our Mother Earth and achieve a universal consciousness toward attaining Peace,” he said. Read more here. 

URI Global Council Trustee Audri Scott Williams has also raised her voice in solidarity through her radio show and Cooperation Circle NOWTIME Radio, where she interviewed Chief Phil Lane. You listen here.

UNIFY, a URI Cooperation Circle, voiced their support, posting on Facebook,
“We have so much gratitude & respect for the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, ND!” They also shared a video calling for prayer and action.

The Marin Interfaith Council shared with their members a petition from longtime member Macha NightMare and the group’s Pagan brothers and sisters.

“The vested interests of the fossil fuel industry continue to exploit dirty and unsustainable sources of oil, delving for every last drop in ways that assault Mother Earth and fracture her very bones, spilling filth onto the lands and spoiling the waters,” NightMare said. “We invite groups and individuals from all faith traditions to join with us in heeding the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the Sacred Stone Camp’s calls for solidarity and support. Supporters are being asked to call their elected representatives, and donate to support the well-being of defenders at Sacred Stone camp.”

She also invited members to sign a petition.