Methodist Minister, Reverend Matt Richards at Standing Rock
November 5, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
November 3: 300 clergy and lay people from all over the country, answering a call that was put out for the religious community to come to Standing Rock for an action to stand in solidarity with the Native people. Photo: Special to revcom.us
Editors’ note: As U.S. society divides out around the struggle at Standing Rock, there are forces working to intensify an atmosphere of racist hatred against Native Americans among white people in rural North and South Dakota. At the same time, there are significant voices of support for the struggle at Standing Rock from those communities. Reverend Matt Richards from Miller, South Dakota, a town of around 1,400 people, is one of those voices. The Revolution correspondents at Standing Rock spoke with him on November 2, when he was part of a mobilization of clergy for Standing Rock.
Revolution: Can you tell me who you are?
Reverend Richards: Matt Richards from Miller, South Dakota, serving the United Methodist Church. I’m Senior Pastor at Miller UMC.
Revolution: That’s how far from here?
Reverend Richards: That’s about three and a half hours south.
Revolution: What brought you here?
Reverend Richards: Just working with several clergy via a Facebook group, clergy standing with Standing Rock. Saw the call for clergy to come register and come attend. Actually it goes deeper for me. In 1980 my mom got a teaching job on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. So from 1980 to 1985 I was a student at the elementary school on the reservation and I was introduced to Native American culture, the Lakota Sioux culture. Had friendships with many Lakota Sioux there. And so I’ve been at the center... my theology and my understanding of who we are as a people, as God’s children, we are all relatives, to me that means the same thing. Trying to work for justice and environmental justice with the earth and water means a great deal to me and should mean a lot to everyone.
Revolution: What do you think people need to know about what’s going on here?
Reverend Richards: I think people need to understand that this is one more attempt to create enmity between Lakota Nations, all Native Nations, and the government. Those with power involved, I believe it’s an attempt to close the book as far as genocide, and we’re at a point in our society where this is an opportunity for those of us who have descended from the people who benefited from wealth, power, and the enslavement of people, the genocide of so many indigenous people, to experience redemption, to experience reconciliation. That’s a heartfelt gesture—it needs to be more than just lip service. To come here and to hear the stories, connect with people and understand true culture is essential in bridging that gap and that pain that still exists.
Revolution: And what would you tell people who read this or listen to your voice about why they should come here?
Reverend Richards: Come here to just learn about what is really going on here. There is a lot of... if you look on Facebook there is a lot of disbelief as to what’s really happening here. It’s really something here, you come into the camp here, you get to the center here where there’s the sacred fire, they’ve got these wonderful erase boards that essentially give the flow chart of directions of nonviolent protests and non escalation. And you see so much of that on Facebook and other social media sites, that people just don’t believe what is taking place here. And come and see for yourself. And also come with the awareness that you are a guest, that you are here to learn and also to hear about the story of No Access, No Pipeline. It’s great.
Revolution: What does your congregation think about this?
Reverend Richards: There’s a mix. We’ve got people who just do not agree with what is taking place here. But there are others who do support and are understanding of what is taking place. Our bishop has written an extensive letter of support, which does give us a little cover, I would say. But it’s still a challenge working in local congregations of predominantly white people who have lived lives of white privilege, as I have as well, learning what that means and acknowledging our human brokenness.
Revolution: Let me ask you this, theologically speaking and I’m an atheist, fighting against the attacks by the police, mass incarceration, other crimes of the system. This system is un-reformable. It’s a system of white supremacy and they could not NOT kill Black and Latino people, even if they wanted to, because of the workings of capitalism. There is the addiction to oil that is at the center of this system worldwide. These pipelines are part of the U.S. becoming, as they say, self sufficient, which means it doesn’t matter the lives of the people, their compunction to expand or die... But what I wanted to ask, as a person of faith, what do you think as a person of faith, what is your responsibility, when these kinds of injustices are happening, what’s the responsibility of people of faith?
Reverend Richards: It’s first and foremost to be faithful in prayer—to center yourself in prayer and praying for the Holy Spirit to enter in. And second, before there are any judgments made, be like Paul, learn the context, learn the culture. If you are going to attempt to judge, either one way or another, you have to do your understanding of context, do the research, do the study. Experience something before you make such a judgment. And then if you come out on the other side of that in a place of compassion and strengthened faith in what is taking place, don’t be afraid. Be courageous, be brave. Know that God is doing something new, that those who look at Christianity as just a white man’s religion, Jesus was Hebrew.
Revolution:How does your way of thinking guide you to act?
Reverend Richards: One, I’m here, we’re going to go to some training on approaches to protesting and non-escalation. I plan to be present, I plan to be part of the protest and tomorrow we’re going to see. This clergy group that is gathering—between 500-600 clergy—ascending to this area, some say descending, but I’d say, ascending, to be involved, to get firsthand experience and to join all our relatives in the stand against DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline).
Revolution: Any last comments you want to make?
Reverend Richards: Just want to put a shout out to people in Miller, South Dakota. I do love and care for you deeply and I know that some of you support me and I’m working for what I believe is right and don’t intend to push my beliefs on the congregation in any way, shape, or form.
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