BLAUVELT, N.Y. - Growing up, Sister Ceil Lavin described herself as apolitical.
“I didn’t have a political notion in my head,” said the New Rochelle resident and Blauvelt Dominican sister.
But things changed for her during the 1980s as tensions between the United States and the former USSR escalated and the nuclear arms race accelerated. The thought of resulting devastation inspired her to take action.
Sister Lavin’s activism on the issues of social justice and climate change took her to one of the more pressing battles last week: Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. There, Energy Transfer Partners is attempting to complete construction of the Dakota Access pipeline that will carry oil roughly 1,170 miles from North Dakota to Illinois, The New York Times reported.
According to The New York Times, the route the pipeline will take pass near the reservation and through what the Standing Rock Sioux tribe identify as sacred burial grounds despite being owned by ETP. It would also pass beneath the Missouri River, something the Sioux people and environmentalists view as a threat to the local water supply. The threat to the water supply has seen the Sioux and other indigenous people and Native Americans protesting it take on the name “water protectors.”
The Standing Rock Sioux began opposing the pipeline as far back as 2014, Time Magazine reported.
The Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt along with other Dominican sisters—Amityville, Caldwell, Hope, Sparkill—work on social justice issues. Mitigating the effects of climate change is one such issue, specifically to lessen and eliminate the use of fossil fuels and promote the use of sustainable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, etc.).
As a collective the Dominican Sisters stand in solidarity with the indigenous people in the country, so it was natural to support the Standing Rock Sioux, Sister Lavin said.
“That’s a commitment we’ve made.”
Traveling from New York to North Dakota, Sister Lavin met up with seven other Dominican Sisters from California, Michigan, and Wisconsin on Veterans Day. They spent two days there, visiting, wearing black sweatshirts that read “Dominican Sisters In Solidarity With Water & Standing Rock,” to support those camped out.
At the site there is no water or electricity, and the temperatures dip down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night. It’s only getting colder as winter approaches. The water protectors are under constant surveillance from police and law enforcement. Drones are flown over the site, Sister Lavin said.
“The oil companies, the gas companies are more concerned with profit than with people.”
Meanwhile the water protectors remain peaceful despite some recent escalations. The standoff grew violent toward the end of October when police moved in to clear protestors off private land, according to Lavin.
To handle the myriad of issues presented by protesting for a prolonged period, a variety of tents are set up serving food and providing first-aid, legal assistance, and mental health support, Lavin said.
She described the somewhat transient nature to the camp with people coming in from all over for a couple days or weeks at a time to stand in solidarity.
The water protectors are adamant about remaining peaceful: No drugs or alcohol are permitted on the camp site, she said.
Sister Lavin offered a stern rebuke of the oil companies having visited Standing Rock.
“The oil companies, the gas companies are more concerned with profit than with people,” she said.
Her hope is that her trip and the actions and efforts of many others draw more media attention to the issue, that the public will understand the mission.
By going there Lavin said, “I hope that more and more people will wake up and be aware.”
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