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Insights from Standing Rock: Courage and Global Leadership

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

Around the world, people watched events unfold last November as the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others protested the construction of a 1,172-mile oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Members of the tribe were concerned about the potential for the pipeline to contaminate the Missouri River, according to news outlets. The river is the main source of their drinking water. Tribe members also felt the pipeline threated land that is sacred to them.

The Dakota Access Pipeline project is designed to carry about 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois, news outlets report. Pipeline construction has created 12,000 jobs and will generate more than a hundred million in sales and income taxes in Iowa, Illinois, and North and South Dakota. According to a recent analysis by the Associated Press, North Dakota alone stands to gain more than $110 million annually in tax revenue.

More than 99 percent of the path of the pipeline is on private land and, thus, does not require federal approval. Court filings state that the Standing Rock Sioux had not been adequately consulted about the route of the pipeline, according to news reports.

As a result, a small group of Native Americans engaged in non-violent protests against the federal government last year. During freezing weather in November, some protesters were injured when police used water hoses to disperse demonstrators. Protesters also blamed police for other injuries.

The Native Americans achieved a victory from outgoing US President Barack Obama, who halted pipeline construction. Newly inaugurated President Donald Trump then reversed the decision and fast-tracked the project for completion. The conflict continued with evacuation and arrests at the anti-pipeline camps in February, a march in Washington, DC, more court filings, and completion of the pipeline.

As of May 2017, no oil had begun flowing through the pipeline, according to news reports. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the firm that built the pipeline, states it will be fully operational in June, according to a Dakota Access website. Meanwhile, anti-pipeline protesters are awaiting court decisions on Dakota Access and also have begun protesting other pipeline projects around the nation, news reports state.

Global Leadership and the Practice of Courage

What can we learn about this ongoing controversy as a demonstration of Global Leadership? What are some of the deeper conflicts? And how might a Global Leader create an optimal outcome?

My inquiry sent me first to the Presence card deck. I envisioned an outcome in which everyone involved could receive maximum benefit. I shuffled the deck and pulled out the card "Courage." I read the text and reflected on it. I then started researching the Standing Rock controversy and found insightful sources and inspiring examples of Global Leaders acting with tremendous courage to create a better path forward.

My initial research revealed that Standing Rock brings to the surface a deep clash of cultures: one culture focused on economic resources and material achievement, and the other focused on a beautiful, sacred, and connected Universe. Both cultures see their approach to life as essential to the survival of their people.

The culture clash is complex and bitter. According to journalist and author Graham Hancock, who was at the scene in Standing Rock last winter, the Lakota word for white people is Wasi’chu. Lakota is one of the languages of Native Americans from the region. Wasi'chu means “he who takes the fat” or “he who takes the larger portion,” according to Hancock's report.

Hancock spoke to Cody Two Bears, District Representative for the Cannonball Community on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council. Cody stated: “We’ve always called white people that [Wasi'chu] because we see the greed in them a lot of times—the one who takes the larger portion.”

Pipeline advocates see the project as necessary to restoring US infrastructure and bringing energy to homes and businesses. Advocates say they included Native American input in the planning process and state that the pipeline uses advanced technology, which makes oil transportation safer than truck or rail, according to The Des Moines Register. States will gain substantial tax revenue, and trade groups tout the economic windfall reaped by workers who helped build the pipeline, according to the Register.

ETP spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger told the Register, "We are very pleased to bring this important infrastructure project that benefits all Americans and our national economy into service on June 1."

With this deeper understanding, I wondered how the rifts could be bridged and healed, creating a dialogue toward a new solution. Using the Courage card in the Presence deck, I reflected more deeply on specific lines of text and found surprising new options.

Presence Text: Courage Allows You to Face and Defeat Fear.

Both sides of the Standing Rock dispute seem to hold deep fears about losing their culture and identity. Pipeline supporters fear the loss of money, jobs, and energy and, with all that, their very survival. Native Americans, facing the US government, might fear overwhelming authority and power. They also might fear the loss of deeply held values and beliefs: ones that are tied to the beauty of Earth, humans' role as stewards of the land, and a desire for a balanced existence among humans, Nature, and the divine.

With courage, everyone in the conflict could be better equipped to step beyond fear and into more love, understanding, and compassion. From this open-hearted perspective, new outcomes appear.

In an online leadership roundtable last December, I listened as networker John Steiner of Bridge Alliance discussed the need for a spiritually-based leadership, which automatically awakens the consciousness of others. As an example, he said the Standing Rock Sioux exhibited spiritually-based leadership because their actions drew global attention and inspired many people around the world. This kind of leadership encourages all of us to be courageous, face our fears, and reach out to others who might be different from us, he said.

Other experts—including Dr. Bruce Lipton—suggest that we humans need to defeat fear by imagining life beyond survival mode. We need to realize that, as a species, we are capable of much more if we engage the full capacity of our brain and our consciousness. Fear limits us severely. If we can move past fear and imagine ourselves as self-governing beings, operating in the creativity of the moment, we are more capable of navigating our lives.

As the Presence text states, courage is vital to face and defeat all the fears that limit people's abilities to generate good solutions that work for everyone involved in the pipeline conflict.

Presence Text: The Degree of Courage You Have Determines the Expansiveness of Your Life.

I watched on YouTube last December as US war veteran Wesley Clark Jr. knelt before Leonard Crow Dog, a Lakota spiritual leader, and asked for forgiveness for the genocide that the US military committed against Native Americans for centuries. This was a new twist in the Standing Rock conflict: a moment of truth and reconciliation.

Thousands of US veterans had come to the Standing Rock reservation to support Sioux resistance to the pipeline. As part of that effort, Clark and others organized a unique ceremony with veterans and Native Americans.

Clark demonstrated tremendous courage as a Global Leader when he addressed the Lakota elder: "We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We didn't respect you," he said. "We've come to say that we are sorry. We beg for your forgiveness."

"I accept your forgiveness. World peace, world peace," the Lakota elder replied to Clark. In that moment, Crow Dog also acted as a Global Leader and demonstrated the expansiveness of courage. "We are a...sovereign nation," he continued. "We do not own the land; the land owns us. We have a Supreme Law, too." He then spoke about the importance of truth and honor.

Many of us struggle with self-determination: the ability to create our own lives and shape our own destiny. We often feel restricted and powerless. When I watched Clark and the Lakota elder, I saw how profound forgiveness is, and I realized the power of courage. To ask for forgiveness, and to move from retaliation to a vision of world peace, truly expressed the expansiveness of life lived in courage. World peace is certainly a vision that can produce abundant benefit for all parties involved in the Standing Rock conflict.

As the Presence text suggests, courage produces expansiveness: expansive vision, expansive thought, and expansive heart. Applied to the pipeline conflict, this expansiveness was yielding remarkable revelations.

Presence Text: Courage Gifts People with Extraordinary Insights and Resolve.

In the December online leadership roundtable, I listened as best-selling author Gregg Braden suggested that humans are outgrowing war as a way to solve problems. He talked about an evolutionary style of leadership that is leading our species into a new way of being after 5,000 years of war.

Braden spoke with courage and Global Leadership as he offered more insights. He pointed out that nature relies on cooperation and collaboration to survive. He asked us to reflect more deeply on what it means to be human. And he invited us to create new stories that reflect our evolution.

Another best-selling author and activist, Marianne Williamson, was interviewed in January about a political forum she was organizing in Washington to discuss the new Trump presidency. In the interview, Williamson expressed courage as a Global Leader when she spoke about the pipeline protest.

"The marriage of European prowess and native, indigenous philosophical, spiritual outlook could have been such an extraordinary gift to the planet," she said.

That is a profound understanding and awareness. As Williamson suggests, a union of Native American and European cultural strengths could tap into innate resources in everyone in the Standing Rock conflict and bring out even more courage to create a better world.

As the Presence text states, courage truly gifts people with extraordinary insight and resolve. Perhaps we could use our economic resources to create a more peaceful planet, and we could accomplish even more by creating material goods and services that facilitate deep and meaningful connections with all living beings. This approach could yield more financial gain and jobs, as well as more stewardship, balance, and beauty.

As my investigation into courage and Standing Rock concluded, I was grateful for all the real-world examples of people from all walks of life expressing courage. The Presence text deepened my understanding of courage and its application to Global Leadership. Inspired by all this courage, I will continue to develop my own capacity for courage and Global Leadership within the context of my daily life.


Braden, Gregg. "Real Leadership in the Real World." Presented at Shift Leadership Roundtable, Dec. 6-8, 2016.

Dakota Access Pipeline. "Dakota Access Pipeline Facts." Accessed May 11, 2017.

Hancock, Graham. "Standing Rock: Water Is Life." Graham's Blog, Dec. 24, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2017.

Hardy, Kevin. "Oil Is Flowing in the Dakota Access Pipeline, but Protesters Aren't Giving Up." The Des Moines Register, May 11, 2017. Accessed May 11, 2017.

Lipton, Bruce. "DNA, Science, and Consciousness." YouTube video, posted by James Tully, March 2, 2017.

MacPherson, James. "AP Exclusive: Taxes Could Flow with Dakota Access Pipeline." AP News, March 2, 2017. Accessed May 11, 2017.

Steiner, John. "Leadership in the Emerging Transpartisan Age." Presented at Shift Leadership Roundtable, Dec. 6-8, 2016.

"Wesley Clark Jr Asks for Forgiveness from Leonard Crow Dog." YouTube video, 0:51-8:03, posted by wcmctv, Dec. 5, 2016.

Williamson, Marianne. "Marianne Williamson—Buddha at the Gas Pump Interview." YouTube video, 52:48-56:38, posted by Rick Archer, Jan. 10, 2017.

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