Becoming Allies: Friends, Enemies, and the End of the World at Camp Oceti Sakowin

Download PDF: Lambelet, Becoming Allies



When hundreds of clergy gathered at Camp Oceti Sakowin on November 3, 2016, they did so not as allies or friends, but first as enemies. This site of social movement uprising against settler colonial capitalist extractivism emerged within a long legacy of Indigenous resistance. Recognizing this, clergy first repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery—a centuries old precedent of international law allowing European Christian settlers to dispossess Indigenous people of their lands and lifeways—before marching in a witness of solidarity. In the following essay, I argue that the distinction between friends and enemies, an apocalyptic dualism often critiqued, offers Christian settlers a needed realism for confronting historic harm and combating anthropogenic climate change. It forces a moment of reckoning. It calls to conversion. It names the reality that some of us are acting as enemies to the earth and the people of the earth by hastening its destruction. We are all interconnected. Yes, economists and ecologists can agree that colonial capitalism has forged real and enduring global connections. But, we are not all interconnected in the same way. This essay invites us to ask the question: how are we connected? In the bonds of violent antagonism that construct the world of settler colonialism and capitalist extractivism? Or allied in hopes for the end of this world and the struggle for planetary life?


On the chilly morning of November 3, 2016, hundreds of clergy gathered at Camp Oceti Sakowin at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers.[1] They had been called together by Episcopal priest Rev. John Floberg to stand with the Water Protectors resisting Zuzeca Sapa, the Black Snake of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

According to Lakota prophecy, Zuzeca Sapa would extend across Sioux lands as a harbinger of the end of the world: polluting water, contaminating land, and destroying creaturely life.[2] The Dakota Access Pipeline or DAPL, a $3.8 billion, 1,172 mile project running from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, cuts across four states, skirting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The projected path of the pipeline ran across ancestral burial grounds and under Lake Oahe, a dammed reservoir created by the Army Corps of Engineers in the course of the Missouri River. The river, known by the Lakota as Mni Sose, provides drinking water to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s over eight thousand inhabitants, not to mention the many towns and cities further downstream.

In this front line of the struggle against anthropogenic climate change, Indigenous Water Protectors had risen up to defend the sacredness of water and the sovereignty of native lands, crying “Mni Wocini! / Water Is Life!” Following Lakota youth, and building on movement connections forged in protests against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, Indigenous activists from hundreds of tribes and their allies had gathered at several protest camps in the late spring and summer of 2016. At its height, the main camp Oceti Sakowin (literally “seven council fires” to indicate a gathering of the Great Sioux Nation) held a population of a large town with thousands of Water Protectors, guests, and media.

The camp proleptically formed a new world in the shell of the old. Or as Lower Brule Sioux historian Nick Estes and anthropologist Jaskiran Dhillon have suggested, “In the colonial context, it’s the old world that came before, an Indigenous world that never went away, that inhabits the imprisoning shell of the new world, waiting to break free.”[3] If Zuzeca Sapa portended the end of the world, the camp offered an apocalyptic vision of another world beyond settler colonial extractive capitalism.[4]

In order to enter this new world, however, those clergy who gathered on the crisp November morning had to begin with renunciation of the world Christendom and capitalism have wrought. As they arrived the clergy were directed toward the sacred ceremonial fire at the center of the camp. The fire, which was constantly tended by fire keepers selected by camp elders, was at the heart of the uprising: a gathering place for ceremony, announcements, movement building, and story telling. As clergy gathered in a large circle around the fire, leaders of the Oceti Sakowin camp welcomed them.

Following this word of welcome, representatives from each of the religious traditions assembled—Episcopal, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist, among others—proceeded to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery is a set of theopolitical legal principles that were articulated incipiently in the fifteenth century, codified later into international law, and affirmed by the US Supreme Court, that served as the justification for Christian colonization of Indigenous people and lands. As the organizer Floberg reported, “We had to do our business publicly before we could ever come out here and say we are standing in solidarity…We had to be as right as we could with the nations that are represented in that camp, and we don’t expect everybody to accept our apology, accept our renunciation, we have to live into that.”[5]

In the following essay, I interpret the clergy’s action of repudiation through the apocalyptic distinction between friends and enemies to propose renunciation of the settler colonial world as a prerequisite for belonging as allies. Such apocalyptic dualisms, of course, are dangerous. They organize the world into us and them, the light and dark, the chosen and the left behind. Theologians, scholars of religion and violence, feminists, and others have rightly critiqued such dualisms by showing the ways they tempt us toward purifying violence. Alternatively, some have proposed more universal affirmations of interconnectedness as a salve for such division. As I show, however, the apocalyptic dualism between friend and enemy invites a resignification that Christian settlers need. The friend-enemy distinction unveils the historic antagonism of Christian-heathen articulated in the Doctrine of Discovery that comes to animate other distinctions: European-Native, white-black-red, civilized-savage, and more. Calling up the antagonism merely discloses the reality that Christian settlers (in this case white US Americans) are acting as enemies to the earth and the people of the earth. We are all interconnected—yes, the ecologists and economists can agree—but, we are not all interconnected in the same way. In fact, some of us have been performing an identity of antagonism as enemies of the earth and the earth’s peoples. As I argue, coming to recognize one’s participation in such destruction is a precondition for the possibility of the types of conversion that enable enemies to become allies.

Discovery, dispossession, and settler colonial extraction

For Christian settler clergy to rightly enter the Oceti Sakowin camp, even at the invitation of Indigenous leaders, they had to acknowledge first that they did so not as friends or allies (as Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota literally mean). Rather, they did so as enemies. Christian settlers have historically and presently allied themselves with the project of dominion over Indigenous people, places, and lifeways, a project justified by the Doctrine of Discovery. But what is the Doctrine of Discovery? And how is it relevant to the pipeline that was being built in the upper-midwest of the United States in 2016?

The Doctrine of Discovery in the past

Contemporary scholars and activists use the term Doctrine of Discovery to refer to a precedent of international law developed over centuries that granted European Christians certain rights to supposedly undiscovered Indigenous lands. Scholar of law and member of the Oneida Nation Robert J. Miller has traced this genealogy through its many permutations, arguing that it is “the primary legal precedent that still controls native affairs in rights.”[6] In essence, the doctrine granted certain European Christians the preemptive and thereby exclusive right to purchase so-called discovered lands, or, as was often the case, to claim title through conquest.

Scholars commonly locate the origins of the doctrine in the fifteenth and sixteenth century as Spain and Portugal competed for colonial dominance. Drawing on earlier papal decisions—that the pope had a global jurisdiction of dominion, and that (infidel) Muslims’ sovereign and property rights were limited by this prior dominion—Portuguese and Spanish rulers impressed upon the pope to legitimize their discovery and occupation of Muslim lands. Though Muslims had a natural right to dominion, this right was forfeited by their failure to admit Christian missionaries or by their violation of (European interpretations of) natural law. These failures identified them as enemies of Christ and therefore void of legitimate natural rights to territorial sovereignty. Thus, in Romanus Pontifex (1455) and then later in Inter Caetera (1456), Popes Nicolas V and Calixtus III granted Portugal the right “to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all moveable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possess by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery . . . ”[7] Pope Alexander VI extended this same right of discovery to Spain following Cristóbal Colón’s (Christopher Columbus) inauspicious voyage, calling the rulers of Spain and Portugal to “to bring under your sway the said mainlands and islands with their residents and inhabitants and to bring them to the Catholic faith.”[8] Though the primary geo-political aim of these papal pronouncements was to prevent intra-European squabbles on threat of excommunication, the decisions had far reaching effects.

From these beginnings, the doctrine of discovery developed as a fundamental tenant of international law. France and England also developed their own use of the doctrine, especially as claims of discovery began to swing free of the pope’s universal jurisdiction and became rooted more firmly in an account of natural law. Like their predecessors, they judged violations of natural law as the condition for just conquest. What France and England added to the doctrine, according to Miller, was the importance of “actual occupancy and possession as a requirement to establish European claims to title.”[9] Discovery and rituals of occupancy, such as the requerimiento, became integral to the practice of dispossession of Indigenous people from their land. Fundamental to these projects of domination, as Shawnee/Lenape legal scholar Steven T. Newcomb has argued, is the cognitive frame of the Israelite conquest of Canaan.[10] European-turned-American settlers utilized the story of the Hebrew conquest of Canaan as the analogical lens to justify their domination of native peoples. The analogy was not perfect: potentates (kings, presidents, supreme courts, legislators) took the roll of God in declaring the right of dominion, and the Christian people (whether Spanish, English, or American) occupied the roll of God’s chosen people. The Indigenous people of America, then, were figured as the Canaanites whose removal was not only allowed but obliged.[11]

It was also during this period that a shift occurred within the doctrine. Whereas early articulations located the motivation and justification for conquest in religious identity, the 17th and 18th Centuries saw a shift to focus on race as the relevant marker of difference.[12] Whereas the spread of Christendom was the prior justification, the spread of white, European, civilization became the later aim. This subtle secularization replaced conversion to Christianity with capitalist productivity as the goal for so-called discovered lands and peoples.

Building on these precedents, the United States codified its own version of the doctrine in its early relations with Indigenous people. For example, Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and subsequent dispatch of Lewis and Clark proved an essential expedition for the establishment of preemptive property rights for the new nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.[13]

The doctrine was later affirmed within US law by the Supreme Court in Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823). Writing the unanimous opinion, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that for the United States “discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase or by conquest; and gave also a right to such a degree of sovereignty as the circumstances of the people would allow them to exercise . . . discovery gave title to the government, which title might be consummated by possession.” [14] The particular decision sought to adjudicate between competing claims of title from two land companies (The Illinois Land Company and the Wabash Land Company), which had bought property from the Illinois and Piankeshaw Indians and William M’Intosh who had bought the same property from the US Government. The Court found in favor of M’Intosh’s claim, but the implications of the decision were far more sweeping. Most proximately, the Court ensured that Indigenous peoples sold their properties only to the United States government, thus creating an exclusive right. Tribes could not sell their lands to other tribes, nor to other colonial powers.

Yet, what is significant here is the justification of this exclusive right. Marshall rooted his account in the “universal recognition” of the principle of discovery and justified that principle by the “superior genius of Europe” that graciously bestowed upon the “heathen” inhabitants “civilization and Christianity in exchange for unlimited independence.”[15] Building on the doctrine of discovery developed from papal pronouncement and colonial precedent, Marshall argued that the Indigenous inhabitants of the Americas had only provisional title to their lands, due to their status as heathens and savages, and that the gift of civilization was plenty compensation for the presumption of sovereign rights. Again, quoting Marshall: “the tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages whose occupation was war and whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a wilderness; to govern them as a distinct people was impossible because they were as brave and as high spirited as they were fierce, and were ready to repel by arms every attempt on their independence.”[16] Here Christian supremacy and the fantastic hegemonic imagination of the native other was encoded into US legal precedent.[17] As Hunkpapa Lakota legal scholar and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Vine Deloria argued, “Federal Indian law actually begins with a sleight-of-hand decision that proclaimed that the United States had special standing with respect to ownership of the land on which the Indigenous People lived. This nefarious concept was called the ‘Doctrine of Discovery.’ . . . It was, as it turned out, the greatest real estate transaction in history.”[18]

It is beyond the scope of this essay to give a full accounting of this doctrine, its development, and its consequences. Other scholars have offered those accounts elsewhere.[19] For the purposes of this essay, however, I want to resurface a very schematic genealogy of the doctrine—developed in the wake of centuries of crusades against “enemies of Christ” and during the initial scramble for colonial dominance—in order to show how it sets a semiotic range of recognition that continues to operate within the present. The Doctrine of Discovery has functioned since its inception as a tool of inter-European cooperation, enabling Christian colonial powers to ritualize the claim-making process for land and resources. It identified the “superior genius,” to use the words of the Marshall Court, of European Christianity as the purveyor of civilization and just claimant of property and people. Thus, Euro-American, Christian, colonial settlers were consolidated as an identity group that, as God’s chosen people, obtained special legal powers. Meanwhile, the Indigenous inhabitants were rendered invisible as Canaanites and their lands as terra nullius. A look at the immediate context of the clergy action on November 3, 2016 begins to demonstrate the continuing perverse performative power of this doctrine.

The Doctrine of Discovery in the present

During the spring and summer of 2016, Standing Rock Sioux tribal leaders pushed their case through legal channels while Water Protectors utilized nonviolent direct action to halt the construction of the pipeline. The legal claims for tribal leaders were made, as Cherokee legal scholar Mary Kathryn Nagle has shown, through appeals to environmental and historical protection laws.[20] Nagle argues that these legal claims were insufficient for stopping the pipeline construction because they did not address the root problem: the Doctrine of Discovery. Though the legal arguments were thus constrained, the actions of Water Protectors were more symbolically evocative. Creatively employing a variety of tactics, Water Protectors brought international attention to the struggle. And in bringing that attention they resignified the struggle—variously understood as an environmental protest, an Indigenous uprising, or a pilgrimage site—within a much wider frame. Through their prayers, ceremonies, advocacy, and more, Water Protectors brought attention to the long legacy of settler dispossession of native land, lives, and livelihoods. [21] In particular, as Nagle argues, the crisis at Standing Rock was a direct result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. M’Intosh: “the failure to commercially exploit land became the legal basis for transferring title from those who would not to those who would.”[22] It was the failure of the Standing Rock Sioux to appropriately exploit their land, land that was home to ancestral burial sites, that provided the justification for Indigenous subjugation.

While the Water Protectors drew widespread media and public attention through their direct actions, they also drew the attention of a coalition of private and state security agencies intent on thwarting the uprising. Local and state law enforcement agencies collaborated with TigerSwan, a private security agency hired by the corporation constructing DAPL Energy Transfer Partners.[23] Together, this private-state counterinsurgency collaboration surveilled and suppressed the uprising, bringing the full weight of the settler colonial state upon Indigenous attempts to claim sovereignty over their land and water.

The particular incident of settler colonial violence that preceded the clergy’s action on November 3, featured at the outset of this essay, was the brutal demolition of the short lived 1851 Camp on October 27. Set up outside of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, but within the boundaries specified by an 1851 treaty, the camp stood directly in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The repression of the camp was swift and severe. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency and facilitated the largest mobilization of military and police in the state since the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.[24] In a series of counterinsurgency actions, security officers cleared Water Protectors from the camp and confiscated camp infrastructure. Nick Estes described the action:

Cops in riot gear conducted tipi-by-tipi raids, slashing tents and tipi canvases. They dragged half-naked elders from ceremonial sweat lodges, tasered a man in the face, doused people with CS gas and tear gas, and blasted adults and youth with deafening LRAD sound cannons. The 142 arrested were marked with a number in black permanent marker on their forearm, led onto buses, and kept overnight in dog kennels. To add insult to injury, personal belongings—including ceremonial items like pipes and eagle feathers, as well as jackets and tents—confiscated by the police during the raid were returned soaked in urine.[25]

The actions of private and governmental security officials cohere with the long project of dispossession initiated by the Doctrine of Discovery: identifying native peoples as enemies of progress, civilization, and development in order to remove them by purchase or conquest so that their lands could be exploited for commercial purposes. No longer justified with evangelistic intent or even natural law, the doctrine is now rooted in the sacredness of the right of private property and resource extraction for the purpose of economic development.[26] Gov. Jack Dalrymple cleared the way for the settler resource extraction of Energy Transfer Partners through a combination of appeals to the rule of law and counterinsurgency repression – in other words, purchase and conquest. This only thinly veiled secularization of the Doctrine of Discovery continues to invalidate Indigenous claims to land rights and to fuel modes of capitalist extractivism.

These escalating tensions and manifestations of settler colonial violence precipitated the clergy call to solidarity with Standing Rock on November 3. Floberg, Supervising Priest to the Episcopal faith communities at Standing Rock, issued an invitation to his colleagues to join him in an effort “to be peaceful, to be prayerful, to be nonviolent and to show the church’s solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s struggle.”[27] In particular, Floberg was “concerned by the increased repression of non-violent Water Protectors whose ranks include men, women and youth.” Floberg reported:

[We were] seeing that the use of force is getting to the point where, if there isn’t something done that interrupts how things are going, then we’re going to have death. Somebody’s going to die because of excessive use of force. And so it’s at that point that I went to a headman of the camp and asked them permission to gather clergy from around the country to come and then stand ground with them. And we were given permission for that to happen.[28]

In the lead up to the action, Floberg was visiting the camp daily. It was during those visits that he discerned what he believed they needed to do.

It just became clear to me that we can’t come alongside and stand with these tribal nations, well over 300 of whom had already identified themselves with their flags flying in the camp, that we couldn’t go in there and act as though ‘we’re the hero coming alongside and aren’t you glad . . . that we got here’ kind of thing? Because it was the church’s action, in the papal bull, that got the whole thing going in the first place. That whole business about being able to take somebody else’s territory, if they aren’t Christian, is the precursor to all of this back in the 1500s.

Thus he decided to include the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery as a part of their action. On October 31, Floberg announced via Facebook:

Many of our faith traditions have now rejected the Doctrine of Discovery that provided the way for church sanctioned oppression during the past 500 years. For those of us that are able, in our faith tradition, we will reiterate our renunciation of that doctrine in Camp Oceti Sakowin before we ever go out to stand witness with the Standing Rock Nation. That act will be the first thing and the first time done by so many in attendance of denominations and of Indigenous people.[29]

And so it was that clergy repudiated the doctrine before marching together to the site of violence at the former 1851 Camp. United Church of Christ minister and theologian Rebecca Voelkel reflected,

If we, as Christians, were to stand with Standing Rock with any degree of integrity, we had to first be clear where we stood in relation to our collective history. It was Christian theology that encouraged, directed and literally baptized and blessed the genocide of indigenous people. It was Christian theology that undergirded broken treaty after broken treaty. It was Christian theology that created the Boarding Schools, many of whose missions were explicitly to “kill the savage in order to save the man.”

She concluded, “the Doctrine of Discovery is alive and well in the Dakota Access Pipeline.”[30]

The Doctrine of Discovery, the nefarious belief that Christians/Europeans/US Americans have the right of exclusive title to lands discovered regardless of the occupancy of previous inhabitants, has been justified through a doctrine of election that imagined a fundamental opposition between God’s chosen people and enemies of Christ. The genealogy reconstructed here reveals real changes and development. The Muslim enemies of Christ have become Indigenous enemies of economic progress. The Christianizing and civilizing mission of the Portuguese and Spanish has become, ever so subtly, an economic project of capitalist extraction. Yet, the deep structure of thought and practice that animated the contest between police and Water Protectors at Oceti Sakowin emerges from this long history. To some, the action of clergy—repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery publicly and then burning representations of a fifteenth century papal bull—may seem obscure to the point of unintelligibility. What does this doctrine developed at the dawn of the colonial era by the Roman pontiff for the benefit of rulers of Spain and Portugal have to do with a pipeline in the upper midwest of the United States in the twenty-first century? But the the organizers and participants in the November 3 action respond that these seemingly antiquarian documents have everything to do with the present. The dispossessions of centuries past continue to live today as corporations and settler states violently thwart Indigenous resistance.

Belonging at the end of the settler colonial world

It was by no means inevitable that settler clergy—representing Christian, Unitarian Universalist, and other religious traditions—would have participated in a public renunciation of the doctrines of the past and their continued violence in the present. Alternatively, they might have simply affirmed that we are all connected, as many eco-theologians are wont to do.[31] A vague sense of solidarity may have been enough to allow showing up alongside Indigenous Water Protectors. Yet, these clergy took a different tack, one that reveals the impotence of universal appeals. My contention is that this action was made possible in part by an apocalyptic clarity that distinguished between friends and enemies.

The end of the world

The uprising at Standing Rock was apocalyptic.[32] By apocalypse here, I invoke the term’s etymological origins meaning literally revelation or unveiling. The uprising unveiled the possible endings of worlds, and thereby a dualistic competition between worlds. Most proximately, the uprising aimed to bring attention to the potential end of the lives and lifeways of those creatures that stood in the path of Zuzeca Sapa. For Lakota activists chanting “This is what the prophecy looks like!” the oil pipelines spreading across tribal lands were foretold. As Nick Estes reports, “prophecy told of Zuzeca Sapa, the Black Snake, extending itself across the land and imperiling all life, beginning with the water.”[33] The Black Snake, according to Water Protectors, was the oil pipelines of Keystone XL and DAPL. The uprising invigorated the visions of participants to imagine the endings of the colonial semiotic structures that have, perniciously, made sense of human and nonhuman communities, identities, and relations.[34] These prophecies were not so much predictive, as they were “diagnoses of the times in which we live, and visions of what must be done to get free.”[35] Importantly, such declarations for Osage theologian George Tinker are principally spatial, not temporal.[36] Consistent with an Indigenous imagination of time and space, this apocalypse is all about land, place, and belonging. In one sense, then, the possible world ending revealed by the uprising is the end of the flourishing of Indigenous life and all their relations.

But, this world ending was not the only one imaginable. The apocalypticism of Oceti Sakowin was not only critical; it was also proleptic. The threat of ending lives and livelihoods that the DAPL pipeline foretold also opened the possibility of visions of the end of the settler colonial modes of dispossession and extraction and a construction of a new world of Indigenous belonging. The Sacred Stone camp organized by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard and then the Oceti Sakowin camp were spaces of Indigenous world-building. Like Estes and Dhillon noted, the camp was the old world in the shell of the new: a space for the recovery of Indigenous language, ceremony, and lifeways. As Lower Brule Sioux Lewis Grassrope reflected, “Most people who come here never had a role to play in their own lives. We saw a lot of lost people, people who don’t realize they’re more than Americans. Their ancestors are indigenous from somewhere, which means they were once caretakers of the Earth.”[37] In the Standing Rock uprisings Indigenous people found a new world of belonging. Grassrope continued, “We’re sharing work, and we’re sharing stories. We’ve learned a new way, and it’s teaching us to be human beings again.” Chief Arvol Looking Horse shared a similar vision of belonging, one that included peoples from across the planet. “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.”[38] While capacious in its reach, the invitation was not without conditions. It was to come to pray and meditate, to join with the peoples gathered to protect the water, and thereby to resist settler colonial extractive capitalism.

This at once critical and proleptic call of Indigenous Water Protectors at Standing Rock gives rise to an apocalyptic imagination. To be clear, this is primarily a revelation of Indigenous wisdom. As Potawatomi scholar Kyle Powys White has argued, “in the Anthropocene . . . some indigenous peoples already inhabit what our ancestors would have likely characterized as a dystopian future.”[39] The point here is that the world constructed by the perverse apocalyptic of the Christian European colonial project has been catastrophic for Indigenous peoples. The Doctrine of Discovery in which all people are organized into friends or enemies of Christ, and lands and lifeways are thus ordered accordingly, is a form of world making. The arrival of the Zuzeca Sapa precipitates the observation by Lakota scholars and leaders that this project of world making is coming to an end. Such apocalypses are not predictive, but merely describe the reality that the end of the world has come, and with its ending that new forms of communion are emerging.[40]

In light of this new world emerging, the invitation of Indigenous leaders was gracious and capacious. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman David Archambault II issued his call for actions of solidarity in The New York Times: “Our hand continues to be open to cooperation, and our cause is just. This fight is not just for the interests of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but also for those of our neighbors on the Missouri River: The ranchers and farmers and small towns who depend on the river have shown overwhelming support for our protest.”[41] Archambault sought to make common cause with the ranchers and farmers downstream who depended on the Missouri River for drinking water and irrigation. Drawing on a culture of allyship, Archambault invited settlers to join their cause. Such an invitation, while emerging from Lakota commitments, was also strategic. See, for example, Chief Arvol Looking Horse’s call for allies: “We are asking the religious leaders to come and support our youth, to stand side by side with them, because they are standing in prayer. So, if you can find it in your heart to pray with them and stand beside them. The police department and National Guard would listen to each and every one of you.”[42] Lakota leaders knew that the private and governmental security officials gathered at the edge of the camp would listen to white Christian settler clergy. Maybe more importantly, they knew that the brutal suppression of white Christian settler clergy would look bad in the media, where pictures and video of such an action would inevitably come to light.

Christian clergy, for their part, often echoed parts of these universal affirmations of solidarity. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, for example, during a visit to Camp Oceti Sakowin affirmed that “water means life for all of the children of God, human beings who are gifts of the creator.” Curry proclaimed that “your struggle is not just your struggle, it is our struggle; it is the struggle of the human community.”[43] Of course, this seemingly universal appeal takes on particular significance when issued by the first Black Presiding Bishop of a largely white denomination. Moreover, the actions of the clergy were supported by the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Stewardship of Creation who is also Black. Thus, the identities of those Christians who came alongside the Standing Rock Sioux were already mixed.[44]

These universal affirmations, however, should not obfuscate the real differences that had to be crossed in the work of solidarity. Some members of the camp challenged Christian clergy during their visits. In one encounter, a Water Protector called out clergy visitors asking if they were there to “convert Indians.” Floberg’s colleague, Rev. Lauren Stanley, the Episcopal priest-in-charge on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, responded that they were there to offer support, not to coerce conversion. “We are not here to convert you. We are not. We are not the old Christians.”[45] In attempt to make good on her statement, she brought food, wood, a generator, and log splitter to the camp. Yet, questions hovered around the interaction: which side are you on? Which world is your imagination invested in? Floberg reported that while “the elders who came forward were very glad to receive [the] repudiation [of the Doctrine of Discovery], and to light that papal bull on fire . . . there were voices in the camp saying, so are you going to give back the land?”[46] As much as Stanley and other Christian settler clergy would have liked to draw a strong contrast between the present and the past, such distinction has to be demonstrated, not merely stated. As Floberg concluded, “The Christian Church has not yet proven what it means by repudiating in the Doctrine of Discovery.” Repudiation may be the first step, but following after it comes reparations.

In an essay addressed to white allies of Indigenous struggles, Kyle Powys Whyte identifies two temptations: the romantic and the same boat approach.[47] The romantic approach valorizes Indigenous wisdom and spirituality. As such this approach ignores the deformations introduced by colonialism that pit Indigenous people against each other, in some cases collaborating in the project of resource extraction and in others resisting it. The same boat approach diminishes the differences among Indigenous and settler environmentalist causes. This approach ignores the demands of Indigenous people for territorial control and subsumes it within struggles against climate change. Both temptations were present at Camp Oceti Sakowin. Clergy visitors valorized Indigenous spirituality even as they suggested that the struggle is one that involves us all.

Apocalyptic dualisms

Yet, affirmations of universal solidarity were not the only mode of relationship engendered at Oceti Sakowin. The apocalyptic frame of the uprising pushed relations in a different direction. Yes, we are all connected. But, the apocalyptic frame unveiled the fact that in the world constructed by settler colonialism and justified by the Doctrine of Discovery we are connected in relationships of division and violence.[48] This specter of apocalypse evoked a dualistic opposition of friend and enemy.

A scholar who developed the dualism of friend and enemy with frightful clarity was Carl Schmitt. For the Nazi jurist, the distinction between friend and enemy was as fundamental to politics as good and bad are to ethics or beautiful and ugly are to aesthetics. “Tell me who your enemy is and I will tell you who you are.”[49] The identification of a common enemy, for Schmitt, was necessary for the construction of any political unit, especially the state. Dubiously, Schmitt argued that this identification need not carry moral or aesthetic judgments along with it: politics is an autonomous sphere. Yet, it is the identification of this antithesis that determines the construction of the political. As such, Schmitt easily dismisses the suggestion that love of enemies might degrade this distinction, for “never in the thousand-year struggle between Christians and Moslems did it occur to a Christian to surrender rather than defend Europe out of love toward the Saracens or Turks.”[50] It is no mere coincidence here that Schmitt’s account of the friend-enemy distinction draws from the same source as the Doctrine of Discovery. It is the Muslim, and later the Indigenous, other that creates the conditions for the practice of settler colonial politics. Schmitt’s theoretical clarity came to a terrible practical conclusion in the Nazi identification of the Jews as the enemy of the German people. In a compatible way, it was the clarity of the friend-enemy distinction that allowed many European Christians to enact the project of settler colonialism with genocidal effect.

For good reason, then, a clear distinction between friends and enemies can sit uneasily with critics of apocalyptic dualism. The distinction can signal forms of antagonism that end in an irresolvable conflict. And, to be fair, this is what Schmitt had in mind, defining the enemy as “the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specifically intense way, existentially something different and alien.”[51] If we wish to reject Schmitt’s antagonisms, the option it seems would be to do away with the distinction altogether. Rather than friends and enemies, we would affirm that we are all connected, Christian and Muslim, settler and Indigenous, white, black, red and more are all joined in a universal human kinship of solidarity. Yet, making this move introduces a number of problems. First, by making such appeals we end up falling into the blithe liberalism that Schmitt justly sought to undermine.[52] We aim to resist antagonism, and thereby we create an enemy of the antagonists. So, it seems, we are stuck in Schmitt’s trap. Second, and maybe more damning, in appeals to universal solidarity, we risk doing away with the particularity of our subject positions and history. For example, while all are impacted by the dynamics of climate change poor people of color bear the brunt of planetary devastation. This is not simply an accident of history, but is a product of historical designs, like the Doctrine of Discovery, that aimed intentionally to extract wealth through the labor, land, and lives of the very same people.

What, then, can be done with this distinction? We dare not resist it by universal appeals. And, furthermore, Schmitt’s own hardened distinctions begin to break down with his insistence on the autonomy of the political and his rejection of the political significance of enemy love.[53] Schmitt could not imagine that identifying an enemy can easily bleed into moral and aesthetic spheres or that enemy love, as a political act, can lead to conversion of one’s allegiances. It is with this immanent critique of Schmitt that we can begin to see the possibility of a fruitful use of the distinction between friends and enemies. In order to develop this further, let’s look at how this distinction operated at Camp Oceti Sakowin.

Rather than simply affirming a universal kinship—and thereby obfuscating the real role that their own traditions have played and continue play in Indigenous genocide and dispossession—clergy named the ways that they and their people had performed the identity of enemies. As governmental and private security officers gathered on the edge of camp to surveille and suppress, it would have been easy for the clergy simply to say, “That is not ‘us.’” Yet, at Floberg’s leadership, the settler clergy repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery and then addressed a group of security officials guarding the pipeline saying, “You are protecting a pipeline that was put in place because of a Church doctrine and we are here to say that we were wrong.”[54] In fact, Floberg suggested that the action was meant to force a revaluation among Christians about where their alliances lay.

North Dakota is a pretty Christian state, as the population here is overwhelmingly Christian. I wanted to make the people of the state face their two alliances or allegiances of respect: that they respect law enforcement and the National Guard and they respect clergy. Now what happens when you put those two entities in confrontation with each other, peacefully but in confrontation with each other across a barrier? Then our people in North Dakota are going to need to reevaluate how they are seeing what’s happening at Standing Rock and how they’re supporting what the state is doing, versus their determination to suppress what the tribe was trying to do.[55]

Settler clergy recognized that, given the history of the Doctrine of Discovery, a history encoded in US law and performed actively by the suppression of Indigenous resistance, they identified first with the enemies of the Water Protectors. By repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, by calling to account the security officers, they began the work of performing a different identity: of becoming allies with Indigenous people.[56]

From enemies to allies

The clergy who visited Standing Rock inverted, and thereby resignified, a relation of enmity over five centuries in the making. With the clarity of the distinction between friend and enemy, they were able to enter the camp in a way that would have been obscured and confused by appeals to universal solidarity. To be clear, while I am commending a retrieval of the friend-enemy distinction, I am commending a particular, subversive twist. Rather than using the heuristic as a lens to understand and strengthen the formation of political communities, I am suggesting we—here meaning settler Christians—use it as a source of self-knowledge in the service of solidarity. Rather than identifying Muslim and Indigenous others as the enemy—as the Doctrine of Discovery would lead us to do—I am suggesting we settlers ought to identify ourselves as the enemy, with all that this entails. From the clergy example we can learn that the task of becoming allies starts not with declarations of universal kinship, but with acknowledging our current status as enemies of the earth and its people. The friend-enemy distinction has indeed constructed the settler colonial world of capitalist extractivism. The white, American, European, Christian (friend) identity has been set against the black, brown, red, African, indigenous, heathen (enemy) other. Understanding that Christian settlers have acted as enemies to the earth and the people of the earth is a first step in repenting of this behavior and converting from enemy to friend. In order to ally with Indigenous people, then, the Christian settler must renounce the world that was built through the dispossession of the enemies of Christ.

Such a renunciation is the work of conversion. Conversion, in the Christian theological tradition, is a grace, a gift that cannot be earned. In this case, it is a grace given by the capacious invitation of Indigenous peoples. In fact, followers of Jesus have something to learn from the capacity of Indigenous leaders to love their enemies. Such graciousness reveals the rot in Christian theology that gave rise to the Doctrine of Discovery.[57] Enemy love modeled here by Lakota and other Indigenous leaders initiates possibilities for new modes of relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. To be sure, it would be a mistake to suggest that the Water Protectors at Camp Oceti Sakowin were of one mind in their offer of grace. Floberg admitted as much in his explanation of the clergy action. Furthermore, such grace can never be required or obligated. Here we can merely acknowledge the miracle of such an invitation. As a Christian theologian, I would note how this grace cooperates with the gift of a loving God welcoming new relationships even after genocidal enmity.

Yet, there are fruits that follow from this unearned grace: confession, repentance, and repair. If settlers wish to avoid rituals that merely assuage guilty feelings, we will have to do more than mere acknowledgement. To belong to a people and place, on the other side of genocidal violence against that people and place, requires nothing less. To hope for such belonging is to hope for the end of the settler-colonial world, a world structured on the distinction between friends and enemies. To enact such belonging is to question: what must be done after the repudiation? What skin do we have in the game? What actions must follow that repair the concrete harms of land and lives stolen? Asking such questions is dangerous, as it involves not only symbolic repudiations but material changes.[58] To begin asking these questions within a hegemonic order of extractive capitalism is to imagine the end of the settler colonial world, a world built on the friend-enemy distinction. And, to undo the friend-enemy distinction one must begin with a recognition of living within, and for Christian settlers, benefitting from, this distinction. As the Episcopal Bishop of California Marc Andrus observed through tears, “I think we witnessed the end of an age . . . While we were here, by burning copies of the Doctrine of Discovery we were signaling an end to a past that has affected millions and millions of people. People who have been colonized and people who have been enslaved, but also the enslavers and the colonizers, it’s affected us all.”[59] If such an observation is to be more than symbolic, it will be followed by concrete acts of reparation that reject the world that the Doctrine of Discovery has wrought. By repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery publicly, performing this act of renunciation, settler clergy took one step toward allyship with Indigenous peoples, one step that presumes many more.


As Indigenous people hailing from around the planet gathered to protect the water of Mni Sose and the lands where their ancestors lie, Christians and other religious settlers were invited to join with Water Protectors in the work of solidarity. Though they might have responded to this capacious invitation with appeals to universal kinship, instead they acknowledged their identity first as enemies and then repudiated that identity through acts of repentance and repair. Their action, partial and incomplete, invites other settlers to ask ourselves: which side are we on? In which world have we placed our hope? Are we on the side of those who would dispossess Indigenous peoples of their land, justified by their supposed inability to rightly use its resources? Or, are we allies, a L/N/Dakota, a friend of the people and the earth?

Responding to these questions of belonging animated the action of settler clergy in their public repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. Responding to these questions, too, casts an evaluative light on their action. Belonging is not achieved by solitary symbolic acts of contrition alone. Such actions are necessary but not sufficient for becoming allies.[60] Belonging is an ongoing task, a spiritual discipline, as the Lakota have shown, of simultaneous resistance to the world making powers of settler capitalism and proleptic ally-making even as this world is falling away. The act of repudiation was an outward and visible sign of an inward grace. But, what happened when the clergy went home? Did they return to their settler world without interruption? Or did the renunciation change their orientation to the settler colonial world materially?

An apocalyptic dualism that separates enemy from friend, the wheat from the chaff, offers a heuristic that was needed for settler clergy to begin to relate rightly to the Indigenous peoples gathered at Oceti Sakowin camp. The point is not that the friend-enemy distinction is finally constitutive of politics, as Schmitt argued. Rather, the point is that the friend-enemy distinction is constitutive of the politics of this settler colonial world. If a settler wishes to exit this world, to see this world come to an end, we must recognize our own actions as those of an enemy, renounce the world, die to it, and be reborn in a new way of life, a way that affirms that water, not oil, is life.

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash


[1] I would like to thank Antonio Alonso, Emily Dubie, R. Nicholas Peterson, Susan Reynolds, and the two anonymous reviews for their insightful feedback on previous drafts of this essay.

[2] Nick Estes and Jaskiran Dhillon, eds., Standing With Standing Rock: Voices from the #NoDAPL Movement (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019).

[3] Estes and Dhillon, 1.

[4] Settler colonialism, as opposed to classical colonialism, is a system of power predicated on the occupation of lands, the elimination of Indigenous peoples, and their replacement with occupying settlers. See Patrick Wolfe, Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event, Writing Past Colonialism Series (London ; New York: Cassell, 1999); Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (December 2006): 387–409. Macarena Gómez-Barris identifies extractive capitalism, or extractivismo, as “an economic system that engages in thefts, borrowings, and forced removals, violently reorganizing social life as well as the land by thieving resources from Indigenous and Afro-descendent territories.” See Macarena Gómez-Barris, The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), xvii.

[5] Quoted in Lynette Wilson, “Peaceful, Prayerful, Nonviolent Stand of Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux,” Episcopal News Service, November 4, 2016,

[6] Robert J Miller, “The Doctrine of Discovery,” in Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 1. See also Vine Deloria Jr., “Conquest Masquerading as Law,” in Unlearning the Language of Conquest: Scholars Expose Anti-Indianism in America, ed. Donald Trent Jacobs (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), 94–107.

[7] Frances Gardiner, Paullin Davenport, and Charles Oscar, eds., “The Bull Romanus Pontifex (Nicholas V) January 8, 1455,” in European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and Its Dependencies (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 22; see also Frances Gardiner, Paullin Davenport, and Charles Oscar, eds., “The Bull Inter Caetera (Calixtus III) March 13, 1456,” in European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and Its Dependencies (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917).

[8] Alexander VI, “Inter Caetera (Division of the Undiscovered World Between Spain and Portugal),” Papal Encyclicals, May 4, 1493,

[9] Miller, “The Doctrine of Discovery,” 19.

[10] Steven T. Newcomb, Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Pub, 2008).

[11] Stephen Paul McSloy, “‘Because the Bible Tells Me So’: Manifest Destiny and American Indians,” St. Thomas Law Review 9, no. 1 (Fall 1996): 37–48.

[12] Willie James Jennings gives a sweeping and devastating account of the shift from religious to racial identity in his book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

[13] George E. Tinker, Spirit and Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), ix.

[14] Johnson v. M’Intosh, 21 U.S. 573 (1823).

[15] Johnson v. M’Intosh.

[16] Johnson v. M’Intosh.

[17] An analysis of the “fantastic hegemonic imagination” has been developed by Emilie Maureen Townes, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

[18] Deloria Jr., “Conquest Masquerading as Law,” 96. Deloria concludes that “all efforts to revise, systematize, and comprehend the subsequent statutory and case laws dealing with the natives in the United States have been passed and decided under the shadow of this doctrine” (96–97).

[19] See especially Newcomb, Pagans in the Promised Land; Miller, “The Doctrine of Discovery.” See also Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah, Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2019); Nestor Medina, “The Doctrine of Discovery, LatinXo Theoethics, and Human Rights,” Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology 21, no. 2 (November 1, 2019); James W. Perkinson, Political Spirituality for a Century of Water Wars: The Angel of the Jordan Meets the Trickster of Detroit (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), chap. 3.

[20] Mary Kathryn Nagle, “Environmental Justice and Trival Sovereignty: Lessons from Standing Rock,” The Yale Law Journal Forum 127 (2018 2017): 667–84.

[21] David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

[22] Nagle, “Environmental Justice and Trival Sovereignty: Lessons from Standing Rock,” 669.

[23] Alleen Brown, Will Parrish, and Alice Speri, “Leaked Documents Reveal Counterterrorism Tactics Used at Standing Rock to ‘Defeat Pipeline Insurgencies,’” The Intercept, May 27, 2017,

[24] Nick Estes, Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (London: Verso, 2019), 54.

[25] Estes, 53–54.

[26] Economic and military development also represents a political theological project of redemption. See Kyle B. T. Lambelet, “Redemption Contests: The Presence of the Dead and Imperial Salvation,” Social Analysis, 64, no. 4 (2020) 100-120.

[27] Quoted in Mary Frances Schjonberg, “Episcopal Church Called to a ‘Powerful Opportunity to Exercise Our Shared Baptismal Ministry’ with Standing Rock Sioux Nation,” Episcopal News Service, October 28, 2016,

[28] John Floberg, interview, phone, October 22, 2020.

[29] John Floberg, “Facebook Status Update,” October 31, 2016,

[30] Rebecca Voelkel, “Standing Rock: Collective Confession and Repentance Was Our First Action,” Auburn Seminary, November 5, 2016,

[31] As Susan Reynolds pointed out to me, Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si’ offers “everything is connected” as a basic tenant of a Catholic approach to the ecological crisis.

[32] The apocalyptic account offered here is not a Christian systematic theological account, but a revelation of Indigenous wisdom. See Clara Sue Kidwell, Homer Noley, and George E. Tinker, A Native American Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), ch. 9. Yet, the apocalyptic developed at Oceti Sakowin can be engaged productive through the lens of comparative theology. See Francis X. Clooney, Comparative Theology: Deep Learning across Religious Borders (Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). Given the religious identities of the actors featured here, and for the purposes of this essay, I will attend especially to the relationship between Lakota and Christian theologies. Though, of course, other religious traditions could fruitfully engage these apocalyptic accounts. Finally, it’s important to note that there is no hermetic seal between these traditions. There is a long legacy of Lakota Christianity that constructively blurs the lines of difference here. See David Lindenfeld, “The Varieties of Sioux Christianity, 1860–1980, in International Perspective,” Journal of Global History 2, no. 3 (November 2007): 281–302,

[33] Estes, Our History Is the Future, 14.

[34] Drawing on the poet Ed Roberson’s “To See the Earth Before the End of the World” Catherine Keller makes an important distinction between the earth and the world. The earth, the material of the planet and the creatures that live in and on it, is not the same as the world, “a collective schema: human self-organization inextricably entangled in the nonhuman” Catherine Keller, Political Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 69.

[35] Estes, 14.

[36] Tinker, Spirit and Resistance, 93–95. While many Christian eschatologies are temporal, Kathryn Tanner has made a compelling argument for a detemporalized eschatology that would align much more compatibly with Indigenous approaches. See Kathryn Tanner, “Eschatology and Ethics,” in The Oxford Handbook of Theological Ethics, ed. Gilbert Meilaender and William Werpehowski (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[37] Quoted in Saul Elbein, “These Are the Defiant ‘Water Protectors’ of Standing Rock,” National Geographic, January 26, 2017,

[38] Quoted in Caroline Grueskin, “Standing Rock Clergy Took Different Approaches to Protest,” Bismarck Tribune, February 11, 2017,

[39] Kyle Powys Whyte, “Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene,” in Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities, ed. Ursula K. Heise, Jon Christiensen, and Michelle Niemann (London: Routledge, 2017), 207.

[40] Two works that display the connection between the end of the world of capitalist colonialism and the emergence of new modes of relationship are Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008); Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).

[41] David Archambault II, “Taking a Stand at Standing Rock,” The New York Times, August 24, 2016, sec. Opinion,

[42] Chief Arvol Looking Horse Calls on Religious Leaders to Come to Standing Rock, 2016,

[43] Quoted in Mary Frances Schjonberg, “Presiding Bishop Tells Standing Rock Protectors ‘the Way of Jesus Honors the Water,’” Episcopal News Service, September 27, 2016,

[44] The Episcopal Church, for example, has had a long partnership with the tribe starting with the expulsion of Lakota from Minnesota in the nineteenth century. One of the few Americans represented in the reredos of the high altar in the National Cathedral in Washington DC is Vine Deloria Sr. who was an archdeacon in the Episcopal Church. Additionally, the presence of Lakota and Dakota lay Christians in the camps conditioned the reception of the clergy.

[45] Quoted in Schjonberg, “Presiding Bishop Tells Standing Rock Protectors ‘the Way of Jesus Honors the Water.’”

[46] Floberg, interview.

[47] Kyle Powys Whyte, “White Allies, Let’s Be Honest About Decolonization,” Yes! Magazine, Spring 2018,

[48] For one account of apocalyptic political theology rooted in such an unveiling see Thomas Lynch, Apocalyptic Political Theology: Hegel, Taubes and Malabou (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019).

[49] Carl Schmitt, “Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political (1963),” Telos 127 (2004): 85.

[50] Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1976), 29. Schmitt’s claim that Christians and Muslims have never surrender to another out of love is historically specious. There were certainly Christians and Muslims who rejected the framing of their religious other as an enemy. But his polemic offers a useful heuristic clarity that historical nuance, while at times helpful, can obscure.

[51] Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 27.

[52] To call Schmitt’s critique just is merely to acknowledge that he correctly diagnosed a critical problem in liberal orders: the incapacity of political decision. His solution, however, was counter-revolutionary and ultimately genocidal. The argument here has resonance with feminist theologian Catherine Keller’s retrieval and critique of Schmitt. Resisting the antagonistic totalitarianism of Schmitt, Keller explores how amorous agonism, working across critical difference, creates the possibility of messianic inception. Keller wants agonism (struggle) without antagonism (enmity). Even as Keller critiques the dualism of apocalyptic logics, she deploys one in critique Schmitt’s political theology and its attendant white male American exceptionalism. See Keller, Political Theology of the Earth, 21–55.

[53] For a productive retrieval of Schmitt along the Afropessimism of Frank Wilderson that centers the possibility of enemy love see Marvin Wickware, “Love and the Racial Enemy: Theological Possibilities of Racial Reconciliation Between Black and White US Christians” (Durham, NC, Duke University, 2018),

[54] Quoted in Voelkel, “Standing Rock.”

[55] Floberg, interview.

[56] My students have helped me recognize the ways that even the language of “ally” can become distorted. Other helpful descriptors include “co-conspirator” or “race traitor.” See Mab Segrest, Memoir of a Race Traitor, 1st ed (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1994); Rose Hackman, “‘We Need Co-Conspirators, Not Allies’: How White Americans Can Fight Racism,” The Guardian, June 26, 2015, sec. Race,

[57] Though Willie James Jennings does not engage the Doctrine of Discovery directly in his work, the argument I’m developing here is closely informed by his account of the disease in the Christian social imaginary. See Jennings, The Christian Imagination.

[58] Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012).

[59] Quoted in Wilson, “Peaceful, Prayerful, Nonviolent Stand of Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux.”

[60] To be clear, the action was not sufficient, but it was a gesture, an opening. Some participants critiqued the action. “My main discomfort with the way the clergy group behaved was that it seemed more important to display their solidarity rather than express solidarity. When someone is concerned about displaying solidarity, they make the effort about themselves. They control the narrative and ensure their experience is validated. They make the story about themselves, and not about the people they are in solidarity with.” Sung Yeon Choimorrow, “Don’t Display Your Solidarity, Express It!,” Evangelicals for Social Action, November 15, 2016,

By Kyle B. T. Lambelet
Kyle B. T. Lambelet is Assistant Professor in the practice of theology and ethics at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.