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Wopida: A Dakota Ceremony of Universal Gratitude


Gratitude is a powerful state of consciousness, one that unifies and strengthens even in adversity.

Over years of Judeo-Christian cultural domination, the West has at times seen gratitude as a passive form of sacrifice, if not as a mere gesture of courtesy. For the Dakota nation, gratitude and especially the act of encouraging an awareness of gratitude in times of great confusion and sadness is a powerful and vital tool.

Since April 2016, a small group of native Sioux and Dakota Americans have gathered without pause or rest at Standing Rock in North Dakota. They’ve done so to protest the construction of a pipeline that crosses their ancestral lands. The pipeline could contaminate the region’s water reserves, and lead to an ecological and human catastrophe. Slowly, peaceful protest has merged with a global support network known as Pray with Standing Rock, and which has won some concrete political victories and brought thousands of people together around common values.

In December, Dakota community leaders called for a global Wopida ceremony, a concept important to understanding the peaceful resistance held at Standing Rock, and from which we can learn a valuable lesson for our daily lives.

According to tribal chief, Phil Lane Jr., Wopida needs to be understood from a spiritual point of view as the act of sharing gratitude. It’s also about “recognizing that the Hurt of One is the Hurt of All and the Honor of One is the Honor of All and that we are intimately related as an integral part of all Life.”

Wopida could be understood as a metaphor for the fire used during the night to tell stories, to keep warm from the cold, and in another sense, to reconnect with the ember of the past, with that which beats within us and which connects us with those who preceded us.

Is it necessary to make a campfire to participate in Wopida? Not necessarily. We can understand it as an inner fire that’s expressed in everything we do. As Chief Lane says:

When we strive to make our lives, every thought, word and action, a living Wopida, we are given a great spiritual gift. For whenever our soul and the inmost chambers of our heart are filled with thanksgiving and gratitude it also naturally becomes filled with compassion, love, understanding, forgiveness, joy, happiness and oneness. When our lives are centered in this State of Consciousness, there is no room left for the experience of fear, hate, prejudice, revenge, jealousy, loneliness and disunity. There is no room for anything that separates ourselves and our oneness with our Beloved Creator, our Human Family, and all Life, seen and unseen.

Standing Rock, like Wirikuta in Mexico or the struggle of the Tibetan people in Asia, shows us how the most disadvantaged people and those affected historically by the process of colonization and globalization have created ways to maintain their cultures. These differ a lot from more dominant narratives. Wopida is not a gratitude – as in the West – of thankfulness for something we’ve already received, but more simply a giving of thanks for all that is, under present conditions, even if these are adverse.

It’s not a question of becoming passive through gratitude, but just the opposite. The point is to make gratitude into a gift that connects us with a present that we share with the rest of the world, with a common humanity, and making strong that which resembles ourselves in others, looking for ways of life and political action that can make real changes in the world, in line with this new state of consciousness. Wopida is a good way to remind ourselves that as long as there is life, it’s possible to continue struggling to seek more justice within this unjust world.

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