EAST PEORIA — There has been a controversy burning in the heart of this country. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been receiving national attention by news organizations, President Obama and the United Nations has now gotten the attention of some folks in East Peoria. 

The members of the Dayspring Native American United Methodist Church in East Peoria hosted a sacred fire ceremony to bring awareness and prayer for other Native Americans around the region. For four days in October, the group held a Spirit Fire and Gathering of Prayer Pipes ceremony. 

According to Danira Parra, pastor of the church, the purpose of the ceremony was to pray for the Sioux Tribe at Standing Rock, as they seek to protect their native burial sites and sacred places that would be destroyed by the pipeline. With prayer and traditional rituals they will be showing support of the Sioux Water Protectors standing against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

According to newyorker.com, the event at Standing Rock is the largest Native American gathering noticed nationally since 1973. Since mid-summer, thousands of Native Americans have gathered to protest the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Standing Rock Sioux Nation is a Native American reservation established in 1868, which straddles the North Dakota/South Dakota boarder on the western portion of both states. The reservation, is about 1,000,000 total acres, according to standingrock.org.

The  controversy over this pipeline has caused much debate and many heated arguments around the country since April.

“The laying of the pipeline has been temporarily halted because Obama stepped up with an Emergency Order for review,” Parra said. “Representatives at the Sioux nation are going to the UN and asking for help. While it is not illegal for them to run the pipeline in the proposed location, it is highly unethical and immoral.” 

Parra scheduled the event in East Peoria to start on Columbus Day. She gave her opinion about Christopher Columbus. 

“He is that century’s Hitler. I do not celebrate that day. I selected it because that is when the sun is going down and to put an end to the day and say goodbye in a way that is good and pray for other Native Americans. They are beautiful and loving people. Columbus and his people were guilty of rape, murder and exploitation. They used babies for target practice,” she said.

While walking around the 42.5 acre ground where the Dayspring Church is located, Parra told of Native American traditions and rituals which use the sun as their guiding light. Ceremonial spaces, like the gathering room, outdoor medicine wheel and the fire pit area, are set up using the north south east and west to establish placement, entrances and beginnings. Parra said the Sacred Fire pit was positioned so its entrance faces the east, where the day starts. 

Parra said, “As the sun comes up, the whole feeling of the love of the creator washes over you.”

 Before anyone can enter the fire area, they are to face the east as a “smudging” prayer is said as another burns sage in a shell and wafts the smoke over them with a feather fan.

“We pray as the smoke goes over the eyes to think differently and to have them open to the truth; as it goes over the mouth to speak with kindness, over the arms to embrace life and creatures, under the feet to walk softly on the earth and create beauty and peace where we walk,” Parra said. 

The fire, which lasted for 96 hours, was constantly tended to by a trained fire keeper. At the time, Kevin Cashmer was the sole person designated as fire keeper. He could only walk away from the fire if there was someone to relieve him. The four-day event culminated on Oct. 14 with a Prayer Pipe Ceremony.  

Currently, there are around 35 to 40 members in the church, with none being full-blooded Native Americans. Anyone is welcome to attend. For more information, contact Danira Parra at pastorparra@aol.com or phone at 309-698-2527. The address is 201 N. Norwood Place, East Peoria.