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Faith groups express Dakota Access Pipeline opposition to Obama


November 18, 2016
By Brian Roewe
National Catholic Reporter

A letter from 30-plus faith leaders and several more religious organizations across the country urges President Barack Obama to put “an immediate halt” on construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and to intercede in increasingly contentious confrontations between opponents of the project and local law enforcement.

The faith coalition said they and their congregations stood in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and 200 Native American tribes that have raised opposition to the pipeline being constructed by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. The tribes claim the $3.8 billion project endangers land in North Dakota they view as sacred, as well as their primary water source, the Missouri River.

Their letter, released Friday, re-raised concerns made by the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters: Namely, that the pipeline’s approval occurred without adequate tribal consultation, sidestepped procedural steps and also violated aspects of the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and various treaties with Native Americans. They also took “great alarm with the increased militarization” in response to the tribe and their supporters, who call themselves water protectors.

“As leaders from a broad range of religious traditions we recognize that the religious freedom of Indigenous Peoples involves the safeguarding of the traditional lands that are the wellsprings of their cultures and spiritual ways of life. We see the protection of sacred lands and the resources located on these parcels of our common planet as one of the most important steps in honoring native peoples and their respective religions.

“We unite to proclaim today that Indigenous spiritual paths are valid, sacred and utterly indispensable strands within the overall tapestry of human heritage, deserving of the world’s respect and protection,” the group letter read.

Energy Transfer Partners has said it went through the proper leasing process and denied that the pipeline would put at risk sacred sites or water supplies.

The letter’s signers included Jim Winkler, president of the National Council of Churches; Rabbi Arthur Wasko, director of the Shalom Center; Naeem Baig, president of the Islamic Circle of North America; the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A); several interfaith groups; and Cornel West.

Patrick Carolan, executive director of Franciscan Action Network and the lone Catholic signer, pointed to Pope Francis’ September 2015 address to the United Nations where he said,

“[It] must be stated that a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. ... Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures.’ As people of faith, we have a moral obligation to stand up with the Native peoples of this country, whom we have historically pushed aside and assure their value is not diminished.”

The faith letter also addressed environmental issues with the pipeline, saying that beyond the threat of an oil spill, studies have shown carbon emissions associated from the project could equal those released by 30 coal plants.

“At this critical time when the world must be turning away from fossil fuel use, in the small window remaining, this pipeline instead expands it … As persons of faith, we cannot align ourselves with the pursuit of profit at the expense of life itself. Nor can we turn a blind eye to the destruction of Creation, a gift we are entrusted to preserve,” they said.

“The power lies in your hands [President Obama] to achieve an immediate halt to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, assure compliance with established law, suspend current and any future permits, and guarantee full respect for the sovereign nations within our borders. This is our urging, in the name of Life itself,” the letter read.

In September, a federal D.C. district court declined an injunction request by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to halt construction. Immediately after, however, the U.S. government suspended construction of the pipeline on federal lands around Lake Oahe and asked Energy Transfer to pause construction elsewhere.

The company declined that request and has said the only pending leg of the four-state, 1,172-mile project is drilling underneath the lake and Missouri River. Energy Transfer CEO Kelcy Warren has said construction will be completed and the company won’t consider rerouting the pipeline, something Obama has said has been explored.   

The faith letter is dated Nov. 11, three days before the Army Corps of Engineers said it would need more time to further study and to consult with tribal leaders before it could grant an easement to permit drilling under the Missouri River. That area at issue is a half mile upstream from the tribe’s reservation boundary; the river and Lake Oahe are the primary water source for the tribe, in addition to 18 million other residents of the region.

The same day of the Army Corps’ update multiple demonstrations took place nationwide in support of Standing Rock and the water protectors. According to the Associated Press, more than 470 people have been arrested in demonstrations since August.

Earlier in November, more than 500 clergy and laity assembled at the Standing Rock camp where they held a “solidarity witness” with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and water protectors.

In a separate tribal matter Wednesday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the cancellation of 15 oil and gas leases on an area of land near Glacier National Park that the Blackfoot tribes consider sacred. The decision was made in part after it was determined proper consultation with tribal leaders did not occur, and was reached in cooperation with Oklahoma-based Devon Energy, which was refunded leasing fees, according to AP.

“[It] was the right thing to do,” David Hager, Devon president, told AP.

https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/faith-groups-express-dakota-access-pipeline-opposition-obama