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Canadians lend support to Standing Rock Sioux protestors

Posted on: August 26, 2016 7:29 AM
Members and supporters of the Sioux reservation at Standing Rock protest against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline
Photo Credit: Peg Hunter / Flickr

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and the province’s national indigenous Anglican bishop have given their support to the Sioux people of Standing Rock as they protest against the construction of a major oil pipeline through ancient burial grounds and the Missouri River. Their support follows a statement yesterday from the Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church in which he too gave his support.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.78 billion USD (approximately £2.85 billion GBP) infrastructure project that will transport between 450,000 to 570,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, through a 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipe.

“Water is sacred and one of the four primal elements that sustain life on Mother Earth,” Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Rt Revd Mark MacDonald, the Church’s national indigenous Anglican bishop, said in a statement. “We have not respected water and consequently many lakes, streams, rivers and creeks are polluted. It is an element on the verge of scarcity. We must protect water. . .

“While many will say, it’s a US problem, it is also a Canadian problem. The same has happened here and will continue to happen. Oil has become a more precious commodity than water. This pipeline . . . will threaten water for the Standing Rock Sioux as it will cross (underground) the Missouri River. It will also upset burial grounds. Three agencies of the US government are questioning the approval of the pipeline. While not crossing the reservation, it is close, approximately ten miles from the reservation.”

A peaceful protest at the site has grown since April and earlier this month construction was temporarily stopped. Water and toilet facilities at the protest camp have reportedly been cut off and there are reports that the US National Guard may be brought in to keep the protestors away from the construction site. The Chief of the Standing Rock Sioux is one of a number of people who have been arrested.

“The US supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) but cannot enforce it, it is a moral issue,” Archbishop Hiltz and Bishop MacDonald said. “Even though much of what has been done for Dakota Access is in violation of the UNDRIP, there is only hope that the moral issue can be raised and heard.”

The two bishops and the Church “stand with Standing Rock,” their statement said. “We are all related, not only by our blood but also by the blood of Christ.

“Standing Rock has long been an Episcopal community. Standing Rock Reservation was home of the eminent Deloria Family – Philip, an Episcopal clergyman, served many years on South Dakota side of Standing Rock Reservation. His son, the Venerable Vine V Deloria, was born there; Philip’s grandson, the famed Vine Deloria Jr, gave his tribal identification as Standing Rock Sioux.

“We call the Church to pray for Standing Rock, for good minds to prevail and for peaceful settlement. We also call the Church to pray for water, that is taken for granted in many of our communities but good water is getting scarce in our communities.

“We call upon the Church to pray for our governments, both indigenous and settler, that they may work together to protect our fragile Mother Earth. Flowing waters are the arteries of our Creator, precious and life giving. Without water, there is no life here on Mother Earth. Pray that our Creator, God, will help us to live in balance and harmony with each other and with Earth, Fire, Air and Water.”

Local Episcopal congregations aren’t just passive observers. Some church members are on the front lines, joining in the protests or supporting the hundreds – and at times thousands – of people camped there, and the issue has influenced Sunday sermons, prayers and even the choice of liturgy, writes David Paulsen for the Episcopal News Service.

“We see our obligation through the lens of our baptismal covenant, respecting the dignity of every human being,” the Revd John Floberg said.

Floberg, canon missioner for the Episcopal Church community on the Standing Rock reservation, serves three congregations in the North Dakota part of the reservation: St Luke’s in Fort Yates, St James’ in Cannon Ball and Church of the Cross in Selfridge. And although he is white and not a member of the tribe, he has spent 25 years ministering here and is well aware of the historical context being applied to both the recent protests and the Episcopal involvement.

Both Floberg and Mauai are members of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council.

The Episcopal Church’s early ministry to the Sioux dates back to the mid-1800s, Floberg said, and he noted how President Grant’s “peace policy” of the late 1860s assigned oversight of reservations to religious denominations, including the Episcopal Church.

The history of white interaction with native peoples, however, has been marked by violence, oppression and broken promises.

Standing Rock Sioux leaders, in a lawsuit opposing the pipeline, cite treaties from 1851 and 1868 in arguing that the US government has yet to fulfil its side of those agreements. The Standing Rock reservation straddles the border between North Dakota and South Dakota, and the tribal treaty lands extend north beyond the reservation, they say, to the pipeline construction site.

Some white supporters have joined with the American Indian protesters, but Floberg said the standoff also has elicited racist criticism in some corners, particularly in Facebook comments on the issue.

Another historical reference point is the 1944 Pick-Sloan flood control plan, which involved building dams on the Missouri River. This created Lake Oahe, which stretches from south of Bismarck, North Dakota, to well into South Dakota. The lake’s western shoreline runs through the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations, and the pipeline would cross the lake just a half-mile from the Standing Rock border.

When it was created, Lake Oahe flooded tribal farmland, orchards and forests along the Missouri River, displacing many Native American families.

A federal judge is expected to hand down judgment in the Sioux leaders’ lawsuit on 9 September.

  • Click here to read David Paulsen’s full report for the Episcopal News Service.