The US-based Episcopal Church’s Executive Council has reaffirmed its support for 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.
Council members said the church pledges to “continue to support the action and leadership of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation as the salt and light of the nation in its unwavering support of the sacredness of water, land, and other resources and reminding us all of the sacred calling to faithfulness.”
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.
The Council endorsed the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s call for a march on Washington D.C. planned for next month. The resolution said the march was “for the purpose of proclaiming the continuing concern for our sacred waters and lands as well as challenging our government to fulfill all relevant treaty obligations of the United States to all federally recognised tribes.”
The Council also praised the Episcopal Church and its ecumenical partners in the water protection actions led by the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. The Rev. John Floberg, council member and priest-in-charge of Episcopal congregations on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock, drew specific praise, as did “the hundreds of Episcopal lay and clergy who responded to his call for support.”
The Episcopal Church has advocated with the Sioux Nation about the Dakota Access Pipeline since the middle of last year. Local Episcopalians have also provided a ministry of presence in and around Cannon Ball, North Dakota, the focal point for groups of water protectors that gathered near the proposed crossing.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry told the Executive Council that Episcopalians must engage in the public square but that they should root their engagement in the values of Jesus: “That’s how we avoid becoming labeled as just another interest group - because we’re not looking out for our own self-interest,” he said.
The Council’s action came shortly after the U.S. Army said it would cancel the environmental impact study it promised to begin two months ago; instead, it will allow construction on the final phase of the pipeline. The announcement was the latest is a series of administrative and legal manoeuvres over the nearly complete pipeline.
In January, in one of the first of an ongoing string of presidential actions, President Donald Trump called for the rapid approval of the pipeline’s final phase, specifically telling the Corps to quickly reconsider conducting the environmental impact study.
Episcopal Public Policy Network issued an advocacy alert just after the Army’s announcement, calling on Episcopalians to contact the Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, and urge him not to grant the final easement without a full impact study “that properly consults the Standing Rock Sioux and upholds treaty obligations.”
Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II has said the Standing Rock Sioux Nation will challenge the Trump Administration’s move in court: “Our fight is no longer at the North Dakota site itself,” he said. “Our fight is with Congress and the Trump administration. Meet us in Washington on March 10.”
Jan Hasselman, lead attorney for the tribe, said the reversal “continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian tribes and unlawful violation of treaty rights. They will be held accountable in court.”