500 religious leaders join Standing Rock Sioux in opposing oil pipeline

| Dennis Sadowski | November 8, 2016 | 8 Comments
Clergy of many faiths from across the United States participate in a prayer circle Nov. 3 in front of a bridge in Standing Rock, N.D., where demonstrators confront police during a protest of the Dakota Access pipeline. Demonstrations against the pipeline are taking place on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation near Cannonball, N.D. CNS photo/Stephanie Keith, Reuters

Clergy of many faiths from across the United States participate in a prayer circle Nov. 3 in front of a bridge in Standing Rock, N.D., where demonstrators confront police during a protest of the Dakota Access pipeline. Demonstrations against the pipeline are taking place on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation near Cannonball, N.D. CNS photo/Stephanie Keith, Reuters

When Sisters Aine O’Connor and Kathleen Erickson heard a call for a peaceful and prayerful presence on the front line of a campaign to protect sacred Sioux lands in North Dakota from a multibillion-dollar oil pipeline project, they knew they had to respond.

The two members of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas joined more than 500 ministers and religious leaders Nov. 4 for a day of prayer and conversation in south central North Dakota to confront what they contend is an ecological disaster waiting to happen.

“I was responding to the call to come and bear witness,” Sister O’Connor told Catholic News Service Nov. 4 as she prepared to return home to Baltimore.

Sister Erickson said that as a native of North Dakota who now ministers to migrant people in Omaha, Nebraska, she wanted to be on hand to stand with people whose rights are often ignored.

They were joined by Mike Poulin, a member of the Sisters of Mercy Justice Team’s West-Midwest region.

The call to which the trio responded came in late October from the Rev. John Floberg, an Episcopal priest serving the Standing Rock Reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. He was concerned that violence was rising after two heavy trucks were set ablaze Oct. 28 following the forced removal of pipeline opponents by law enforcement authorities from a nearby camp.

In issuing the call, Rev. Floberg said it was necessary for people of faith to show support for the Standing Rock Sioux people.

The Sioux tribe has been joined by other indigenous people and hundreds of supporters at a camp near the pipeline route for months. Calling themselves water protectors, the tribal members since April have opposed construction of a leg of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. They contend that the project endangers the reservation’s water supply and infringes on sacred tribal grounds.

Texas-based pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners maintains that it is following strict safety standards in building the 1,200-mile pipeline that will connect with a distribution network in Illinois. The company said the project is nearly complete except for the leg being challenged.

The federal government decided in September to halt construction pending another round of review after a federal court judge denied a tribal motion to stop the project.

Both sisters said the North Dakota witness is about more than one pipeline project.

“I’m concerned about the fixation on the petroleum industry and what we seem to be willing to give up long-term in favor of short-term (energy) solutions,” Sister Erickson said.

Sister O’Connor cited the call of Pope Francis of care for the environment as a corporal work of mercy and the questions he raised on the economy in his encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” as reasons for the world to question the continued investment in fossil fuel development.

“We as Sisters of Mercy, in addressing the critical concerns we’ve adopted, have been challenged ourselves to ask the question about the structural causes of injustice and how they’re all related,” she said.

The day of events included walking from the camp to a bridge, which remains blocked by the burned-out trucks. The Mercy trio said the group remained under the watchful eye of heavily equipped law enforcement officers as a helicopter flew overhead throughout the day.

Eddie Carmona, campaign director of LA RED of the PICO National Network, a faith-based group engaged in congregation-based community organizing, told CNS that a group of ministers met with tribal elders and learned that the tribe wanted to have the trucks moved so that emergency vehicles could reach the reservation more easily.

About 100 of the religious leaders then went by caravan to the North Dakota State Capitol in Bismarck, about 50 miles away. There they were met by heavily armed police, Carmona said. However, 14 clergy managed to enter the capitol and conducted a sit-in demanding to see Gov. Jack Dalrymple, forcing officials to shut it down. When they refused to leave, they were arrested for criminal trespass.

Those remaining marched to the nearby governor’s residence seeking an end to the pipeline project, eventually returning to the Standing Rock Camp, Carmona said.

The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Extended Justice Team was one of 15 faith-based organizations that signed a statement supporting the stance of the Standing Rock Sioux Sept. 19.

While saying a fair and unbiased evaluation of pipeline construction was necessary by the federal government, the statement also called for adequate consultation with the tribe concerning the project.

Other Catholic organizations that signed on include Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Franciscan Action Network, Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

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  • tschraad

    Sisters Aine O’Connor and Kathleen Erickson should have understood both of the pipeline issue before they chose to back the rioters and destroyers of others property.

    Robert Fool Bear Sr., 54, district chairman of Cannon Ball said –
    “Go down to the camps, he says, and you won’t see many Standing Rock Sioux.”

    “It irks me. People are here from all over the world,” he says. “If they could come from other planets, I think they would.”

    Read more – http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/29/us/dakota-pipeline-standing-rock-sioux/index.html

    So called religious should not promote violence and the Catholic Spirit should not promote one sided views and both sides should be considered. If Robert Fool Bear is correct, the vast majority of those on the reservation are against the violent rioters.

    Sisters, go and teach the word of God or pray for peace. Leave the decision to the Standing Rock Sioux, they, not you understand and can choose their direction of their lives.

  • Charles C.

    “The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Extended Justice Team was one of 15 faith-based organizations that signed a statement supporting the stance of the Standing Rock Sioux Sept. 19.

    “While saying a fair and unbiased evaluation of pipeline construction was necessary by the federal government, the statement also called for adequate consultation with the tribe concerning the project.”

    “Adequate Consultation??????”

    I understand that there are issues which strike an emotional cord and that our thinking gets short-circuited sometimes. It happens to me, much to my embarrassment. It’s happened to the good sisters here as well.

    “[P]roject leaders participated in 559 meetings with community leaders, local officials and organizations to listen to concerns and fine-tune the route.

    “The record shows that the corps held 389 meetings with 55 tribes. Corps officials met many times with leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which initiated the lawsuit and the protests.

    “The corps alerted the tribe to the pipeline permit application in the fall of 2014 and repeatedly requested comments from and meetings with tribal leaders, only to be rebuffed over and over. Tribal leaders ignored requests for comment and canceled meetings multiple times.”

    I’d be more favorably impressed if the sisters simply said they didn’t like pipelines in general, and didn’t present weak or false arguments.

    • Where is your proof of these meetings? Other than repeating what you read online which provided no proof as well.

      • Charles C.

        Dear Tanya,

        What would you accept as proof? How about documents and statements submitted to the court? PDF copies of official submissions? Every lawyer knows that lying to the court is a big no-no and can wreck a promising career. Given that the other side would pounce on any false statement their opponent made, no lawyer makes an obvious checkable lie in a court filing. Would you accept that as proof?

        Besides, be honest. If I provided a million hours of video tape of each of the meetings would it change your position at all? Why are you asking for the proof, would it change your mind?

        But if you want it and it will affect your beliefs on the subject, I’ll provide a link. Otherwise, why bother?

        • Actual court documents, meeting notes from the meetings, etc. is what I am referring to. I do not need videos. I have seen too much false “news” about this, is why I am asking.
          I am not the enemy, I am simply looking for actual facts.
          Thank you

          • Charles C.

            Dear Tanya,
            If I have misjudged you, I apologize sincerely. Too
            often have I gone down the path of providing requested evidence which is
            rejected, then, when that evidence is shown to be valid there is a
            request for more evidence in a different aspect of the case. Following
            that, somewhere along the line, the person claiming to be looking for
            information fires off an insult and disappears.

            Try this;

            Indianz.com/news/2016/09/06/dakotaaccess090616.pdf

            It is a court document covering several aspects of the case.

          • I understand. I have been attacked many times in the past for telling truths people do not want to hear.
            I think I read this awhile back, but will read it again
            What I am looking for is the actual minutes of those 500 something meetings and stuff as proof the actuall took place. As well as proof the elders refused to go to certain meetings.
            Thank you 🙂

          • Charles C.

            Remember, first you said “Actual court documents, meeting notes from the meetings, etc. is what I am referring to.” I’ve provided a court document. Now, you say that is not sufficient and you want 500 sets of meeting minutes which may have never been taken or are private? Further, you want me to prove that the elders didn’t go to meetings? Why don’t you ask the elders to show they were there, that would be much easier. Certainly, if the Corps is saying they weren’t there, all the tribe would have to do is show a little evidence indicating they were.

            You seem to be taking an extreme position, especially since the tribe is the group making the claim and they haven’t backed up their claim. If they go to court and say, “We should win because we weren’t consulted,” it’s their job to show that their statement is true, not the developers job to prove their claim is false. Even with that, the court records show that there were many, many meetings.

            Let’s try this. Would you show me some hard evidence, beyond press releases and statements, that the pipeline is trespassing on land sacred to the Indians because of bones, relics, or ruins that existed more than 50 years ago?