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Pope appears to back native tribes in Dakota pipeline conflict

Pope Francis leads a Mass on New Year's Day at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Jan. 1, 2017. Reuters/Remo Casilli

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) Pope Francis appeared to back Native Americans seeking to halt part of the Dakota Access pipeline, saying indigenous cultures have a right to defend “their ancestral relationship to the earth.”

The Latin American pope, who has often strongly defended indigenous rights since his election in 2013, made his comments on protection of native lands to representative of tribes attending the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome on Wednesday (Feb. 15).

While he did not name the pipeline, he used strong and clear language applicable to the conflict, saying development had to be reconciled with “the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories.”

Francis spoke two days after a U.S. federal judge denied a request by tribes to halt construction of the final link of the project that sparked months of protests by activists aimed at stopping the 1,170-mile line.


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Speaking in Spanish, Francis said the need to protect native territories was “especially clear when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth.”

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have argued the project would prevent them from practicing religious ceremonies at a lake they say is surrounded by sacred ground.

“In this regard, the right to prior and informed consent (of native peoples) should always prevail,” the pope said, citing the 1997 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Thousands of tribe members, environmentalists and others set up camps last year on Army Corps land in the North Dakota plains as protests intensified.

In December, the administration of former President Obama denied the last permit needed by Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the $3.8 billion pipeline.

But last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a final easement, after President Trump issued an order to advance the project days after he took office in January.

The pope made an indirect criticism last week of another Trump project, a wall along the border with Mexico, saying society should not create “walls but bridges” and ask others to pay for them.

Francis, who wrote a major encyclical letter in 2015 on climate change and the environment, told the group that new technologies could be legitimate but had to respect the earth.

“Do not allow those which destroy the earth, which destroy the environment and the ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples,” he said.

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Philip Pullella

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  • Of course he’s taking their side. We all know how much the Catholic church loves the indigenous peoples of North and South America.

    I’m not sure how their worship will be impacted. Anyone? Moot point since the only segment left to complete is under the lake/river. There is the risk of water contamination in the event of a leak. I do hope no corners were cut in the workmanship or materials. We currently have thousands of miles of underground lines carrying crude, gasoline, diesel and natural gas – many going under rivers and all carrying the risk of leaks. Our nation runs in fossil fuel and pipelines are necessary.

    I read an article, with pictures, of the disgusting and dangerous mess the protesters left behind. Since the campground will flood this spring, the risk of contamination from that is more of a danger than the pipeline. I find that that ironic. They are hypocrites, leaving the Standing Rock tribe to clean up.

  • 1. “The Vatican has denied it was a specific reference to a controversial oil pipeline in the United States. A Vatican spokesperson said after the session that it’s wrong to infer a reference to any specific situation in the pope’s words.”(cruxnow.com)
    2. “Indirect criticism of Trump”? Another Vatican reporter with more integrity reports “Trump and the Vatican: A Relationship to be Built” beginning with the only time the pope has mentioned Trump by name, “We will see what he does and will judge. Always on the specific…” Anti-abortion policies and “dialogue with Moscow” are just two of the areas of collaboration to be discussed. http://www.lastampa.it/2017/02/12/vaticaninsider/eng/world-news/trump-and-the-vatican-a-relationship-to-be-built

  • ” . . . Francis said the need to protect native territories was “especially clear when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth.”
    Well here goes the pope again! It’s easier to be the moralizer in chief regarding any major issue outside his realm than to lead a movement to address all the corruption in his own organization.
    The pope’s statement presents a big problem: The economic activities involved are tied to EVERYONE’S ancestral relationship to the earth! The oil that will be transported by this pipeline is truly God’s gift to all of us! This rich resource has totally revolutionized the lives of people around the world in the past 1.5 centuries. Thanks to oil the native populations can drive their vehicles, cook and heat their homes economically and efficiently like everyone else. They have jobs and participate in an economy that runs on oil. There’s plenty of room around them on which to practice their sacred rites without dredging up that lame excuse for claiming lands that do not belong to them.

  • High praise for Pope Francis for speaking out for the rights of Native peoples and reminding us to preserve the Earth. It is the only planet we have. The pipelines will ultimately put more CO2 into the air. A danger to future generations (UN IPCC report on climate change). So fine that the Pope can relate to oppressed Native peoples. But why does he not recognize himself as an oppressor of women, who are fully baptized, yet denied full participation in liturgy and administration in his Church!

  • Dear Mr. Pope,
    Since you only seem to know the facts presented by the press, I would suggest you speak with all sides before addressing the issue.

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