Religious Leaders are Standing with Standing Rock to Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

In our blog yesterday, we included a list of the denominations that had issued statements on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Since then, we learned that we missed some. Those taking a position include leaders from: the Episcopal Church; the Mennonite Central Committee (Central States); the United Church of Christ; the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church; the ELCA; the Unitarian Universalists, and the Presbyterian Church USA.

Please let us know if we have missed any statements from religious leaders. We will continue to update the list.

Quick background: The proposed pipeline would pass under the Missouri River, just one mile from the fresh water intake for the Standing Rock Reservation. The Pipeline also would pass through lands sacred to Standing Rock, including burial grounds.

The pipeline’s original route took it within 10 miles of Bismarck, but concern about the potential impact on the Capital City’s drinking water lead to a reroute near the reservation.

Things are currently in limbo. On Sept. 9, a federal judge turned down the Standing Rock Nation’s request to stop pipeline construction, according to MPR. The judge concluded that the Army Corps of Engineers had followed the law in approving the project. That same day, the federal government ordered “work to stop on the segment of the project in question, asking Energy Transfer Partners to ‘voluntarily pause’ action” on the culturally significant areas.

Below, each statement from religious leaders on this issue is powerful on its own. Collectively, their power is magnified and shows that this truly is an issue of conscience. Continue reading for excerpts and links to their full statements. They are listed in chronological order.

On Aug. 23, the United Church of Christ Collegium of Officers issued a statement declaring its opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.  It read in part:

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has voiced its objections to the pipeline and initiated non-violent action that has led to the arrest of at least 28 persons in seeking to block construction. The pipeline would travel underneath the Missouri River and thereby threaten to contaminate a water source for the people of the reservation and numerous others who live downstream. After educating itself about the relevant background to the pipeline, the Collegium regards this matter as one that touches upon vital matters of racial justice, the honoring of sacred space, and the climate impact of fossil fuels. …

The honoring of sacred space surfaced as a critical issue because the pipeline would cross through lands of longstanding religious, cultural, and ancestral significance to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. These lands include burial sites. Moreover, the water of the river itself is regarded as a sacred, life-giving force. The Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, where demonstrators have encamped, is named for sacred stones where members of the reservation come to pray for guidance and strength. The demonstrations notably began and have continued as an intentional act of prayer.

On Aug. 25, the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael Curry issued the following statement in support of the people of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. It concludes:

The people of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are calling us now to stand with Native peoples, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of God’s creation, for the sake of the entire human family, and for the children and generations of children yet unborn. The legendary Sioux Chief Sitting Bull reminds us: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”  There is the urgent need of this calling.

So, while we cannot all physically stand in the Camp of Sacred Stones today, let us hold, both in spoken word and silent prayer, the aspirations of the Sioux people and urge our policymakers to protect and responsibly steward our water, the sacred gift from God that sustains us all.

On Aug. 29, The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson III, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and The Rev. Irvin Porter, Associate in the PC(USA) Office of Native American Intercultural Congregational Support, issued a statement of support to the Standing Rock Tribe to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. It read in part:

The peaceful and wholesome nature of the protestors has been made confrontational as the governor recently issued a declaration of emergency. Roadblocks and detours are guarded by heavily armed law enforcement who have come in from around the state because of the governor’s declaration. …

The 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), meeting in Portland, Oregon in June, passed two overtures which effect the 95 Native American Presbyterian churches across the country.

  • An apology to Native American’s for the church’s involvement and administration of boarding schools during the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose purpose was the “civilization” of Native American children.
  • A repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery: this “doctrine” derives its authority from Pope’s and European royal decrees stating “explorers” may seize lands and convert “non-Christians” in their name and for the good of the Christian Church. It remains the basis, as late as 2005, for Indian Law and Supreme Court decisions against Tribes.

It has become clear that the PC(USA) is becoming more aware of the struggles that Native American Presbyterians and all Native Americans have faced in the past and are dealing with today. It is my hope that in discussing these issues across the church an impact can be made that not only raises awareness within the church of these issues, but also generates action by Presbyterians.

On Aug. 30, the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, issued a statement asking people to join him in opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. It actively encourages members to provide financial support to the water protectors. His statement read:

The construction of the massive Dakota Access pipeline, stretching from North Dakota to Illinois, is a textbook case of marginalizing minority communities in the drive to increase fossil fuel supplies. As people of faith and conscience, committed to protecting the interdependent web of all life and supporting indigenous rights, Unitarian Universalists cannot remain silent as land held sacred by our Native American siblings is threatened.

We join other faith groups and native tribes to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as they oppose the construction of this dangerous pipeline. I am proud to see that Unitarian Universalists in the region are already joining the protests. But I know that more is urgently needed. I urge you to join the effort to bear public witness to the injustice in North Dakota and add your voice to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.

On Aug 31, Bruce Ough, resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of the United Methodist Church, issued a very personal statement on the pipeline. He writes:

This is a very difficult and complex issue for our country, and for me personally. I grew up in the oil fields of northwest North Dakota. My father earned his living and supported our family working for an oil exploration company. My grandparents homesteaded on land less than 20 miles west of Watford City, the epicenter of the Bakken oil fields. I have farmed and cared for that land and its precious water resources. I attended a Bureau of Indian Affairs school during my junior high years. After college, I spent two years living and working on the Standing Rock Reservation. I was living there during the American Indian Movement’s protest at Wounded Knee. I grew to love the Lakota and Dakota people, their spirituality, and their deep respect for God’s creation and creatures. I have a unique history and perspective on the current conflict. …

He ends his statement with the following:

I stand with my Lakota and Dakota brothers and sisters because I believe the central question of the creation story is at the heart of their lament and their protest: What will we do with the blessing of power God has given us? This is a particularly poignant God-question for those of us who have the power of privilege in our country and the world. I urge all Dakotas and Minnesota United Methodists to wrestle with this question so central to our faith and witness.

Whatever the outcome of the court’s ruling, this may be the moment God is giving us all to come together, not as antagonists in bondage to our traumatic past, but as mutually empowered advocates for the common good and the sacredness of the waters and all of life. This may be the moment God has given us to use our power to define a just and life-giving future.

On Aug. 31, Michelle Armster, the Mennonite Central Committee Central States Executive Director issued a statement of support to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. It reads in part:

For more than five centuries, the Doctrine of Discovery and the laws based upon it have legalized the theft of land, labor and resources from Indigenous Peoples across the world and systematically denied their human rights. The painful truth is that such expropriation and exploitation continues today. Mining, fracking, logging, water theft, plantation agriculture, and other extractive industries continue to take resources from Indigenous communities to benefit the wealth of those descended from Europeans. …

Mennonite Central Committee Central States stands with the people of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and with hundreds of other indigenous nations and allies in protest of construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP).

On Sept. 9, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), issued a statement on the pipeline. It reads in part:

We recognize the complexity and the deeply personal significance of what is at stake for those living in the area. We have been looking at the situation in light of the Churchwide Assembly action to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and our church’s long-standing concern for respecting the sovereignty of tribal nations.

We welcome the joint statement from the U.S. Departments of Justice, the Army and the Interior issued on September 9, 2016. We are particularly heartened by the tenor of the statement from the departments and we affirm its concern that it is now “incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.” …

I recognize there are people of deep faith on all sides of this issue with varied perspectives and I pray that we use this time wisely. We need to be in prayer, to express solidarity and to build relationships. We also need to take seriously the concerns of the American Indian community, initiate and/or continue local efforts to strengthen and expand partnerships, and deepen cross-cultural understanding.”


11 thoughts on “Religious Leaders are Standing with Standing Rock to Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

  1. Thank you for your work, Scott. I was honored to stand with Native and non-Native people at Mears Park, Tuesday. I am proud to be part of a religious community (ELCA Lutheran) and the many others who are doing so publically!


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