The Sad Story on How North Dakota’s Religious Leaders Are Mostly Ignoring Native Concerns About DAPL

Rev. John Floberg has served as an Episcopal priest on the Standing Rock Reservation for a quarter century. He is one of few religious leaders in North Dakota to play an active role in supporting the water protectors camps and listening to people’s concerns, according to a story in the Bismarck Tribune.

Floberg was the one who invited clergy from around the country to come to the camps last fall, an event that drew around 500 leaders of different faiths to support Standing Rock in its efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). He continues working to support relationships between Native and non-Native peoples, for instance, giving gift cards to his Native American congregants so they can eat with non-native friends in Bismarck-Mandan. Floberg said it was his 25 years on the reservation that gave him the understanding on how to stand his ground in this contentious situation.

Other than the backstory on Floberg, this is a sad article. The Bismarck Tribune reports:

Though support and endorsements have flooded in from religious institutions around the world, few Christian leaders on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and in North Dakota took an active role. In fact, Floberg was nearly unique in his activism. …

More broadly in North Dakota, the only churches to take on an active role have been the Unitarian Universalists in Bismarck and the Presentation Sisters in Fargo, according to Karen von Fassen, of the UU church. Some did partake individually by coming to rallies or participating in interfaith prayer events.

To be fair, this is a very polarizing issue in North Dakota, not an easy issue for religious leaders to address. (Locally, compare it to the difficult conversations in congregations around Black Lives Matter protesting at Mall of America or blocking  freeways to highlight police shootings.) Yet this is where faith gets tested.

Importantly, this is not just about DAPL, it is about a long and painful history between the United States and Native Americans that doesn’t get discussed. This is a critical question: How do we talk about these important and difficult issues within congregations?

Bruce Ough, resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of the United Methodist Church, issued the following statement in support of Standing Rock on Aug. 31, 2016.

Their protest is informed by the memory of broken treaties and disingenuous promises. Their protest reflects that water and ancestral grounds are sacred to the Lakota and Dakota peoples and cannot be owned or controlled or desecrated by themselves or others. Their protest is on behalf of all who rely on the Missouri waters for drinking, irrigation, and recreation all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. …

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?

Here are two more excepts from denominational statements:

ELCA presiding bishop Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, statement on Standing Rock (Nov. 14, 2016):

Acknowledging the complexity of this issue and the limitations sin places on human decisions, I believe that we are called as a church to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe: to stand with the Tribe as they seek justice, to encourage our congregations to pray for them and to offer material support, and to examine the racism inherent in our system that contributes to the current crisis. As promised in our resolution repudiating the doctrine of discovery, we will listen to tribal leaders and respect their wisdom.

The Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: Statement in support of the advocacy of the people of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation (Aug. 25, 2016)

I stand with the people of Standing Rock in their efforts to respect and protect the Missouri River. We know that the right to clean water is an internationally recognized human right and that all too often indigenous communities, other people of color, and our most vulnerable communities throughout the world are the ones most at risk of losing access to clean water. As we join the people of Standing Rock, we also recognize that their stand is one that joins the fight for racial justice and reconciliation with climate justice and caring for God’s creation as a matter of stewardship.

These are provocative statements that need discussion. For a complete list of denominational statements, click here and scroll down.

Sen. Udall “Extremely Worried” About Trump’s Approach to Indian Country

Last month Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the vice chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, issued a statement on President Trump’s executive order on DAPL and the Keystone XL pipeline. It reads in part:

By seeking to reverse President Obama’s decisions on the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, President Trump is showing the American people that his administration values the profits of the few over the national interest, the environment, and the deep and legitimate concerns of Tribal communities. … I am extremely worried about what President Trump’s abrupt reversal of these steps – at a time when parties are working to reduce tensions – forecasts for his administration’s approach to issues affecting Indian Country.

Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum Tries to Exempt Native American Programs from Hiring Freeze

Minnesota U.S. Rep Betty McCollum, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, “led a bipartisan group of House members writing to President Donald Trump on Wednesday urging him to exempt the Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other agencies that serve the needs of Native communities from his federal hiring freeze,” according to a statement from her office.

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