DAPL Rorschach Test: Pope Appears to Back Standing Rock While Pipeline Exec Sees Terrorists

Pope Francis appeared to back the Standing Rock Nation’s efforts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), “saying indigenous cultures have a right to defend ‘their ancestral relationship to the earth,'” according to a story published Wednesday in Reuters.

While [the Pope] 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”.  …

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”.

Some comments on a listserve of Native American scholars and allies took the Pope to task for being a late comer, noting that the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) passed in 2007. (In fairness to Francis, he did not become Pope until 2013.)

Pope Francis’ statement stands in stark contrast to an oil company executive who is comparing the DAPL protestors to terrorists, according to a Wednesday story in Minnesota Public Radio. Joey Mahmoud, executive vice president of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, made his comments at a hearing before a U.S. House energy subcommittee, it said.

Mahmoud said protestors assaulted company personnel, destroyed millions of dollars of equipment and fired a pistol at law enforcement: “Had these actions been undertaken by foreign nationals, they could only be described as acts of terrorism,” he said.

Mahmoud’s statement is ludicrous, an effort to demonize people, generate fear, and (unbelievably) cast a billion-dollar enterprise as a victim.

Let’s break it down.

First, terrorists use surprise attacks on an unsuspecting and unarmed people; they are the aggressors. This protest was in plain sight with clearly stated goals. No surprises here. Mahmoud fails to mention the extreme measures taken by Energy Transfer Partners and law enforcement to instill fear and terror. They were the aggressors.  They set the stage with highly militarized tactics and equipment: attack dogs, riot gear, water cannons, mace, rubber bullets and sleep deprivation measures. These tactics unnecessarily escalated the situation.

Second, there are any number of people in this country who commit crimes every day, the very same assault and property damage charges Mahmoud levels against some protestors. Generalize Mahmoud’s argument and it sounds ridiculous: All alleged criminal in this country are terrorists because had their actions been undertaken by foreign nationals, they could only be described as acts of terrorism.

Lastly, the great majority of water protectors rooted their actions in prayer and peaceful resistance. That observation has been echoed by any number of observers, including religious leaders who traveled to the camps. One has to wonder whether the highly militarized response to the peaceful water protectors was to trigger a violent reaction by a few that would create the justification to crack down on everyone.

Meanwhile, Standing Rock was back in court Tuesday, again asking the judge for a summary judgment stopping DAPL, according to a story in Indian Country Media Network. This was expected.

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