Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches, stood before a crowd of hundreds of people Monday afternoon at Leif Erickson Park to state the shared belief of many religious leaders that the state should reject the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline on moral grounds.
“Oftentimes the faith community historically has been on the wrong side, particularly as it relates to indigenous communities and sovereign nations who we are in relationship with.” DeYoung said. “Today we decided to be on the right side.”
The event was organized by the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign, and Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MN IPL), and had the support of the Minnesota Council of Churches. (Star Tribune article here.)
The event, held just west of the state Capitol, included civil rights songs, a Jewish cantor, a brass band, chants, and a Buddhist moment of silence. It included indigenous prayer and truth-telling. It included a number of brief speeches from religious leaders from different traditions. But the event’s main goal was to Stop Line 3. To that end, the group delivered an interfaith letter opposing Line 3 to both Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Some 540 faith leaders signed.
The interfaith Line 3 letter reads in part:
At its core, this is a moral issue. Many of us signing this letter come from Christian and other traditions that in recent years have taken formal positions acknowledging the role of our faith institutions in the mistreatment and deep trauma done to Indigenous peoples. … We have committed ourselves to seeking ways forward for healing and repair. Our signatures here represent an effort to live out that commitment.
The list of signers from mainline Protestant churches included: Rev. Brian Prior, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota; Rev. Bruce Ough, Bishop of Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church; Elona Street-Stewart, a Ruling Elder and Executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies for the Presbyterian Church USA (a multi-state Synod that includes Minnesota); Rev. Sharon Prestamon, Conference Minister and CEO of the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ; and Rev. Ann Svennungsen, Bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Leaders from other traditions signed the letter, too, including Rabbi Alexander Davis, Beth El Synagogue and co-chair of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association; Imam Asad Zaman of the Muslim American Society in Minnesota, Sosan Flynn, guiding teacher at Clouds in Water Zen Center in St. Paul; and Nancy Cramblit, president of the board of directors for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Mankato.
The event started with ceremonies at Leif Erickson Park. A delegation of letter signers then walked to the Capitol to deliver a copy of the letter to Dayton’s office. (Dayton doesn’t have a decision-making role in the pipeline, but pipeline opponents have been urging him to use his bully pulpit to speak out against it.)
Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries, associate minister at Mayflower United Church of Christ and a representative of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, presented the letter to Cathy Polasky, a senior policy advisor to Dayton.
“We stand before you representing a great cloud of witnesses as the Public Utilities Commission consider this month its decision on Line 3,” Goldthwaite Fries said. “We pray that all who serve the State of Minnesota will remember their sacred responsibility to protect the land and water and air for seven generations to come.”
The larger group then walked to downtown St. Paul to the Metro Square building’s third floor, cramming in front of the PUC offices. Prior to delivering a copy of the letter there, Rabbi Arielle Rosenberg of Shir Tikva spoke (and sang):
It is not easy to keep walking when what we do is collide against oppression. It is not easy to find each other and to look in each other’s eyes and say “Hello,” when we have been trained, day after day, to normalize oppression. We have been trained, day by day, by this society, to passively accept looking past each other.
Today we have a challenge. We are in the middle of this walk together. We have the challenge of how it is that we will continue to show up and continue to find each other and to continue to make our work a blessing for each other, in the midst of this long road.
How do we carry the humility to know that we are not the first people to have been walking this road? We walk this road because of, and thanks to, and in honor of or elders and our ancestors who have walked this road and showed us [the way].
The PUC is expected to vote on Line 3 in late June.
Native leaders spoke, too, including Tara Houska, the National Campaigns Director for Honor the Earth, Jim Bear Jacobs, founder of Healing Minnesota Stories, and Rose Whipple, one of the Youth Climate Interveners.
Houska criticized Enbridge’s recent newspaper ad campaign. The ad talked about how Line 3 would help lower prices at the gas pump. That’s not true, she said, the oil is for foreign markets. The ad says Enbridge cares about tribal sovereignty. That’s not true, either, Houska said. “All five impacted nations have said ‘no’ to this pipeline. Consultation is not consent.”
The ad also said that Enbridge cares about wild rice, Houska said. In fact, the pipeline would carry 900,000 barrels a day of dirty tar sands oil through 4,000 acres of sacred wild rice. Wild rice “is at the heart of my people, of Anishinaabe people,” she said. “It is who we are. It is a sacred, sacred grain to us. To destroy that is to destroy our culture.”
Jacobs, who is Mohican and an associate pastor at Church of All Nations in Columbia Heights, said centuries ago, Christian clergy encountered native communities and were motivated by the sole purpose of civilizing the savages. “Today we stand on the dawn of new interactions between clergy and indigenous communities,” he said. Today, clergy are coming to indigenous communities and saying: “Please, show us how to be civilized.”
Whipple (Isanti Dakota and Ho-Chunk) talked about her recent trip to the Vatican with the Indigenous Youth Ceremony and Mentor Society. They met with Papal emissaries to ask them to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. Whipple explained:
The Doctrine of Discovery was created by the Vatican in the 15th Century and it gave Christian explorers the right to claim any land it ‘discovered’ for the Christian monarchs,” she explained. “Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be stolen, claimed, and exploited.. … Millions of my people died because of this Doctrine. My people are now less than 1 percent of the country when we used to be 100 percent of it.
Whipple made the following connection:
We are still affected by this Doctrine to this day. And Enbridge building Line 3 directly through our treaty territories and wild rice beds, and putting their man camps right next to our communities is a fine example of that.