Pipeline protest and the bigger picture


Whether you call them “water protectors” or “protestors,” members of the Standing Rock Indian reservation adamantly oppose construction of a section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in their North Dakota home. They believe the pipeline jeopardizes not only the reservation’s water supply in Cannon Ball, N.D., but the earth which they hold sacred. Supporters tout the pipeline for its economic and environmental benefits as well as being safer than rail and truck transportation. The bigger question: how do we, as people of faith and citizens of the United States, reconcile the demands of today’s economy with people’s rights and good stewardship of the earth for future generations?

Most of the 1,172-mile-long pipeline has been constructed and with little protest from other stakeholders along the route in the Dakotas, Iowa and Illinois. How many of us realize that more than 2 million miles of pipeline carry crude oil, petroleum and other energy products across America every day? (http://www.daplpipelinefacts.com/)

In Iowa, number one in corn production, it’s tough to argue against the chairman of Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now who extolled the pipeline’s benefits for Iowa in the Cedar Rapids Gazette (July 8, 2015). “… Our state relies heavily on affordable petroleum products, like diesel fuel for its agricultural economy, and this project helps stabilize and keep the price of crude oil competitive,” Ed Wiederstein wrote.

Standing Rock members and supporters have stalled construction of a segment of the $3.7 billion pipeline planned a half-mile upstream from the North Dakota reservation. They express concern about land rights and preservation in general and that a pipeline leak into the Missouri River would impact the reservation’s primary source of water (see www.standingrock.org).


The water protectors acknowledge their fight is much bigger than potential threats to the water supply. They’re raising their voices on behalf of indigenous rights and the trampling of those rights by the American government since at least the 1800s. Their care for mother earth is also a legitimate concern.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stalled granting of an easement to allow Dakota Access to lay pipe beneath Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir at the contested site. In a Nov. 14 statement, the Army Corps said it did so “in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easements through government property.”

Now the Army Corps is closing access Dec. 5 to the campsite where the water protectors are keeping vigil, which exacerbates the impasse. Creation of a free speech zone south of the contested site is not acceptable to the pipeline opponents. It’s time to bring the Standing Rock Sioux, Dakota Access officials and government representatives to the table to work out a solution.

Catholic Rural Life issued a statement that its members “join with those praying for peaceful resolution while faithfully discerning how to achieve social and environmental justice for members of the Standing Rock Indian reservation.” Yes, bring this issue to prayer, and let us act after discernment. This requires making some difficult choices. We need to honor and make good long-ago commitments to an oppressed people, be more intentional in conserving resources, initiate a change in energy usage and accept higher prices for those of us who can afford to do so. Scripture teaches us that we are to serve the poor, the hungry and the oppressed and to be good stewards of God’s creation. We are called to ensure that all of creation can flourish.

As people of faith, we can’t continue to accept business as usual. Pope Francis provides the framework for our discernment in his encyclical “Laudato Si,” Care for our Common Home. He describes three fundamental relationships that impact human flourishing: Our relationship with God, with each other and with all of creation. Let’s ask Congress and our president-elect to begin the conversation, first of all with the Standing Rock Sioux.

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)

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