Two Native American tribes are fighting the Dakota Access oil pipeline in a federal court, but on Wednesday they appeared to get support from a higher authority — Pope Francis.
Pope Francis, a longtime defender of indigenous rights, said that the need to reconcile development with those rights was “especially clear when planning economic activities that may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the Earth,” according to a report by Reuters.
Although he did not mention the Dakota Access pipeline by name, the Vatican City press suggested Francis appeared to have that project in mind. “Do not allow those that destroy the Earth, which destroy the environment and the ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples,” the pope said, according to Reuters.
This was not the first time the pope has indirectly commented on U.S. issues. Earlier he criticized Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico. “In the social and civil context as well, I appeal not to create walls, but to build bridges,” Francis said, according to the AP. “To not respond to evil with evil. To defeat evil with good, the offense with forgiveness. A Christian would never say ‘you will pay for that.’ Never.”
Building and burying an oil pipeline across four states is a question of earthly legal intricacies, not the views of the pope.
Yet the tribes have appealed on religious grounds, saying the pipeline interferes with the exercise of beliefs. The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes had asked in a filing last week that a D.C. federal judge halt construction of the Dakota Access pipeline because it would endanger what they called sacred waters of the Missouri River.
“The waters of the Missouri are also sacred to the tribe and are central to the tribe’s practice of religion,” they said. They argued that the very presence of a pipeline below the river and Lake Oahe would “unbalance and desecrate the water.”
The U.S. District judge, James Boasberg, declined to stop construction, but he scheduled an additional hearing on the matter for Feb. 27.
“In this regard, the right to prior and informed consent (of native peoples) should always prevail,” the pope said on Wednesday, citing the 1997 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The pope, who spoke in Spanish, was addressing the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome.
The tribes on Tuesday filed a new motion asking that construction be halted, alleging that the Army Corps of Engineers had violated the Administrative Procedures Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.