One of the most important actions of our time is taking place right now. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and thousands of Native and non-Native allies are peacefully camping near the junction of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, to protect the water from contamination. These are the waters that the Tribe relies on for its water supply. Water is life, water is sacred. This is a non-violent gathering to pray and to stand up for life, named the Camp of the Sacred Stones.
But construction has already begun on the Dakota Access Pipeline, meant to carry fracked crude oil from the Bakken plains through North and South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois where it will be refined. The plan is for the pipeline to go underneath the river, despite the risk that creates for the tribe and for millions of others who rely on the Missouri for water.
As the tribal spokespeople remind us, oil pipelines break, spill and leak—it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of where and when. In fact, a route close to Bismarck was deemed not viable due to its proximity to Bismarck, and the fact that the route crossed through or in close proximity to several wellhead source water protection areas, including areas that contribute water to municipal water supply wells. Yet despite these real consequences, the Army Corps of Engineers never took a hard look at the impacts of an oil spill on the Tribe, as the law requires. No explanation has been provided as to why the health of, and protection of water resources on which, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal members depend are any less significant or vital as those of the City of Bismarck.
Instead, now the pipeline is set to run through land that is sacred to the Tribe. Federal law requires that sacred places be protected in consultation with the Tribe, but the Corps has not complied with that requirement, either.
That is the bad news. But the good news is that thousands of people have rallied to stand in solidarity with the Tribe and for the water. In August, 10,000 people joined in prayers with the elders from the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation. Representatives from over 180 indigenous nations have offered support, along with faith leaders, the United Nations, and Amnesty International.
I am happy to say that my Unitarian Universalist colleagues and I are among those supporters. I sent a letter that was signed by 100 UU faith leaders. Here is what it said:
Mr. David Archambault II, Chairman, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Building 1, N. Standing Rock Avenue, P.O. Box D, Fort Yates, ND 58538
August 29, 2016
Dear Chairman Archambault,
We write as Unitarian Universalist faith leaders to let you know that our prayers and support are with you in your courageous actions against the Dakota Access Pipeline. We understand that the pipeline will cross treaty lands, burial grounds, and the Missouri River, the water source for the tribe as well as for millions of others. We are appalled that this project was approved and construction begun without any meaningful consultation with the tribe, counter to federal law and treaty obligations. We support you in your effort to protect your sacred land and water, as well as to create a future for all of our grandchildren.
We speak as people of faith whose principles call us to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. In these times, when the well-being of our entire ecosystem is threatened, we honor the leadership of Indigenous peoples who are showing us a path toward creating a more beneficial relationship to the earth and all beings of the earth.
We are writing to you to offer our support, and to let you know that we are also contacting our government officials to call on them to follow treaty and federal law obligations, and to protect the water which is so utterly necessary for all life on earth.
Sincerely… (signed by me and 99 other Unitarian Universalist leaders)
Will human beings continue to destroy the water and earth, or will we open our hearts to live with respect and gratitude? The next moment of decision is when a federal court will issue a ruling on September 9th. If you want to offer support for the earth, the water, and treaty obligations, you can find out more at the Standing Rock Tribal website.