November 2016 Church & State - November 2015

Native Americans Protest Construction Of N.D. Pipeline On Ancestral Land

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Native Americans who oppose the construction of a pipeline in North Dakota are protesting, arguing that land they consider sacred would be harmed in the process.

Protests started in northwestern North Dakota near lands owned by the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. They have since spread to several other states and Washington, D.C.

In early September, the protest in North Dakota briefly turned violent. Tribal officials said construction workers destroyed Indian burial sites on private land, leading pro­testers to confront security guards at the pipeline site. Four security guards were injured, and tribal officials say a number of protesters were hit with pepper spray.

David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Tribe, criticized the construction in a statement.

“This demolition is devastating,” Archambault said. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”

The protests are designed to raise awareness about a proposed 1,100-mile oil pipeline project that would carry crude oil from the Bakken Shale, an oil formation in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico. The $3.7 billion project would run in part through federally owned land that is close to the reservation.

In response to the protests, some of which took place in other countries, the Obama administration agreed in September to temporarily halt some of the construction on government-owned land. It also asked the private corporation building the pipeline to postpone the entire project.

Meanwhile, a federal judge denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux to stop the project. That’s not surprising, given that at least one U.S. Supreme Court case makes it difficult for the Native Americans’ argument to prevail. In the 1988 decision Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, the high court said that construction of a road through California lands considered sacred to Native Americans “does not violate the First Amendment regardless of its effect on the religious practices of the respondents because it compels no behavior contrary to their belief.”

News agencies reported that federal officials will meet with Native American representatives soon to discuss the pipeline project and how similar projects can be handled in the future in a manner that respects tribal concerns.

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