Episcopalians invited to support anti-pipeline protesters, join advocacy

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Aug 26, 2016

Dakota Access Pipeline protesters makes a statement about the threat they say the pipeline poses. Photo: No Dakota Access in Treaty Territory – Camp of the Sacred Stones

[Episcopal News Service] Following on his Aug. 25 statement supporting the protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is inviting Episcopalians to help support the Diocese of North Dakota as it ministers to the protesters.

That support, Curry and other Episcopal Church staffers said, could take the form of immediate help for the costs being incurred on the ground in the three protest camps on and near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and advocacy actions that can be taken to support the protesters’ concerns.

Organizers have indicated that they are in urgent need of portable toilets and roll-off trash containers. Their expenses include food that is prepared on site, health care and gasoline to reach the remote site, which has been made harder to reach by a law-enforcement roadblock set up on the main highway. Local parishes and congregations are providing material and spiritual resources to support to the protesters, and are in turn supported by the diocese.

“We have seen the resiliency of the protesters in Standing Rock, and as Bishop Curry stated, we are called to stand with them for all our sakes,” said Heidi Kim, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for racial reconciliation. “As Christians, I believe that one way we can demonstrate our solidarity is to help the clergy and congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota provide pastoral care and support. They are actively involved with supporting protesters’ immediate physical and spiritual needs, and they could use our help.”

Financial donations are being accepted by the diocese, according to the Rev. John Floberg, canon missioner for the Episcopal Church community on the Standing Rock reservation, who serves three congregations in the North Dakota part of the reservation: St. Luke’s in Fort Yates, St. James’ in Cannon Ball and Church of the Cross in Selfridge. “Money is best,” he said, “because we can purchase everything here or pay bills here that are incurred.”

Such donations can be made to the diocese via the “donate” button on its web page, referencing “Standing Rock” or “NODAPL.” They can also be mailed to the diocese at 3600 25th St. South, Fargo, ND 58104

The Rev. John Floberg stands near an Episcopal Church flag that was added to the flags of other organizations and tribes participating in the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo: John Floberg Facebook page

The Rev. John Floberg stands near an Episcopal Church flag that was added to the flags of other organizations and tribes participating in the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo: John Floberg Facebook page

Floberg said material donations are also acceptable but only those officially requested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Currently, those requests include jackets and hoodies, blankets, tents and infant formula. Nighttime temperatures are dropping into the 50s and there could be frost in early September, he said

Floberg can transport material donations to the camps and ensure their proper distribution and use. People wishing to make these sorts of donations must email him first at jffloberg@gmail.com to arrange shipment.

The protesters oppose the 1,154-mile pipeline that would run from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, carrying as much as 570,000 barrels of oil a day. The pipeline would cross Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River, just a half-mile from the reservation. Opponents say the pipeline will threaten the reservation’s drinking water and disturb sacred lands. The action has attracted the attention of celebrities such as Susan Sarandon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Divergent star Shailene Woodley, as well as from organizations such as the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

The protests, which succeeded this month in halting work on that part of the pipeline, are being compared to some of the most momentous events in American Indian history, and the Diocese of North Dakota has rallied behind the cause. It issued a statement of support Aug. 19 and diocesan members have been in the three protest camps helping build a unified presence and helping with material needs such as food.

Advocacy in support of the protesters’ goal is another way Episcopalians can help, according to Jayce Hafner, the Episcopal Church’s domestic policy analyst who works in the church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations and the Rev. Charles Allen Wynder Jr., a deacon, who is the church’s missioner for social justice and advocacy engagement

They said Episcopalians can:

* Contact their Congressional representatives and senators to ask them to request the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers do a complete environmental assessment that looks at the full implications of the pipeline that includes impact to the reservation and honors the treaty obligations (the people of Standing Rock are challenging the adequacy of process and content of the Corps’ environmental assessment issued in July.

* Ask the Army Corps of Engineers directly to do a complete environmental assessment that looks at the full implications of the pipeline that includes impact to the reservation and honors the treaty obligations; and

* Contact the U.S. Department of Justice and ask officials to monitor the nature and use of police and possible military equipment during the standoff.

Floberg said the protesters are living in three distinct camps on the north and south side of the mouth of the Cannonball River, a Missouri River tributary. The Camp of the Sacred Stones on the south side of the river on the Standing Rock reservation began in the spring when word of the pipeline’s construction began to emerge. Earlier this month “many more people starting coming” and a new camp sprung up on the north side of the river on some Corps-owned land. Protesters from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota joined the protest and formed a third camp. All three camps are near the town of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, home to St. James Episcopal Church.

While there are three distinct encampments “there’s no competition between these camps; they’re all together,” Floberg said.

More than 4,000 protesters have been in the camps at times and there has been a continuing presence more than 600, according to Floberg.

Osh Johnson, Diné Nation, cooks bread for the lunch meal at the Camp of the Sacred Stones, one of three camps set up along the Cannon Ball River in North Dakota to house protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo: No Dakota Access in Treaty Territory – Camp of the Sacred Stones

Osh Johnson, Diné Nation, cooks bread for the lunch meal at the Camp of the Sacred Stones, one of three camps set up along the Cannon Ball River in North Dakota to house protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo: No Dakota Access in Treaty Territory – Camp of the Sacred Stones

The protesters have been speaking out on social media about the lack of attention paid to the protest by national news media. While the New York Times recently reported on the protest, few other outlets have followed suit.

Floberg noted the six-week takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year by a group of armed anti-government militants garnered daily reporting by most major media.

“Those guys had weapons but they were far fewer in number – and they were consistently on the news,” he said. “This is a peaceful protection protest going on, and the national news just doesn’t seem to notice. That’s just been terribly disappointing.”

Floberg also countered what he said has been “a significant amount of misinformation” given out by government officials. “It’s been tearing apart the fabric of a common life of Native and non-Native people,” he said.

Native people have been referred to as “thugs” and been portrayed as “being engaged in unlawful activity,” he said. The Morton County sheriff said the roadblock on Highway 1806 was erected because there had been reports of gunfire, reports Floberg said have not been substantiated.

The sheriff, Floberg said, also claimed he had been told that there were reports of “pipe bombs” in the camps. Floberg said when Lakota people gather they have people known as pipe carriers who pray for the people with the sacred pipe that is “loaded” with tobacco. That ritual of “loading their pipes” has been twisted into saying the protesters are making pipe bombs, he said.

Floberg said, “It seems like there’s little regard for the truth because they’re trying to put pressure on this camp and squeeze any public support and sentiment to squelch that.”

“So I as an Episcopal priest am unable to have unfettered access to where I serve as a priest,” Floberg said, referring to St. James in Cannon Ball. “I have to drive an extra 40 miles from that roadblock” to get to church or to the “protection site” where he has been ministering.

He said he has protested to police officers at the roadblock that his First Amendment rights to free speech, assembly, and to practice his religion are being denied.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (25)

  1. Owanah Anderson says:

    I am so proud of my Church for standing with my people at Standing Rock, Owanah Anderson, Choctaw elder.

  2. Nancy Mott says:

    Proud of my Church, proud of the Diocese of North Dakota, proud of the protestors and of the Indian tribes gathering in unity. And I am puzzled, disturbed and angry that news media are ignoring and/or distorting this important human story.

  3. Donald Heacock says:

    If the pipeline runs outside the Reservation the tribe is out of line. The authorities should allow the.pipeline to.continue. I.suggest all including the P. B.shold stop using oil & its products. Get a horse.

    1. John Floberg says:

      This pie line is proposed to cross Treaty Land and that treaty also sites the Missouri River.

    2. John Floberg says:

      This area is part of the Treaty Lands as well as this water. It is completely within the concern of these people and their historical land and of the nation’s Treaty Obligations.

    3. Mairik says:

      Maybe they should run the pipeline in your backyard. Wonder if you’d still support it then??

    4. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

      The UN Declaration on the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls for “free, prior, and informed consent” for any project that impacts their environment. This project clearly violates their human rights. Further, sacred sites are to be protected. A survey found burial and cultural sites on the “private land,” and the tribes took it to court – the corporation, however, sent bulldozers to destroy some of the sites over a holiday weekend.

      This project violates treaties, and the use of attack dogs on protesters was unconscionable. With climate change, we are living in a world where we need to switch to sustainable energy sources and protect our water. This pipeline is all wrong in every way.

  4. Cindy Fleming says:

    First Nation Peoples have long been discounted and abused. If we truly are the Jesus movement then we must stand with them.

  5. Tina Sparks says:

    $3.7 billion dollar pipeline vs. Sioux ancestral lands…another shameful example of the rights of corporations vs. the rights of people! Episcopalians in SOLIDARITY with the Standing Rock Sioux of North Dakota🙏🏼🇺🇸💜

  6. Doug Desper says:

    I’m always the outlier, so here goes: we’re having a similar debate here in our area. There is opposition to a pipeline by people who don’t want their farmland encroached on. Yet, they use natural resources, own homes that need heat and electricity, drive vehicles that consume fuel, and live in communities that depend on energy for security. When it was pointed out that the gas company also had a pipeline underground for 80+ years that was well-maintained and never became an issue it dumbfounded the objectors. They couldn’t even locate it when asked to do so. Unless the objectors are going to go the full mile (so as not to look hypocritical) and return themselves to the days of open windows, horse and buggies, no plastic, home-woven clothing, root cellars for food storage, clotheslines, campfires, cotton-only Episcopal flags, and oil lamps then there has to be a realization that they rely on fuel energy which needs to be shipped. If there is a safety concern, shout it loudly and demand better construction. It is foolishness to dictate that pipelines and power grids zig-zag the landscape to avoid being on “my land”. The cost of energy will not be attainable with such unrealistic expectations. If people expect lost-cost energy then there must be well-built, safe infrastructure to bring it.

    1. John Sullivan says:

      Let’s at least demand well-built and safe infrastructure… but also care to where we are putting this infrastructure. Even a small leak can be catastrophic. Bismarck rejected this same pipeline upstream and so why should Standing Rock bear the possibility of their water supply being compromised? Sadly the possibility of the pipeline failing at some point is a strong possibility. You can find the data almost anywhere but here’s a sample: https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2015/05/22/oil-production-soars-pipeline-leaks-federal-data-show/gsjw49TbMexvnmsWf1dvxJ/story.html
      You raise some good questions about our consumption of and dependence on fossil fuels. Issues that Americans of all stripes need to seriously consider. Though your comments about “going the full mile” seem somewhat cynical (forgive me if I’m wrong) many people are doing just that along with a lot of other experiments in self reliance. I’m glad the Episcopal Church has taken a stand with Standing Rock and the gathering of the tribes. It’s historic and prophetic.
      Deacon John Sullivan
      Christ Church, Austin Minnesota

    2. Vicki Gibson says:

      Doug, you know that’s the same argument slave owners said of the abolitionists, right? “You smoke tobacco. You wear cotton clothes. You eat sugar.” Slave owners told abolitionists they had no right to complain because abolitionists participated in the slave economy. The fossil fuel economy is the modern-day equivalent of the slave economy. We are ALL part of the fossil fuel economy just like the abolitionist were part of the slave economy. The abolitionists weren’t just looking to change their clothes or their diet to avoid participating in the slave economy… they were looking to CHANGE THE SYSTEM and they did. Many of us are looking to change the system and we have the right and the responsibility to demand something different, a better system that is not based on destruction. We do not have to be environmentally “pure” to move in that direction.

  7. Power to the people of the Standing Rock, and the Episcopal churches there, in their fight to protect the land and water. What threatens the earth threatens all. Indigenous people see the earth as a relative, not something to be exploited. Looking at this from the perspective of economics is not valid in our view. -Bradley Hauff, Oglala Sioux.

    1. Nancy Pike says:

      Well said Bradley. I’m glad our Episcopal Churches have been there to support you!! I’m posting this (and others) because your rights are being dishonored and all of this is being suppressed by the media. We will donate and I just wish we were closer; we would gladly join your protest camp!! Prayers my friend!!

  8. Connie Mack says:

    I am not an Episcopalian but this caught my eye and I commend you for you stand and that your Diocese in ND is supporting the occupation. I am a Unitarian Universalist and I looked to see if our denomination has taken a stand yet, but apparently not. You are ahead of us on your speaking out on this issue. I hope to see something from the UUA soon.

  9. Rich Basta says:

    I tend to agree with Doug Desper. I believe as long as good faith and reasonable efforts are made to ensure the pipeline is safe, I don’t see a problem with it. Doesn’t the Army Corp of Engineers have to do an environmental impact statement before signing off on it? If they didn’t, or cut corners on it, then I think the protesters concerns , and the ECUSA’s support of same would be buttressed. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see a victim or oppressor here. I appreciate the chance to offer my thoughts in a respectful manner.

    1. Henry McQueen says:

      Rich, a point of interest that you raise: my reading on the topic indicates that the pipeline project has been broken into many many little projects that individually don’t require an environmental impact statement. The issue on this is that the many many little projects (sorry I forget if it was hundreds or thousands and don’t want to mislead) are actually one large pipeline. So through a questionable legal procedure the need for an environmental impact statement has been avoided; at least for now unless the courts rule differently.

  10. Rich Basta says:

    A Prayer for the Bakken Pipeline:
    Dear Jesus, you came so that we may have life and have it in abundance. Thank you for the blessings of abundant oil, which comes from deep within the womb of the Earth, our island home. Bless the oil company workers as they harvest the oil safely for our use. We were anointed with oil at our baptism, and so we know it is a symbol of your love and warmth. May those who benefit from its production have a living wage to lessen the burden of income inequality. May the schools funded from the taxes on this resource be centers of growth and renewal for our children. Give strength and alertness of mind to those who stand watch over the pipeline to ensure that the rest of your creation is not spoiled beyond our capability to restore it. This we ask in your name. Amen.

    1. Clint Smith says:


    2. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

      A very provocative prayer with a clear bias. One could just as easily write a prayer for justice for indigenous people and a deeper wisdom for right relationship and use of Creation.

      The history of pipeline leakage is distressing. The same project was rejected for Bismark, ND. Why would it be OK for native people but not white people?

  11. Diana Nichols says:

    I would LOVE to make a donation, but it appears using the link you provide that there is no way to designate the donation to Standing Rock or NODAPL – it defaults to the diocese with no way to make a notation. Anybody know if I’m doing something wrong? I tried both ways with PayPal and without and in both instances found NO WAY to make an intentional designation.

  12. Henry McQueen says:

    As we all choose how to respect the dignity of every human being and share in the care of all creation I am thankful for TEC choosing to stand with Native Americans as they stand to protect their sacred sites and the water from which life flows.

  13. Billye Johnson says:

    Once again, the Episcopal Church has made me so proud to be a member. Thank you for standing with our Native American brothers and sisters — the true First Americans.

  14. Sarah Yergin says:

    I’d love to donate a small sum (I’m on Social Security), but I don’t see a link to donate through any of the usual channels. Please advise.

  15. Kirk King says:

    I have been an Episcopalian my whole life. I have been a pipeline welder for 11 years. There is nothing unsafe about pipeline transportation. I feel the church has no business sticking its nose in matters like these. Something you have no concept of. That includes gun control. Also I’ve never been so upset to be an Episcopalian as the past 17 years. We need to stick to religion and spreading the word of God. Not using our resources to support a cause that you have no understanding of. The permitting process for this job was correctly and legally followed and took a year to do so. If you have any questions please ask.
    Your Episcopal brother
    Kirk King

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