VATICAN CITY, FEBRUARY 17 – Pope Francis appeared on Wednesday to back Native Americans seeking to halt part of the Dakota Access Pipeline, saying indigenous cultures have a right to defend “their ancestral relationship to the earth”.
The Latin American pope made his comments to representative of tribes attending the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome. While he did not name the pipeline, he used strong and clear language applicable to the conflict, saying development had to be reconciled with “the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories”. Francis stressed the need to reconcile development, both social and cultural, with the protection of indigenous peoples and their territories, “especially when planning economic activities that may interfere with their cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth,” he said.
The 36-member delegation, which included representatives from the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), were in Rome to take part in the Third Global Meeting of the Indigenous People Forum of IFAD. During the morning meeting, the Pope emphasized the need for governments to pay attention to indigenous identity, and to generate guidelines and development approaches that include young people and women.
“For governments this means recognizing that indigenous communities are a part of the population to be appreciated and consulted, and whose full participation should be promoted at the local and national level,” he said.
Francis spoke two days after a U.S. federal judge denied a request by tribes to halt construction of the final link of the project that sparked months of protests by activists aimed at stopping the 1,170-mile line.
Mirna Cunningham, President of the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Autonomy and Development (CADPI), headed the delegation. “I think the Pope’s words are important,” she said. “He went straight to the point. We have to remember that technological and economic development is not progress in itself and IFAD can play a very big role with technical and financial support to ensure that these measure are considered with indigenous peoples.”
Antonella Cordone, Coordinator for Indigenous and Tribal Issues Policy and Technical Advisory Division at IFAD, said that “recognizing and institutionalizing indigenous peoples’ rights is essential, but we also have to work to set self-implementation strategies to support local economies. Otherwise we risk that indigenous peoples’ societies will disappear.”
The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have argued the project would prevent them from practicing religious ceremonies at a lake they say is surrounded by sacred ground. “In this regard, the right to prior and informed consent (of native peoples) should always prevail,” the pope said, citing the 1997 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.(@OnuItalia)