A Battle Won for Standing Rock: Reflecting on the Dakota Access Pipeline and Laudato Si’


     “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sins also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’ (Rom 8:22)” (Laudato Si, Praef. 2, emphasis mine).

     This quotation from the beginning of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si‘, is a striking one when considered in the light of last year’s events at Standing Rock when it was  officially announced that an easement would not be given to the Dakota Access Pipeline. What this means essentially is this: the pipeline will not go forward, for now. On the one hand, this is a great win for those of us who have stood, physically or in solidarity from afar, with the protesters and above all the actual Native Americans who live at Standing Rock. But the war is far from over.

     The US Army is merely taking more time to discuss what may need to be done. While it is likely the pipeline will be moved (unless a future administration decides to go back on what has been decided) it will still have to cross the Missouri River somewhere. This may or may not negatively effect the drinking water of the Sioux people, but if it crosses the river and the pipeline fails, it will negatively effect someone’s drinking water, and just as bad, it will negatively affect the water itself, which too is our brother.

     And this brings me back to Pope Francis’ encyclical. The final sentence of the paragraph I quoted above from Laudato Si’ goes as follows: “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Get 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air, and we receive life and refreshment from her water.” The issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline not only sheds light on our mistreatment of Native Americans, or the class warfare implicit in moving the pipeline from its origin crossing point near Bismark to its present point near Standing Rock, it is an issue of Catholic Social Teaching, it is an issue of theology. This is, as the good Pope reminds us, our common home.

     Why common? Because it is equally owned, and yet equally unownable, by all except its, and our, Creator. Dirt matters. It matters on its own account, because it was created by and participates in God. It matters because we are made of it. It matters all the more because the body of Christ is ultimately made from it too, and so dirt––as well as all the rest of creation––has been united to his divinity. As I’ve mentioned before, Stratford Caldecott has argued that angels, logoi, stand behind the various kinds of animals. I cannot help but wonder if this too applies to vegetable and mineral creation. If so, this adds yet more dignity to the dirt (not that it needs more); and so too with the water we drink, the water that gives life, the water turned to wine and the wine turned to blood which is mixed again with water.

     We must continue to stand with the people of Standing Rock. We must remind ourselves that just as this is political, social, moral it too is theological (we might even say precisely insofar as it is political, social, and moral). We cannot let this die, just because a battle has been won. We must continue to fight, to stand up for the poor and the oppressed. And we must remember that the poorest and most oppressed amongst us is our home itself. Creation is groaning, awaiting the revelation of the sons of God. It is our job to be of service to her and to one another until that day arrives. Let’s be about our work. Laudato Si’.

By David Russell Mosley

(Read more by David Russell Mosley at his blog, Letters from the Edge of Elfland)