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Local clergy join Standing Rock protest

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Local clergy join Standing Rock protest
Rev. Mariama White-Hammond protested the North Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and, this Tuesday, at demonstrations in San Francisco. (Photo: Photo: Courtesy of Mariama White-Mammond)

When the call came for help, Rev. Mariama White-Hammond answered.

The associate minister of Boston’s Bethel AME Church was one of about a dozen local faith leaders who traveled to North Dakota earlier this month. Their aim: to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe members’ protest against construction of an oil pipeline many in the tribe say endangers their safety and culture and infringes on their rights.

Author: Ernesto ArroyoA #NoDAPL solidarity lockdown happened at TD Bank in Downtown Boston, one of several banks financing the construction of the pipeline. Four people used bike locks and lock boxes to lock themselves to the main entrance of the bank. Firefighters, police used saws and other equipment to cut them out and then arrest them.

A North Dakotan church leader issued the call to clergy, hoping 100 would arrive and bring strength and greater public attention to the Sioux protest, in the wake of increasingly violent responses from state troopers, White-Hammond said. Police have been documented using tear gas, tasers, guns that fire bean bags and sound cannons at what are reported to be largely peaceful protests.

Five hundred clergy, including White-Hammond’s delegation, mobilized.

White-Hammond says the cause gripped her personally as a black woman, Bostonian and member of the faith community.

The Bethel reverend has been fighting locally against a similar pipeline that cuts through West Roxbury, Dedham and Westwood. Federal law enforcement’s aggressive treatment of Standing Rock protestors evinces the same philosophy underlying police brutality toward black citizens, she said.

“Particularly in this post-election moment, it is hard not to see the connection between the history of race and what we are seeing now happen to black people in cities and to indigenous people in reservations in rural areas,” she told the Banner.

As a member of the clergy, she also wanted to openly disavow a Christian doctrine that has served an excuse for abuses against Native Americans, she said.

White-Hammond participated in the protests for three days, and joined clergy who spoke out at the State House — a number of whom were arrested.

North Dakota Access Pipeline

Thousands of Native American protestors and allies from throughout the world have been gathering near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota to oppose construction of the pipeline, which is already underway. The planned project would convey approximately 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day in a route that, for a stretch, underlies the Missouri River. Should a leak occur, it would imperil the 10,000 people living in the Standing Rock Sioux reservation who rely on the river for drinking water. Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based company behind the $3.7 billion project, says they are protecting against such an eventuality by using safety measures that exceed federal standards. But protestors contend that there is no way to guarantee against a leak, and that any risk of water contamination is too much.

Opponents further argue that another portion of the North Dakota Access Pipeline cuts through sacred tribal burial grounds. The pipeline traverses land that activists say belongs to the Sioux under an 1851 treaty with the federal government. Protestors add that the Sioux were not adequately engaged during the permitting process and that the pipeline promotes fossil fuel usage at a time when the government should be striving to limit the ravages of climate change.

Energy Transfer Partners states on its website that the project will reduce dependence on foreign oil and that pipelines are safer than other oil transportation methods, such as truck or rail.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has filed suit against the Army Corps of Engineers for allowing the project, which they say violates legal requirements that federally-permitted sites consider waterway impact and cultural significance.

Race and religion

White-Hammond said what she witnessed in North Dakota resonated deeply with her as a black person living in American. The federal government’s violation of its treaty with Native Americans echoes broken promises to African Americans, and law enforcement’s violent reaction to protestors parallels police brutality toward black civilians, she said.

“I met young man who was 15 and was shot off his horse with a bullet and has a bootprint bruise on his chest from where was kicked,” White-Hammond recounted. “I’m not sure if it was by a state trooper or a national guard — both were there. Then I thought about my own people, and how they’re treated by police.”

It was especially important for faith leaders to take a stand because the American government has used an 1800’s Christian edict, known as the Doctrine of Discovery, to justify seizing land from Native Americans as well as bringing enslaved Africans to the country to work that land, White-Hammond said. This doctrine holds that land can be seized from non-Christians and that those who do not convert can be killed or subjugated.

“We as people of clergy need to stand and say we take responsibility for the fact that the thinking that allows this pipeline is based on a Christina doctrine that we know is wrong, and we’re going to stand up and say it is wrong,” she said.

The religious activists who flocked to North Dakota in early November officially repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery.

Author: Photo: Courtesy of Mariama White-MammondReverend Mariama White-Hammond with protesters.

Boston connection

Public clashes against corporations to get safety concerns acknowledged and answered is not a fight unique to Standing Rock, White-Hammond noted. A similar protest has been happening locally, as citizens resist the West Roxbury Lateral gas pipeline. Opponents fear the project will endanger their neighborhoods through its proximity to an active quarry, thus risking an explosion. The pipeline runs near schools, residences and a nursing home.

The two pipeline projects also have corporate ties to Enbridge Energy Partners. Energy Transfer Partners is poised to sell a minority interest in the Dakota Access Pipeline to a joint venture partnership that includes Enbridge Energy Partners. The plans were announced in August, and while as of Oct. 31, the deal had not yet closed, it was expected to proceed. In September, Enbridge also announced a merger with Spectra Energy, the company behind the West Roxbury pipeline.

Boston filed an appeal on the West Roxbury pipeline project in federal court in February and oral arguments are scheduled for spring 2017, according to the Dedham Transcript.

Connection in a time of strife

Even as the presidential election reveals a yawning divide in the country, people also increasingly are coming together from across the nation and connecting around causes, White-Hammond said.

“There were people from all over the country there [in North Dakota,]” she recalled. “People felt very connected. People got very clearly the connection between this moment and our historical past, and the need to right this wrong and turn away from the past that continues to oppress some for the benefit of others.”