At its core, most simple level, the #NoDAPL protest is about a pipeline. But one of the reasons it has garnered so much support — especially nationally — is because the situation is viewed as an opportunity to right past wrongs, or at least an opportunity to learn from those past wrongs and do better today.
And that same idea was formally adopted this past summer by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in its resolution repudiating the “doctrine of discovery.” The doctrine of discovery was the judicial precedent handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1823 that justified the seizing of inhabited lands from Native Americans under the premise of discovery.
That action by the ELCA prompted a letter earlier this month from the Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in which she declared the church’s position to be in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. You can read her full letter on the matter here, but the relevant portion is below:
Acknowledging the complexity of this issue and the limitations sin places on human decisions, I believe that we are called as a church to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe: to stand with the Tribe as they seek justice, to encourage our congregations to pray for them and to offer material support, and to examine the racism inherent in our system that contributes to the current crisis. As promised in our resolution repudiating the doctrine of discovery, we will listen to tribal leaders and respect their wisdom.
— Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop, ELCA
Predictably, the letter drew the ire of many in Western North Dakota where we are most affected by the protest. As a result, Mark Narum, the Bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod of the ELCA, penned his own response. Again, you can read Mr. Narum’s full response here, but the pertinent excerpt follows below:
I have shared my disappointment with Bishop Eaton that her statement did not acknowledge the effects the protests are having locally. Ranchers and farmers are having their lives disrupted, their businesses impacted and their private property damaged. There is no mention in the Presiding Bishop’s statement of the toll being taken on law enforcement officers and their families. There is no mention of the difficult work going on locally behind the scenes to build understanding, seek creative solutions and fight racism. In other words, the statement is written for a national audience, and our local realities are not being fleshed out.
— Mark Narum, Bishop, Western North Dakota Synod, ELCA
Understandably, the protest has been enormously life-disrupting for those living closest to it and tasked with maintaining law and order near it. And with the Corps of Engineer’s softening their resolve to remove protesters from Corp land, we can probably get comfortable dealing with this for the foreseeable future.