Pope Signals Support For Native American Campaign Against Trump-Backed Dakota Access Pipeline

Pope Francis, who appeared to back Native Americans in their bid to stop part of the Dakota Access pipeline, saying indigenous cultures have a right to defend 'their ancestral relationship to the Earth'.Reuters

Pope Francis yesterday appeared to back Native Americans in their bid to stop part of the Dakota Access pipeline championed by Donald Trump, saying indigenous cultures have a right to defend 'their ancestral relationship to the Earth'.

The Pope was speaking two days after a US federal judge denied a request to halt the final link of the project that sparked months of protests by activists aimed at stopping the 1,170-mile line. Trump signed executive orders to allow construction of the pipeline shortly after he took office. 

Francis, who has often strongly defended indigenous rights since his election in 2013, made his comments to representative of tribes attending the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome.

While he did not name the pipeline, the Latin American Pope said development had to be reconciled with 'the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories'.

Speaking in Spanish, he said the need to protect native territories was 'especially clear when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the Earth'.

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have argued the project would prevent them from taking part in 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,' said the Pope, citing the 1997 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Thousands of tribe members, environmentalists and others set up camps last year on US army corps of engineers land in the North Dakota plains as protests intensified.

In December, Barack Obama's administration denied the last permit needed by Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the $3.8bn pipeline.

But last week, the army corps of engineers granted a final easement, after Donald Trump issued an order to advance the project days after he took office in January.

The Pope added: 'Do not allow those which destroy the earth, which destroy the environment and the ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples.'

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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