Reconstructionist students, rabbis and congregations are joining and supporting the Native-American led protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would run beneath the Missouri River. It is slated to be built near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles North Dakota and South Dakota.
Some are motivated to get involved from an environmental justice perspective; many are concerned the pipeline could lead to the contamination of the drinking water at Standing Rock. And many Jews identify with the Water Protectors' efforts to protect sacred spaces and preserve their own language, culture and spirituality.
Students and faculty at the Recononstructionist Rabbinical College have joined protesters on the front lines. They’ve put themselves in harm’s way to stand up for what they believe is just.
Other students have been unable to make the trip but have pitched in in other ways, participating in local protests and taking to social media. Two RRC students—Mackenzie Reynolds and Jessica Rosenberg, along with activist Monica Gomery—co-authored a new Jewish ritual, a Haskeveinu for Standing Rock.
And the Reconstructionist movement itself issued a strong statement opposing the pipeline and supporting the protesters:
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association express support for the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and the many Nations that join the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people at Standing Rock to protect their sacred sites and land, as well as the Missouri River. We are deeply disturbed by reports of an increasingly militarized and sometimes violent law enforcement response to what appears to be an entirely non-violent protest at Standing Rock.
Leaders of the Water Protectors have raised the objection that the pipeline as currently planned violates existing treaties between the United States and the Native people at Standing Rock, as well as the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to informed consent, redress, and protection of treaties and judicial proceedings and against desecration of land and militarization. Given the long history of the federal government violating its treaties with Native peoples, it is imperative that legal claims of new treaty violations be properly adjudicated before pipeline construction begins. The U.S. government, through many administrations, has stated that it practices a government-to-government relationship with Native nations. That key principle should be honored here.
As Jews, we understand very well the deep spiritual and historical meaning of caring for sacred lands and for burial grounds. We also resonate with the concerns over potential environmental damage that Native peoples are raising, in light of many Jewish values and sacred teachings on our obligation to be responsible stewards of the earth. Beginning with the Garden of Eden story in Genesis 2, we read that the role of humanity is to work and safeguard the land – it’s understood that we will work the land, but we are also required to safeguard it. The Torah’s institution of Shabbat and of the sabbatical year of rest for the land also speaks to the rights that the land itself has to cycles of rest and balance. Furthermore, the rabbis taught the values of bal tashchit (refraining from wasting or damaging resources) and tza’ar ba’aley chayim (avoiding causing unnecessary harm or suffering to living creatures). The Native peoples protesting the pipeline have concerns about the impacts of the pipeline on their water resources, on wildlife and on the future health of their lands. These are legitimate concerns.
We call on the Army Corps of Engineers, investors, pipeline companies, and elected officials to heed the call to stop the current construction plans for Dakota Access Pipeline, and for the issues being raised by the Native peoples in the area to be addressed with integrity and respect for the rights of Native peoples.