Consult, respect indigenous peoples and their land, pope says

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Development projects involving
indigenous communities must be planned in consultation with them and must
respect their traditional relationship to the land, Pope Francis said.

Having the “prior and informed consent” of the
native communities who could be impacted by development projects is essential
for “peaceful cooperation between governing authorities and indigenous
peoples, overcoming confrontation and conflict,” the pope said Feb. 15
during a meeting with about three dozen representative of indigenous

The representatives from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin
America and the Caribbean were in Rome for continuing discussions with the
U.N.-related International Fund
for Agricultural Development. Their talks aim at ensuring development
projects impacting native communities are carried out in consultation with them
and that they respect their land, cultures and traditions.

“I believe that the central issue is how to reconcile
the right to development, both social and cultural, with the protection of the
particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories,”
the pope said. “This is especially clear when planning economic activities
which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship
to the earth.”

While none of the representatives were from North America, several
news outlets immediately connected the pope’s remarks to the ongoing protests over
the construction of a leg of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would go through
indigenous land in North Dakota. Several Sioux tribes have protested the
pipeline project saying it endangers the Standing Rock reservation’s water
supply and infringes on sacred tribal grounds.

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis praised the
indigenous communities for approaching progress “with a special care for Mother
Earth. In this moment in which humanity is committing a grave sin in not caring
for the earth, I urge you to continue to bear witness to this. And do not allow
new technologies — which are legitimate and good — but do not allow those that
destroy the earth, that destroy the environment and ecological balance, and
which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples.”

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