A Tucson pastor ended up in handcuffs last week after kneeling on the lawn of the North Dakota governor’s mansion as part of the protest against a proposed oil pipeline.
The Rev. Alison Harrington of Southside Presbyterian Church, which is known for social justice work with undocumented migrants, was arrested during a protest of the Dakota Access pipeline.
Protesters said the pipeline could threaten the water supply and sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux.
She was charged with a misdemeanor count of criminal trespass and spent the weekend in the Cass County jail in Bismarck. She is one of more than 400 people who were arrested in recent months in protest of the pipeline.
Law enforcement officers in riot gear faced off with protesters in recent weeks, prompting headlines around the country and a rush of protesters, including about 500 clergy members who answered a call for solidarity from a North Dakota priest.
“I was just feeling pulled to be there,” Harrington said Friday after returning to Tucson from North Dakota.
At Standing Rock, she and other clergy felt particularly moved to action due to the fact “the pipeline is being laid because of church doctrine,” Harrington said.
The Catholic Church’s centuries-old Doctrine of Discovery legitimized settlers taking land from Native Americans and the clergy gathered in Standing Rock to repudiate the doctrine, she said.
“We are here to say that we were wrong,” they said at a ceremony with tribal leaders in which a copy of the doctrine was burned.
Clergy prayed with the protesters, known as “water protectors,” but Harrington said she felt more action was needed.
“Prayer is a beautiful thing and it’s the thing that we need to begin with, but it’s not the thing we should end with,” she said.
So on Nov. 3 she and four other clergy members, all of whom expected to be arrested, decided to kneel on the lawn of the governor’s mansion in an attempt to “see if we might have a cup of tea with him and talk some sense into him” about opposing the pipeline. That’s when they were arrested.
The $3.7 billion, 1,200-mile pipeline is being built to transport oil from North Dakota to a distribution center in Illinois, according to Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline. The company’s website says about 470,000 barrels of oil would travel through the 30-inch diameter pipeline daily.
Clergy from a variety of denominations — including Tucson’s United Church of Christ, St. George’s Episcopal Church in Holbrook, and Amado’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation Church — traveled to North Dakota to protest the pipeline and the law enforcement tactics used to push protesters away.
When Harrington’s arrest was announced at a service last Sunday, members of the Tucson congregation clapped in support, said Kenneth Kennon, a former pastor of the Christian Church of Disciples of Christ and longtime congregation member of Southside Presbyterian.
“I’m personally very pleased with what she’s doing,” Kennon said, adding he cannot speak for everyone in the congregation.
The church’s support for Native American rights shows the church returning to its roots, Kennon said.
The church was founded in 1906 to serve Tohono O’odham families who moved to Tucson to build the railroads, but couldn’t find a house of worship.
Native Americans still make up a significant portion of the congregation and the church has supported protests at Wounded Knee in 1973 and at Oak Flat last year to help the San Carlos Apache tribe stop a mining project.
“People kind of know us as the migrant rights, the sanctuary church — and we certainly affirm that aspect of our identity — but it’s more than that for us,” Harrington said. “It’s more about how we understand ourselves as a people of faith, called to love one another and called to spread that love.”