Pope Francis said that economic development projects on lands that have historically belonged to indigenous peoples should be subject to the "prior and informed consent" of those peoples, in remarks that could be applied to the controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States.
Speaking Wednesday to representatives of indigenous in Rome for a meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the pontiff said the right to development of lands must be balanced "with the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories."
"This is especially clear when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth," said the pope. "In this regard, the right to prior and informed consent should always prevail."
Francis also cited Article 32 of the U.N.'s 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which says that governments must "obtain … free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project" affecting indigenous communities.
That article of the declaration also states that governments "shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities."
The Dakota Access Pipeline is an underground oil pipeline from northwest North Dakota to southern Illinois. The Meskwaki, Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have opposed the project, saying it threatens their water supply and tribal burial grounds.
While the Obama administration had withheld permission for the project, President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum advancing its approval. The Army Corps of Engineers has since granted Dakota Access the easement to cross federally-owned land, saying the project is safe and will not affect water quality.