Native Americans Standing Up Against Dakota Access Pipeline

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Holding down two fronts in the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Native Americans and supporters are swelling in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and outside a courthouse in Washington, D.C.

Joining several hundred members of North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in D.C., actors Susan Sarandon, Shailene Woodley, and Riley Keough added their voices of support. Everyone was awaiting the judge’s decision to impose a legal injunction halting the pipeline’s construction.

Filed by EarthJustice on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the legal motion called for a preliminary injunction on the Dakota Access Pipeline because it threatens to desecrate sacred tribal lands and pollute the water. Traveling through the Tribe’s ancestral lands, it will also pass within a half of a mile of the present Sioux reservation. EarthJustice stated, “An oil spill at this site would constitute an existential threat to the Tribe’s culture and way of life.”

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II added, “The pipeline presents a threat to our lands, our sacred sites and our waters, and the people who will be affected must be heard.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

With about 15,000 members across the US, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has around 8,000 members living on tribal lands in North Dakota. Archambault and Tribe officials say that, by crossing Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, the pipeline will disturb sacred sites and burial grounds on ancestral Treaty lands.

Archambault stated, “We have laws that require federal agencies to consider environmental risks and protection of Indian historic and sacred sites. But the Army Corps has ignored all those laws and fast-tracked this massive project just to meet the pipeline’s aggressive construction schedule.”

The Tribe fears the pipeline could spill and contaminate the river, which supplies irrigation and drinking water, and holds great spiritual and cultural value for Native Americans.

EarthJustice Attorney Jan Hasselman noted, “Pipelines spill and leak—it’s not a matter of if, but when. Construction will destroy sacred and historically significant sites. We need to take a time out and ensure that the Corps follows the law before rushing ahead with permits.”

In January 2015, more than 50,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilled into Montana’s Yellowstone River. In 2010, the Kalamazoo River in Michigan was the site of an even worse pipeline spill. One million gallons of toxic bitumen crude oil spilled into the river, costing over one billion dollars to clean up. Contamination still remains there, reports Earthjustice.

210,000 gallons of crude oil leaked out of a 16-inch pipeline just south of Staples, MN, in December 2009. “Pipelines spill and leak—it’s not a matter of if, but when,” says EarthJustice attorney Jan Hasselman. Credit:
210,000 gallons of crude oil leaked out of a 16-inch pipeline just south of Staples, MN, in December 2009. “Pipelines spill and leak—it’s not a matter of if, but when,” says EarthJustice attorney Jan Hasselman. Credit:

The Dakota Access Pipeline

The Dakota Access Pipeline is also known at the Bakken Oil Pipeline. It is a $3.8 billion project being built by a group of companies led by Energy Transfer Partners, including Sunoco Logistics Partners, Phillips 66, and others.

The controversial pipeline threatens far more than sacred Native Americans’ ancestral lands. Covering 1,168 miles, it also threatens farms, communities, wildlife habitats, and sensitive natural areas. Expected to transport 450,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil a day, it will traverse North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. From there it will be linked up with another pipeline transporting the oil to US Gulf Coast terminals and refineries.

The Dakota Access Pipeline threatens Native Americans lands. Credit: Wikipedia commons
The Dakota Access Pipeline threatens Native Americans’ sacred sites. Credit: Wikipedia commons

North Dakota’s Camp of the Sacred Stones

As the crowd of Native Americans, activists, and supporters demonstrating outside the US District Court in Washington, DC, is growing, the crowd in North Dakota is swelling, too. The Camp of the Sacred Stones, as the protest site has been named, has grown to over 2,500 people living in trailers, teepees, and tents four miles north of Cannon Ball.

In April, when the grassroots campaign against Dakota Access began, there were only a few dozen activists in the camp. When the US Army Corps of Engineers approved the section of pipeline crossing waterways near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in late July, the tribe and fellow activists sued to stop construction. Gaining media attention and support, people began arriving in the hundreds to join the protest.

The Tribe’s legal suit argues that the Corps of Engineers did not adequately survey the route for cultural artifacts, nor fully assess the pipeline’s environmental impacts. It also alleges that the pipeline violates the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“All the tribe wants,” Archambault said, “is that the pipeline not be built across Treaty lands.” Responding to a request for “proclamations, resolutions and/or letters of support,” Sioux tribal officials report that numerous Native American tribes have expressed support for the Standing Rock Sioux.

Native Americans and supporters protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Credit:
Protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Credit:

Tension is Rising Between Pipeline Protesters & Proponents

To the disappointment of the Sioux and supporters, District Court Judge James Boasberg delayed his decision on the injunction until September 9, with a follow-up status hearing set for September 14. An injunction would provide more time for the court to evaluate the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s claims that the pipeline is in violation of federal statutes. But the delay is ramping up the tension between pipeline protesters and proponents.

Offering a voice of support for Native Americans’ rights, activist and Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon spoke outside of the Washington, DC courthouse. “I’m here as a mother and a grandmother,” she said, “to thank the people of the Standing Rock community for bringing our attention to this horrible thing that is happening to their land, which in turn will endanger all of us … because all of our waters are connected.”

Also among the Native Americans and activists in Washington, DC, was Bold Alliance President Jane Kleeb. She noted optimistically that the court’s delay would give more time for protesters to organize and put pressure on the Obama Administration to intervene.

In Camp of the Sacred Stones, the judge’s delay was discouraging. Honor the Earth’s Tara Houska said, “I think folks are frustrated.” Houska is the national campaigns director for the indigenous environmental justice group. She continued, “I’m frustrated… [But] it is not going to dampen our efforts to ensure this pipeline doesn’t get built.”

Native Americans’ Rights Have Been Trampled On

Prior to last Wednesday’s hearing, Energy Transfer Partners had agreed to discontinue construction until the hearing. No comment has been published yet on how the company will respond to the Judge’s delayed decision.

EarthJustice Attorney Jan Hasselman noted that Energy Transfer Partners claimed in court filings that over half of the pipeline is already complete. “We’re really concerned,” said Hasselman. “This company has pursued a strategy of getting this thing in the ground so fast that the rights of people to be a part of the process have been trampled on.”

Hasselman explained, “The law gives the tribes important rights to protect sacred places and cultural heritage, and even if we’re right … by the time a court can vindicate them, it’ll be too late.”



Join the Movement! Visit and sign a petition to Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline!


[Top image caption and credit: “The Camp of the Sacred Stones has swelled from a few dozen to more than 2,500, according to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe officials. They are calling for further review of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the end of July without a full environmental assessment. Courtesy Little Redfeather Design/Honor the Earth via IndianCountryToday”]


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