The illegal Dakota Access Pipeline fueled an Indigenous led movement to protect water in the Dakota regions, original homelands of the Oceti Sakowin or Great Sioux Nation and 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty territory. Despite monumental organizing and resistance, Energy Transfer continued construction; putting the Mni Sose, or Missouri River, and nearby waterways, ecosystems, and the climate in harm’s way. The developments violated international Free Prior and Informed Consent and prompted Standing Rock to file a lawsuit against the Army Corps. In this new phase of resistance, it’s imperative we keep the pressure on and declare Mni wičoni, Water is life!
For a long time, the U.S. has had a massive network of pipelines to transport “products like oil and natural gas, pumping them to processing and treatment plants, power plants, homes and businesses” (Healy 2016). As of 2016, the U.S. had approximately 2.5 million miles of pipelines coursing through the country both above-ground and underground (Healy 2016). The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers began drafting a plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline in December of 2015.
Most pipelines meet little controversy, but to the community of Standing Rock, North Dakota, the Dakota Access Pipeline posed a threat to their public health and cultural heritage.
The first main issue brought up was one of water security, which is the ability for people to access clean and adequate water. If a leak in the pipelines were to occur, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe feared that their main water supply in Lake Oahe, a reservoir off of the Missouri River, would be contaminated (Hersher 2017). Furthermore, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe claimed that the construction of a pipeline on its planned route would “damage sacred burial sites” (BBC News1 2017). On July 25, 2016, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the Dakota Access Pipeline route that crossed the Missouri River at the Lake Oahe reservoir (Hersher 2017).
Protesters had been gathering since April (Healy 2016) at the site of the pipeline’s construction, but in August of 2016, the Sioux Tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “claiming that the Corps had failed to adequately consult tribe members before approving the pipeline and had violated the National Historic Preservation Act when it effectively authorized construction of the vast majority of the pipeline in and around federally regulated waters without any provision to ensure against destruction to culturally important sites” (Hersher 2017).
As more information on the issue disseminated, more protestors outside of the Sioux tribe gathered at Standing Rock and peaking at an estimated 10,000 people who had come to the region to join in the demonstrations (BBC News1 2017).
Throughout the course of the protests, several other individuals and groups joined in solidarity with the Sioux Tribe. As many as 2,000 veterans joined demonstrations in Standing Rock (Healy 2016). Several celebrities became involved in the protests including Mark Ruffalo, who provided infrastructure for the camp, including solar panels.
Despite the massive scale, No DAPL was not successful in fully halting or rerouting the Dakota Access Pipeline. On January 24, 2016, just four days after taking office, President Trump “signed executive actions allowing construction on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines to move forward,” by expediting the “comprehensive environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline” that Obama had ordered just a few months prior (Norris 2017). In March and April of 2017, the Dakota Access Pipeline suffered several minor leaks, the largest resulting in a spill of 84 gallons of oil in South Dakota on April 4 (The Guardian 2017).
In November of 2017, an equally contested pipeline, Keystone XL, which traversed through South Dakota leaked 210,000 gallons of oil (Kaufman 2017). These leaks only served to further galvanize the opposition of both pipelines’ operation, and the legal battle and protests still persist today.