Temporary Victory for the Standing Rock Sioux after Months of Protests

-By, Alison Poussaint

During January of 2016, the US Army Corps of Engineers approved of the building of a 1,172 mile long pipeline as part of the Dakota Access Pipeline Project in North Dakota (DAPL). The project, which cost 3.78 billion dollars, strove to run a conduit pipeline to transport 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Bakken Fields of North Dakota to Illinois (billmoyers.com). Its investors anticipated that the pipeline would  create a generous profit because oil is in demand in consumer markets on the Gulf Coast, in the Midwest, and on the East Coast (time.com). Despite its potential to bring in much profit and increase the US’s oil infrastructure, the pipeline threatens the water supply of one of the Native American tribes with reservations in North and South Dakota. The tribe of around 10,000, called the Standing Rock Sioux, are afraid because the pipeline will run under the Missouri River, contaminating their water supply if the pipe were to explode or leak. Additionally, the pipeline would run through sacred Standing Rock Sioux land. The land was home to many of the tribe’s ancestors, and in a want to preserve the lands, the tribe is protesting against the pipeline that could possibly destroy the land. The Motivated by their fear of losing clean access to water and their sacred land, the tribe began to protest against the building of the pipeline (time.com).

Protests, beginning soon after the pipeline was approved, were initiated by environmentalists from groups such as EarthJustice, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and others who opposed the pipeline; the number of protesters rapidly increased since April. Additionally, in a method of protest, the tribe sued the Army Corps of Engineers, who approved of the project, accusing them of violating the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (time.com).

The federal and state governments have opposed the protests. The governor of North Dakota, Jack Dalrymple, called the National Guard as well as police officials against the protesters, of whom more than 140 have been arrested. Many protesters are alleging that federal authorities used aggressive methods of defense against them such as pepper spray, rubber bullets, and concussions cannons. In response to all of the conflict, President Obama made the decision to withhold the permit to build the pipeline, resulting in a temporary victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The Missouri River will not be included in the route of the pipeline; rather, the Army Corps of Engineers will be discussing alternate routes instead. The project has been put on hold for now, but with the upcoming Trump administration that is in support of the pipeline, the project will likely continue in the future (time.com).

The environmental and cultural conflict that surrounded the Dakota pipeline project has brought into question how much respect America and the government has for its Native American tribes. Centuries and centuries before this pipeline conflict, the government, made up of mostly new European settlers, undertook a similar conquest that threatened Native American land. What does this history say about the protests of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and how does it relate to federal policy today?

Joanna G., a Class VIII student and one of the heads of Current Events Club at Winsor, sums it up best and explains how “the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is the rightful owner of the land that many are protesting according to a treaty with the U.S. government from 1851. Despite history repeating itself so many times over many centuries, Native Americans are still fighting for protection of land that is rightfully theirs. The U.S. Corps of Engineers’ halt of the pipeline is a huge win for Native Americans and human rights, but their victory has come after unreasonable police brutality and violence against completely peaceful protests. The protest also proves that the standing up for what you believe in can in fact make a difference, a message that is especially significant in today’s political climate.”