Native American tribes protest oil pipeline


Photos by Elly Booth; Collage by Matt Barney

Native American protests of an oil pipeline under construction in North Dakota began this spring with a handful of people praying in a makeshift camp on a nearby Indian reservation. Months later, after legal wrangling, celebrity endorsements and, most importantly, the arrival of thousands more Native Americans to join the opposition, the issue has exploded into one of the most contentious and high-profile environmental battles in the nation.

Elly Booth

The largest gathering of Native American tribes is currently taking place on Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation near Cannonball, N.D. 

Seven thousand people, including 280 Native American tribes, have gathered with one collective intent: to stop the Dakota access oil pipeline.  The pipeline would carry crude oil across four states including North Dakota.  It is here at Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation that the pipeline would cross just outside reservation lines and more notably, near the reservation’s underground aquifer. 

This backlash against the pipeline has sparked a massive social media movement known as #nodapl.  As one protester put it, those who stand with the Sioux Nation know that what happens at Standing Rock happens to all of us.

According to Nicholas Pottle, spokesman for the frontline protester camp known as Sacred Stones, the pipeline has a 90 percent chance of leaking in the first three months.  This could be detrimental to the underground water source that supplies 20 million people including the Standing Rock Sioux.  This risk combined with damage done to sacred grounds and artifacts of the Sioux people is what has prompted tribes and others from around the world to gather in protest.

Pipeline workers reportedly “taunted” pipeline protesters before desecrating the ancient burial grounds of the Sioux people.  According to Pottle, the construction workers had to go out of their way several miles in order to destruct the sacred artifacts.  These included century-old graves of medicine men and ancient art work that had been created by the Sioux and was displayed on rocks.  In the week following, freelance mercenaries hired by the pipeline company released German shepherds onto protesters.  A child, a pregnant woman, and the dog handlers themselves were all attacked.

 The website of Energy Transfer, a Texas-based stakeholder in the pipeline, claims that environmental protection and safety are top priorities.  The company claims that the Dakota Access Pipeline will enable use of more domestic oil without importing foreign oil.  Millions of dollar are to be made in local revenue from the property and sales tax that are to be made off the pipeline.  An estimated 8,000 to 12,000 jobs will be made available in the participation of pipeline construction. 

As of now, construction on the pipeline has been halted due to efforts and awareness raised by protesters and a request by President Barack Obama.  However, plans to continue the Dakota Access Pipeline are still in place. 

The protestors have no plans to abandon the front lines even in light of the temporary stand-down.

Pottle said they would leave only “when they halt construction permanently … We’re going to maintain this spot as long as necessary.  Tomorrow morning we could wake up at 5 a.m. with bulldozers and bucket loaders on the front steps of our tents.”