Standing Rock and Indigenous Rights

April 1st, 2016 — February 27th, 2017

United States

Activism & Resistance Borders Race & Ethnicity

The Standing Rock protests against the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as #NODAPL, highlighted the centuries long struggle of indigenous peoples for sovereignty and land rights within the United States.

Demonstrations against the underground oil pipeline began in April 2016 when Lakota youth and elders founded the Sacred Stone protest camp in the Sioux Standing Rock Reservation. Originally routed under Bismarck, ND, a primarily white city, the pipeline was rerouted to cross beneath the Missouri River and Lake Oahe after Bismarck residents protested. Sioux members worried that potential oil spills would threaten the community’s only water reserves and desecrate ancient burial lands along the pipe’s route. By the end of the summer, thousands converged at Standing Rock, including representatives from over 300 Native American nations and activists from around the world. Calling themselves water-protectors, the camps were centered around traditional practices of prayer and marked a new chapter in indigenous resistance in North America.

The Standing Rock protests focused beyond environmental activism. While secondarily citing violations of environmental protection laws, the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s lawsuit to stop the pipeline primarily rested on claims that the tribe’s right to consultation was violated under the National Historic Preservation Act which required the government to consult with indigenous communities before approving development in lands that might house Native artifacts. Indigenous communities saw the approval of the pipeline as the latest governmental dismissal of their land rights and ancestral heritage (See: Natives no longer independent).

Despite initial court injunctions that stopped construction, in February 2017 work resumed on the pipeline. By May 2017 the first transportation of oil began. Although unable to stop completion of the pipeline, the #NODAPL movement galvanized indigenous peoples and their allies and brought their struggles for sovereignty and environmental justice to the political and media spotlight.

Cover Image: Cannonball river area, North Dakota
Credit: Bryan Boyce Bboyce17 at en.wikipedia