A Look at Standing Rock

by | Feb 8, 2017 | News

Photo Credit: Dark Sevier CC BY-NC 2.0

A place and a people

Standing Rock refers to both a place and a people. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST) is a tribe of Native Americans comprised of Dakota and Lakota people. Their originally agreed-upon tribal land was established as part of the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 and comprised a much larger section of land than the current reservation, including the Black Hills and much of the Missouri River.
In subsequent treaties, negotiated under circumstances we would now call duress or even coercion, the reservation land was substantially decreased. In 1889, the reservation was broken into six smaller ones. One of these is the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that exists today.

The boundaries of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation straddle what is now North and South Dakota. At 3,572 square miles, it is the sixth largest reservation in the United States. The tribally registered population is just under 9,000. It includes many distinct communities. Like all reservations, it is governed by a Tribal Council.


Dakota Access Pipeline protests

The protests at Standing Rock concern the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline proposed by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). The purpose of DAPL is to connect oil production areas in North Dakota to those in Illinois. ETP has already invested an estimated $3.7 billion in pipeline construction, 90% of which has already been completed.

The proposed pipeline route goes through the traditional land of the SRST, including their sacred sites, with one section less than a half mile from the current reservation border. It also goes through their drinking water access. You can see a map of the proposed path here.

ETP claim they secured all of the necessary federal agency approvals for the DAPL. The SRST disagree, claiming those federal licenses were awarded without the necessary involvement of the tribe. This includes their “Free, Prior, and Informed Consent” (FPIC). FPIC is a provision of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of which the U.S. is a signatory. Basically, it says that development on Native lands requires tribal consent that is freely given — without coercion — with full information available prior to the beginning of development.

Photo Credit: Oceti Sakowin Camp – Avery White CC BY-NC 2.0


Tensions escalated in second half of 2016

In July 2016, the SRST filed a complaint against the federal government, specifically the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, stating that pipeline construction would threaten the economic and environmental well-being of the tribe, as well as destroy historical and religious sites. One specific concern is that running the pipeline under the Missouri River and Lake Oahe will harm the tribe’s drinking water supply.

In addition to the legal action, the SRST, in conjunction with a growing number of allies from all over the world, have been protesting pipeline construction for months. The Oceti Sakowin Camp, located outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota, grew to over 7,000 people at its peak. The response to the protest has sometimes turned violent, including police use of rubber bullets and water cannons on the protestors in below-freezing weather. In November, one protester was severely injured, losing part of her arm.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association released a statement denouncing the treatment of the protesters, saying: “The excessive use of State security apparatus to suppress protest against corporate activities that are alleged to violate human rights is wrong and contrary to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” He went on to say: “Marking people with numbers and detaining them in overcrowded cages, on the bare concrete floor, without being provided with medical care, amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment.”

In December, in response to the escalating violence, about 4,000 U.S. military veterans, with an organization called Veterans Stand, traveled to the camp to protect the protesters. Reports of the behavior of the protesters themselves have been mixed. Some local ranchers have reported land damage and theft. These reports appear to be mainly local and not well covered in national publications.

Farmers and ranchers unaffiliated with the SRST also have mixed feelings about the pipeline. Some received lucrative land buy-outs. Others are fighting to keep the pipeline off their land. Most seem to have signed easements to allow the pipeline construction.


Pipeline construction ceased temporarily

In September 2016, President Obama attempted to block pipeline construction until a review could be conducted, but a federal court intervened and construction continued. Then, in December 2016, the Army Corp of Engineers denied a final permit to the ETP, halting construction. After the order, the protest camp population shrunk considerably, with only a few hundred demonstrators remaining.

Following discussions within the Army Corp and review of comments submitted by other federal agencies including the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corp filed a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on January 18, 2017.

Shortly after his inauguration, President Trump signed an executive order pushing forward pipeline construction. This order was issued without consulting any tribal authorities. On January 31, the Army Corp issued a public statement announcing it was acting on President Trump’s order, “to expeditiously review requests for approvals to construct and operate the Dakota Access pipeline in compliance with the law.”

An easement has not yet been approved, but a North Dakota government spokesperson claimed: “it isn’t quite issued yet, but they plan to approve it.” The issue at hand, is whether the EIS will be completed prior to issuing the easement, and if so, whether any information provided during the public commenting period will impact the issuance of the easement or not.

On February 1, North Dakota police arrested 76 people who had established a new protest camp near where the pipeline is being constructed, reportedly trespassing on private property. Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II has condemned the new camp and the demonstrators’ actions, saying “they do not represent the tribe nor the original intent of the water protectors … instead of empowering us, it undermines us.” Chairman Archambault says he and other tribal leaders will continue to work with the Army Corp to come to a peaceful solution.

The Army Corp of Engineers is accepting public comments on the Dakota Access Pipeline until February 20. Submit comments using the form available at: www.standwithstandingrock.net/take-action

There is also a planned protest on March 10th, called “Rise with Standing Rock – The Native Nations March on Washington.


Author Grace Mitchell

Check Out Our Sources:

Boston Globe – Recent Williams grad severely injured at pipeline protest



The Guardian

KVRR Local News – Farmers and Ranchers Put in the Middle of DAPL Protest

LA Times – At Standing Rock, a vow to stay and fight — though protesters face pressure on many fronts to leave for good

New York Times – North Dakota Oil Pipeline Battle: Who’s Fighting and Why

NPR – The Standing Rock Resistance Is Unprecedented (It’s Also Centuries Old)

Seattle Times – Protesters should stand down at Standing Rock, tribal chairman urges

TIME – What to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

Washington Post