Construction of the US$3.8-billion Dakota Access pipeline ground to halt last week and North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency Friday, after 1,200 Native American activists set up a protest camp upstream from the 8,500-member Standing Rock Sioux reservation, where the line would cross the Missouri River.
“Protesters from dozens of tribes across the country are now camping in tents, tepees, and mobile homes at the Sacred Stone Camp a mile and a half from the construction site,” InsideClimate News reports. “A video shows a second, more recently established campsite, the Red Warrior Camp.”
“We have to be here,” Standing Rock Sioux Chair David Archambault II, who was arrested at the site last week. “We have to stand and protect ourselves and those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Farther down the line in Iowa, meanwhile, the pipeline faces a court challenge from local landowners questioning the use of eminent domain to seize their property. “The suit argues Dakota Access shouldn’t be allowed to force landowners to sell easements by condemning the land against their will in a way that runs contrary to a 2006 Iowa law,” The Gazette reports from Des Moines.
A spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, said the project was running “in accordance with applicable laws, and the local, state, and federal permits and approvals we have received.” But residents of Standing Rock—one of the country’s poorest communities, according to 2010 census data—see the pipeline as a threat to their drinking water, irrigation, fishing and recreation, and cultural and religious practices, ICN notes.
“An oil spill would represent a genuine catastrophe for the people who live there,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of the tribe against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the project. “It isn’t just cultural and religious. It’s their economic lifeblood.”
After Energy Transfer Partners broke ground August 10, protests at the site began with about 50 people and expanded to 1,200 within a week, according to local law enforcement. Bold Oklahoma coordinator Mekasi Horinek Camp, a member of the Ponca Nation, said Sioux communities “haven’t come together in this traditional way since the Battle of the Little Big Horn.”
On Wednesday, a federal court judge issued a restraining order against the protest. By the weekend, though, the camps were still in place, and residents of Sioux Falls, SD were collecting donations, blankets, tents, and other supplies to support the protesters.
“A lot of people, we have to work and get rent paid,” said organizer Char Green. “We’re just unable to travel, a lot of us. So we thought it was important for Sioux Falls as a Native community to come together and show our respect and send our prayers to the Standing Rock.”
“The tribe is committed to doing all it can to make sure the demonstrations …are done in the right way,” Archambault told reporters Wednesday. “As we have said from the beginning, demonstrations regarding Dakota Access must be peaceful.”
But “the pipeline presents a threat to our land, our sacred sites, our water, and to the people,” he added. “Our basic message is that the Corps of Engineers has failed to follow the law and has failed to consider the impacts of the pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.”