The Dakota Access Pipeline protests, also known by hashtags such as NoDAPL, are a grassroots movement that began in the spring of 2016 in reaction to the proposed construction of Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed pipeline would run from the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota to southern Illinois, crossing beneath the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, as well as part of Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted a limited review of the route, involving an environmental assessment of river crossings and portions of the project related to specific permits, and issued a finding of no significant impact. It did not carry out an area-wide full environmental impact assessment of the entire effects of the overall project through the four states.[3]

Citing potential effects on and lack of consultation with the Native American tribes, most notably the Standing Rock Sioux, in March and April 2016 the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation asked the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a formal Environmental Impact Assessment and issue an Environmental Impact Statement. In July, however, the Army Corps of Engineers approved the water crossing permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline under a “fast track” option, and construction of the disputed section of pipeline continued.[4] Saying "the Corps effectively wrote off the tribe’s concerns and ignored the pipeline’s impacts to sacred sites and culturally important landscapes," the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed suit against the Corps of Engineers, accusing the agency of violating the National Historic Preservation Act and other laws.[5]

In April, a Standing Rock Sioux elder established a camp as a center for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the pipeline. Over the summer the camp grew to thousands of people.[6] In July, ReZpect Our Water, a group of Native American youth, ran from Standing Rock in North Dakota to Washington, DC to raise awareness of what they perceive as a threat to their people's drinking water and that of everyone who relies on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers for drinking water and irrigation.[5][7] The young people attempted to deliver more than 100,000 petition signatures to President Barack Obama asking him to stop the pipeline, but they were not received at the White House.[8]

While the protests have drawn international attention and have been said to be "reshaping the national conversation for any environmental project that would cross the Native American land",[9] there was limited mainstream media coverage of the events in the United States until early September.[10] At that time, construction workers bulldozed a section of land that tribal historic preservation officers had just documented as a historic, sacred site. When protesters entered the area, security workers used attack dogs, which bit at least five of the protesters. The incident was filmed by Democracy Now! and viewed by several million people on YouTube and other social media.[11][12][13][14] In late October, armed soldiers and police with riot gear and military equipment cleared an encampment that was directly in the proposed pipeline's path.[15][16]

On November 1, President Obama announced that his administration is monitoring the movement and has been in contact with the Army Corps to examine the possibility of rerouting the pipeline to avoid lands that Native Americans hold sacred.[17]

Background

The Dakota Access Pipeline being built in central Iowa

The Dakota Access Pipeline, a part of the Bakken pipeline project, is a 1,134-mile-long (1,825 km) underground oil pipeline project in the United States. The pipeline is being planned by Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of the Dallas, Texas corporation Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. It will begin in the Bakken oil fields in Northwest North Dakota and will travel in a more or less straight line southeast, through South Dakota and Iowa, and end at the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois.[7][18] Routing the pipeline across the Missouri River near Bismarck was rejected because of the route's proximity to municipal water sources; residential areas; and road, wetland, and waterway crossings. The Bismarck route would also have been 11 miles longer.[20]

The alternative selected by the Corps of Engineers crosses underneath the Missouri River half a mile from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. A spill could have major adverse effects on the waters that the Tribe and individuals in the area rely upon.[8] Using the Nationwide Permit 12 process that treats the pipeline as a series of small construction sites, the pipeline was granted an exemption from the environmental review required by the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.[4] According to court records, the pipeline is due for delivery on January 1, 2017.[21]

Citing potential effects on and lack of consultation with the Native tribes, most notably the Standing Rock Sioux, in March and April 2016 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Interior (DOI), and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a formal Environmental Impact Assessment and issue an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Noting that the water system serving Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation was only 10 miles downstream of where the pipeline would cross Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, the EPA recommended that the Army Corps revise its Environmental Assessment and open up a second public comment period. “Based on our improved understanding of the project setting, we also recommend addressing additional concerns regarding environmental justice and emergency response actions to spills/leaks.”[22]

The DOI also expressed concerns about the pipeline's proximity to the tribe's water source:

The routing of a 12- to 30-inch crude oil pipeline in close proximity to and upstream of the Reservation is of serious concern to the Department. When establishing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's permanent homeland, the U.S. reserved waters of sufficient quantity and quality to serve the purposes of the Reservation. The Department holds more than 800,000 acres of land in trust for the Tribe that could be impacted by a leak or spill. Further, a spill could impact the waters that the Tribe and individual tribal members residing in that area rely upon for drinking and other purposes. We believe that, if the pipeline's current route along the edge of the Reservation remains an option, the potential impact on trust resources in this particular situation necessitates full analysis and disclosure of potential impacts through the preparation of an [Environmental Impact Statement].[22]

As of September, the U.S Department of Justice had received more than 33,000 petitions to review all permits and order a full review of the project’s environmental effects.[23]

Sacred Stone Camp

Sacred Stone Camp was founded by Standing Rock's Historic Preservation Officer, LaDonna Bravebull Allard, on April 1, 2016, as a center for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline.[6][24] In the spring and early summer of 2016, Allard and other Indigenous leaders focused on media outreach, resulting in tribal delegations and individuals coming to stand with them from all over the country and, eventually, the world.[25] As the numbers grew beyond what Allard's land could support, an overflow camp was also established nearby, which came to be known as the Oceti Sakowin camp (the Lakȟótiyapi name for the Great Sioux Nation or Seven Fires Council).[26] In September, Allard said:

Of the 380 archeological sites that face desecration along the entire pipeline route, from North Dakota to Illinois, 26 of them are right here at the confluence of these two rivers. It is a historic trading ground, a place held sacred not only by the Sioux Nations, but also the Arikara, the Mandan, and the Northern Cheyenne.
The U.S. government is wiping out our most important cultural and spiritual areas. And as it erases our footprint from the world, it erases us as a people. These sites must be protected, or our world will end, it is that simple. Our young people have a right to know who they are. They have a right to language, to culture, to tradition. The way they learn these things is through connection to our lands and our history. If we allow an oil company to dig through and destroy our histories, our ancestors, our hearts and souls as a people, is that not genocide? [6]

By late September NBC News reported that members of more than 300 federally recognized Native American tribes were residing in the three main camps, alongside an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 pipeline resistance supporters. Several thousand more gathered at the camps on weekends.[27] As winter approaches, numbers are lower, but the protesters are winterizing and preparing for an indefinite stay. As of October 24, another camp, called "Winter Camp", was established[28] directly in the proposed pipeline's path on the property recently purchased by Energy Transfer Partners. Citing eminent domain,[29] the Native American protesters have declared that the land rightly belongs to them under the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851). Though the initial territory agreed to in the treaty was later broken up into smaller reservations, the treaty was never nullified, and is now being invoked as law.[3] On October 27, armed soldiers and police in riot gear removed the protesters from the new encampment.[15]

Protests

ReZpect our Water - logo of the water runners, youth who ran from Standing Rock to Washington DC to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline in the summer of 2016

Pipeline protests were reported as early as October 2014, when Iowa community and environmental activists presented 2,300 petitions to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad asking him to sign a state executive order to stop the proposed pipeline.[30] The Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa (Meskwaki Nation) also objected to the route and formally lodged their opposition in early 2015. In a letter to the Iowa Utilities Board, Tribal chairwoman Judith Bender wrote, "As a people that have lived in North America for thousands of years, we have environmental concerns about the land and drinking water...Our main concern is Iowa's aquifers might be significantly damaged. And it will only take one mistake and life in Iowa will change for the next thousands of years. We think that should be protected, because it is the water that gives Iowa the best way of life." The tribe is also concerned about damage to wildlife habitat and sacred sites.[31] Tribal members have been among those who have opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, and have voiced concern that the Dakota Access Pipeline could be used as a replacement if the Keystone XL pipeline is not built.[32]

In August 2016 a group of youth from Standing Rock Indian Reservation created a group called ReZpect our Water and organized a cross-country spiritual run from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., to present a petition in protest of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.[5] On their arrival they delivered a petition to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The tribe sued for an injunction on the grounds that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had failed to conduct a proper environmental and cultural impact study. Protests had escalated at the pipeline site in North Dakota, with numbers swelling from just a bare handful of people to hundreds and then thousands over the summer.[33]

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe believes that the pipeline would put the Missouri River, the water source for the reservation, at risk. They point out two recent spills, a 2010 pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, which cost over $1 billion to clean up with significant contamination remaining, and a 2015 Bakken crude oil spill into the Yellowstone River in Montana.[5][34][35] The Tribe is also concerned that the pipeline route may run through sacred Sioux sites. In August 2016 protests were held, halting a portion of the pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.[36][37] Peaceful protests continued and drew indigenous people from throughout North America, as well as other supporters. A number of planned arrests occurred when people locked themselves to heavy machinery.[38]

On August 23, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe released a list of 87 tribal governments who wrote resolutions, proclamations and letters of support stating their solidarity with Standing Rock and the Sioux people.[39] Since then, many more Native American organizations, politicians, environmental groups and civil rights groups have joined the effort in North Dakota, including the Black Lives Matter movement, indigenous leaders from the Amazon Basin of South America, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her running mate Ajamu Baraka, and many more.[40] The Washington Post called it a "National movement for Native Americans."[9][41]

As of September, the protest constituted the single largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years.[42]

In October 2016, young Native American activists met outside Hillary Clinton's campaign headquarters in Brooklyn to protest her lack of a position on continued pipeline construction and give her a letter. They were not received by the Clinton campaign. In an email reply to Democracy Now!, campaign spokesperson Tyrone Gayle wrote that everyone should be heard on federal infrastructure agreements, a position that Democratic platform member Bill McKibben characterized as "say[ing] literally nothing".[43] In a Los Angeles Times op-ed in September 2016, McKibben called upon Clinton to redress the disparity between the Democratic platform – which calls for recognition of the "right of all tribes to protect their lands, air, and waters" – and her lack of a stated position on the issue.[44]

Security firm use of dogs and pepper spray

On September 3, 2016, during Labor Day weekend, the Dakota Access Pipeline brought in a private security firm when the company used bulldozers to dig up part of the pipeline route that contained possible Native graves and burial artifacts; it was subject to a pending injunction motion. The bulldozers arrived within a day after the tribe filed legal action.[12] Energy Transfer bulldozers cut a two-mile (3200 m) long, 150-foot (45 m) wide path through the contested area.

When unarmed protesters crossed the perimeter fence to stop the bulldozers, the guards used pepper spray and guard dogs to attack. At least six protesters were treated for dog bites, and an estimated 30 were pepper-sprayed before the guards and their dogs left the scene in trucks. A woman that had taken part in the incident stated, "The cops watched the whole thing from up on the hills. It felt like they were trying to provoke us into being violent when we’re peaceful.”[14] The incident was filmed by Amy Goodman and a crew from Democracy Now![45] Footage shows several people with dog bites and a dog with blood on its muzzle.[46][47]

Frost Kennels of Hartville, Ohio acknowledged that they were involved in the incident on September 3.[48] Executive director for Private Investigator Security Guard Services Geoff Dutton said Frost Kennels and its owner, Bob Frost, were not licensed by the state of Ohio to provide security services or guard dogs. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said they were investigating both sides in the incident, including wounds inflicted by the dogs, and that they had no prior knowledge of the use of dogs until a 911 call was made. Kirchmeier was asked why the deputies who witnessed the incident did not intervene, citing officer security concerns.[48] In a press release Kirchmeier stated that, according to the security officers hired by the pipeline, the protestors were violent, using fence posts and flagpoles to jab and hit at them and that knives were pulled on them as well. Kirchmeier said:

Any suggestion that today’s event was a peaceful protest is false. This was more like a riot than a protest. Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles. The aggression and violence displayed here today is unlawful and should not be repeated. While no arrests were made at the scene, we are actively investigating the incident and individuals who organized and participated in this unlawful event.[49]

Others disputed characterization of the protest as a riot.[50] After viewing footage of the attack, a law enforcement consultant who trains police dogs called it "absolutely appalling" and "reprehensible". “Taking bite dogs and putting them at the end of a leash to intimidate, threaten and prevent crime is not appropriate."[48] A former K-9 officer for the Grand Forks Police Department who now owns a security firm that uses dogs for drug detection said, “It reminded me of the civil rights movement back in the ’60s. I didn’t think it was appropriate. They were overwhelmed and it just wasn’t proper use of the dogs.”[48]

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota spoke out against the use of dogs and pepper spray and asked that the state officials “treat everyone fairly and equally.”[48] Speaking on September 4, Ojibwe activist and former Green Party vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke said, "North Dakota regulators are really, I would say, in bed with the oil industry and so they have looked the other way."

High profile arrests

On August 11–12, 18 people were arrested, according to Kirchmeier, including Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault II who was charged with disorderly conduct. Along with the tribal council, Archambault had sued the Army Corps of Engineers days before his arrest.[51] He was himself sued on August 16 by Dakota Access, LLC, which sought "restraining orders and unspecified monetary damages".[52]

On September 7 an arrest warrant was also issued in Morton County for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her running mate Ajamu Baraka on misdemeanor counts of criminal trespass and criminal mischief. Stein had spray-painted "I approve this message" and Baraka wrote the word "decolonize" on a bulldozer.[53]

A warrant for journalist Amy Goodman's arrest was issued by Morton County on September 8. She was charged with criminal trespass related to the filming done on September 3.[46][47] The prosecutor, Ladd Erickson, said Goodman was like a protester because she was only giving time to the protesters' side of the story.[54] In response to praise from Erickson, Matt Taibbi wrote, "a prosecutor who arrests a reporter because he doesn't think she's 'balanced' enough is basically telling future reporters what needs to be in their stories to avoid arrest. This is totally improper and un-American."[55]

Speaking on October 5, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault II said that as of that date 135 anti-pipeline demonstrators had been arrested. Archambault also said that law enforcement officers were "heightening the danger" by using anti-riot gear. Saying, "Confronting men, women, and children while outfitted in gear more suited for the battlefield is a disproportionate response," Amnesty International has also expressed concern about the militant response to the protesters.[56]

On October 13, Goodman announced her intention to turn herself in to the Morton County–Mandan Corrections Center on Monday, October 17, to face misdemeanor riot charges. (Though she had originally been charged with criminal trespass, the prosecutor said that there were "legal issues with proving the notice of trespassing requirements in the statute.")[57] She stated that she would be fighting the charges against her as a "clear violation of the First Amendment".[58] The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement condemning the arrest and demanding that the charges be dropped.[59] The North Dakota Newspaper Association,[60] the American Civil Liberties Union in North Dakota,[61] and the Freedom of the Press Foundation[61] all expressed concern over the developing challenge to freedom of the press.

On October 17, District Judge John Grinsteiner did not find probable cause for multiple riot charges, including the one brought against Goodman. Following the judge’s decision, Kirchmeier reasserted that trespassing would lead to arrest, while the state prosecutor said that the investigation would remain open pending new evidence. Goodman called the decision a victory for freedom of the press in a statement broadcast from outside the courthouse.[62]

Unnecessarily harsh treatment alleged

As of mid-October there had been over 140 arrests. Some protesters arrested for minor misdemeanors and taken to the Morton County jail have reported what they considered harsh and unusual treatment. Sara Jumping Eagle, a physician on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, was required to remove all of her clothing and "squat and cough" when she was arrested for disorderly conduct. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who founded Sacred Stone Camp, said that when her daughter was arrested and taken into custody she was "strip-searched in front of multiple male officers, then left for hours in her cell, naked and freezing." Allard said her daughter was repeatedly asked by guards, "Who is your mother?" Cody Hall from Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota also reported being strip-searched and required to "squat and cough". He was held for four days without bail or bond and then charged with two misdemeanors.[63] Tribal chief David Archambault II was also strip-searched. When asked if strip searches were common during arrests for disorderly conduct he replied that he didn't know since he had never before been arrested. He said that jail officials searched his hair braid for weapons, which he found to be odd since he doesn't have a very thick braid.[64] Actress Shailene Woodley, arrested on October 10 along with 27 others, also said she was strip-searched, adding, "Never did it cross my mind that while trying to protect clean water, trying to ensure a future where our children have access to an element essential for human survival, would I be strip-searched. I was just shocked."[65] Amnesty International spoke out against the use of strip searches and said that they had sent a letter to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department expressing concern about the degree of force used against people taking part in the protests. They sent a delegation of human rights observers to monitor law enforcement's response to the protests.[56]

Police move to clear camp

On October 27, police from several agencies, including North Dakota state troopers, the National Guard, and other law enforcement agencies from surrounding states, began an intensive operation to clear out a protest camp and blockades along Highway 1806.[67] The Morton County Sheriff's Department said in a statement: "Protesters' escalated unlawful behavior this weekend by setting up illegal roadblocks, trespassing onto private property and establishing an encampment, has forced law enforcement to respond at this time. I can't stress it enough, this is a public safety issue. We cannot have protesters blocking county roads, blocking state highways, or trespassing on private property."[15]

A Seattle Times journalist present at the confrontation described it as "scary". On PBS Newshour, she said that she had spent the previous night in the camp "with tribal members who were singing their death songs. I mean, they were very worried about the possibility of violence. And who wouldn’t be? You have seen law enforcement marshaled from six states, armored personnel carriers, hundreds and hundreds of law enforcement officers with concussion grenades, mace, Tasers, batons. And they used all of it. I mean, it was frightening to watch." She said that the confrontation ended the following day and said, "the law enforcement officers had advance[d] more than 100 yards with five armored personnel carriers side by side, hundreds of law enforcement officers advancing on them. And it finally took an elder to actually walk by himself in between the two lines, stand there, face his people, and say: 'Go home. We’re here to fight the pipeline, not these people, and we can only win this with prayer.'"[68][69][70][71]

Responding to the confrontation, on October 28 Amnesty International published a press release saying in part: "These people should not be treated like the enemy. Police must keep the peace using minimal force appropriate to the situation. Confronting men, women, and children while outfitted in gear more suited for the battlefield is a disproportionate response. Under International law and standards, arrests should not be used to intimidate or prevent people from participating in peaceful assembly."[56]

Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza contrasted the aggressive police action with the treatment of the organizers of a standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge (acquitted of federal charges on the same day as the police raid of the camp),[72] saying "If you're white, you can occupy federal property ... and get found not guilty. No teargas, no tanks, no rubber bullets ... If you're indigenous and fighting to protect our earth, and the water we depend on to survive, you get tear gassed, media blackouts, tanks and all that."[73]

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

On July 27, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to stop the pipeline. The tribe also sought a preliminary injunction.[74][75][76] Following a hearing on September 9, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg denied the motion.

After that, a joint statement was issued by the US Departments of Justice, Army, and Interior temporarily halting the project on federal land bordering or under the Lake Oahe reservoir. The US federal government asked the company for a "voluntary pause" on construction near that area until further study was done on the region extending 20 miles around Lake Oahe. In closing the agency representatives said:

Finally, we fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely. In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest".[76][77]

Energy Transfer Partners rejected the request to voluntarily halt construction on all surrounding private land and resumed construction within 48 hours.[78]

On September 13, chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer Partners Kelcy Warren responded to the federal government's request, saying concerns about the pipeline’s impact on the water supply were “unfounded.” Warren said that "multiple archaeological studies conducted with state historic preservation offices found no sacred items along the route". They did not indicate that they would voluntarily cease work on the pipeline. Warren wrote that the company will meet with officials in Washington “to understand their position and reiterate our commitment to bring the Dakota Access Pipeline into operation.”[79]

On October 5, federal appeals judges heard arguments over whether to stop work on the pipeline; a ruling was not expected for several weeks. At that time the Army Corps of Engineers had not yet made a final decision on whether to grant an easement to build under the Missouri River. Under questioning, a pipeline attorney said that "if the court allowed it, the company would continue building up to the lake's edge even before the easement decision, because each extra month of delay will cost the company more than $80 million.

Movement support

Seattle Stands with Standing Rock! - peaceful march and rally held in Seattle in September, 2016. Indigenous drummers, activists from a number of Nations, and diverse supporters march in solidarity.
Dakota Access Pipeline protestors at March for a Clean Energy Revolution, Philadelphia, July 2016
Solidarity rally in Saint Paul, Minnesota, September, 2016.

Many Sioux Tribes have passed resolutions in support of Standing Rock, including the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.[24] Oklahoma tribes have also expressed support for the pipeline protest movement. In August Principal Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation said, “As Indian people, we have a right to protect our lands and protect our water rights. That’s our responsibility to the next seven generations."[80]

On September 8, Native Americans and other protesters marched in Denver to show solidarity with the Standing Rock Americans. State Representative Joe Salazar spoke about the safety of pipelines and described a recent Colorado Oil and Gas Association statement on oil pipeline safety as “full of lies.”[81]

On September 16, a rally and march was held in Seattle to show solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The mayor of Seattle and city council members joined leaders from Northwest tribes from Quinualt, Makah, Lummi, Suquamish, Tulalip, Swinomish, Puyallup and others to show opposition to the pipeline. Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, said that while the tribes are "determined to win this fight", a "deeper fix" is needed. “The U.S. must recognize that we have political equality. This is much larger than a specific infrastructure project. It goes to the fundamental relationship."[82]

According to the Grand Forks Herald, on October 13 the governments of 19 cities, including St. Louis and Minneapolis, had passed ordinances to support the Standing Rock tribe in opposition of the pipeline.[83]

In October, the Morton County Sheriff requested police from surrounding areas to assist in regulating the protests near the pipeline. The Dane County Sheriff's office of Wisconsin sent 10 deputies to aid the local police,[84] but they were recalled a few days later due to opposition from the Dane County residents and county officials.[85]

In an October 28 public statement, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader and Keeper of the Sacred Pipe Bundle of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Nations, invoked his role as the voice of traditional government of the Great Sioux Nation and called upon President Barack Obama to communicate "nation to nation, as indicated by our treaties."[86] Looking Horse called upon President Obama to keep his word:

When you met with our people on your campaign trail in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, you stated that you are a lawyer and understand treaty documents. You told us that you realized our treaties were violated and you would address these violations against our people if you became President. This was your Word.[86]

Protest reactions

In September, Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of about 3000 members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and supporters at a protest held outside of the White House. Saying "the pipeline threatens the environment and water resources and exploits Native Americans," he asked President Obama to take action and conduct a full environmental and cultural impact analysis of the project, which he believes would kill the pipeline.[79] Following the use of the National Guard and armed militia in riot gear to remove protesters from a protest camp in October, Sanders again called on the president to suspend construction of the pipeline. In a letter to the President, Sanders said in part: "It is deeply distressing to me that the federal government is putting the profits of the oil industry ahead of the treaty and sovereign rights of Native American communities. Mr. President, you took a bold and principled stand against the Keystone pipeline – I ask you to take a similar stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline."[87]

Saying that the Dakota Access pipeline project is part of a "long history of pushing the impacts of pollution onto the most economically and politically disadvantaged people and communities across this country," Representative Raúl Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, on September 22 asked the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the existing permits for the pipeline.[27]

Saying "the project's current permits should be suspended and all construction stopped until a complete environmental and cultural review has been completed for the entire project," Senators Sanders, Dianne Feinstein, Ed Markey, Patrick Leahy and Benjamin Cardin on October 13 called on President Barack Obama to order a comprehensive environmental review of the pipeline project. They also requested stronger tribal consultation for the contested part of the route.[83]

Calling the proposed pipeline route "the ripest case of environmental racism I have seen in a long time," on October 26 the Reverend Jesse Jackson announced support for the movement saying, “The tribes of this country have sacrificed a lot so this great country could be built. With promises broken, land stolen and sacred lands desecrated, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is standing up for their right to clean water. They have lost land for settlers to farm, more land for gold in the Black Hills, and then again even more land for the dam that was built for hydropower. When will the taking stop?”[3]

In September, Obama spoke to tribal representatives, saying, “I know that many of you have come together across tribes and across the country to support the community at Standing Rock. And together, you’re making your voices heard.” He again discussed the protest movement on November 2, saying:

“We’re monitoring this closely. My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline. We’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of First Americans."[17]

The White House press secretary said the president had been in touch with several government agencies "that are taking a fresh look at the procedures that they follow to incorporate input from Native American communities that could potentially be affected by infrastructure projects."[17] In an interview with Alicia Menendez, Senator Tim Kaine said he supported efforts within the Obama administration to consider rerouting the pipeline.[88]

On November 5, Harald Serck-Hanssen, group executive vice president of Norway's biggest bank (DNB), said that the bank, which has invested over $342 million in the project, was considering withdrawing the funding if its calls to respect indigenous rights were not met.[89][90]

United Nations presentation

On September 20, 2016, Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, where he called "upon all parties to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline." Citing the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, two treaties ratified by the U.S. Senate that recognize the Sioux's national sovereignty, Archambault told the Council that "the oil companies and the government of the United States have failed to respect our sovereign rights."[91]

On September 22, 2016, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a United Nations expert on the rights of indigenous peoples, admonished the U.S., saying, "The tribe was denied access to information and excluded from consultations at the planning stage of the project, and environmental assessments failed to disclose the presence and proximity of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation." She also responded to the rights of pipeline protesters, saying, "The U.S. authorities should fully protect and facilitate the right to freedom of peaceful assembly of indigenous peoples, which plays a key role in empowering their ability to claim other rights."[92]