November 8, 2016
SACRED STONE CAMP, NORTH DAKOTA, U.S. — It was a quiet Sunday afternoon at this makeshift camp when people got word that local law enforcement was approaching the Cannonball River, a tributary to the Missouri River.
They don’t call themselves “protestors,” but instead prefer the term “water protectors,” to signify their intent to keep construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline away from the Missouri River, a water source for the area. They grabbed their car keys, hopped onto the beds of trucks, mounted horses or just ran, phones in hand, through fields of long, dry grass and dirt to join the group holding the front line.
This grassroots movement began in April, when members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, an indigenous nation based on its reservation within the U.S. state of North Dakota, along with their supporters, set up camp along this river to protest the construction of the oil pipeline. If completed, this 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline will transport about 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota through the states of South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. The company behind the pipeline secured permission to dig under the Missouri River, upstream of the reservation.
Natalia Aldana, GPJ Americas
Tribal members worry that an oil spill from that pipeline could contaminate the river, which is their main source of water. The pipeline’s proposed route would also pass through historically significant and sacred lands for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The camp has slowly garnered global attention and has grown to hundreds or thousands of people—the number shifts daily—as supporters from around the world come to stand with the members of Standing Rock. Law enforcement has used tear gas and rubber bullets to push protesters away from the pipeline’s construction zone, and people have been arrested for refusing to budge. Pipeline opponents say law enforcement officials have launched unwarranted attacks on them, while police say they’re protecting private land.
For almost two hours on Sunday, pipeline opponents set out in canoes and other small boats into the Cannonball River to push right up against the law enforcement line. A few hundred people gathered near the water’s edge on each side, and a handful walked up a small hill toward the officers. The tension continued until a tribal elder anxiously approached the edge of the water and, using a megaphone, pleaded with protesters to return to the camp.
“Today is not the day,” he told them.
Sunday’s near-confrontation was just one of many in this movement’s struggle to prevent the pipeline’s construction. Pipeline opponents say those confrontations will continue as long as construction continues.