For about a week, hundreds of Native Americans have been facing down police in North Dakota in an attempt to halt construction of a pipeline slated to run through land they consider sacred.
Protestors from Lakota and Dakota Native American reservations began arriving Wednesday in an effort to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. By Friday, there were 200 to 400 people involved in the pipeline protest.
Now, there are more than 1,000 activists involved in the police standoff, and leaders of the movement say they expect that number to triple by the end of the week, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II told Indian Country Today.
"We don't want this black snake within our Treaty boundaries. We need to stop this pipeline that threatens our water.The federal government has approved the pipeline, and construction was scheduled to begin last Wednesday. However, the standoff with police has delayed the company's efforts.
"We want the Army Corps to honor the same rights and protections that were afforded to others, rights we were never afforded when it comes to our territories."
The pipeline is slated to carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil every day from North Dakota's Bakken oilfields 1,172 miles to Patoka, Illinois, about the length of the contested Keystone XL Pipeline.
It will run through sacred Native American land and under several large rivers, including the Missouri, Mississippi, and Big Sioux. If a spill were to happen, which is possible, nearby farmland and the drinking water of millions of Americans would be contaminated.Protests and demonstrations against the pipeline have been going on for months, but tensions ratcheted up when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe learned that the Army Corps of Engineers' plan build the pipeline within a half-mile of their reservation on July, 26. The next day, they filed an injunction in federal court.
A hearing will be held August 24 to determine if construction should go forward. However, last week, the company announced plans to start building the pipeline well before that date.
News of the imminent construction spread through the Native American community, and soon a grass-roots gathering began to assemble at what is being called the Sacred Stone Camp.
The pipeline is slated to run through burial grounds and sacred sites, John Eagle Sr. told Indian Country Today.
"It's a historic place of commerce where enemy tribes camped peacefully within sight of each other because of the reverence they had for this place.The pipeline won't directly cross any environmentally protected area or Native American reservations, but it does pass within a half-mile of their land and is slated to cross 209 rivers and creeks. Police allowed construction to begin Wednesday, but a tense standoff Friday led to an early shutdown. Monday, activists managed to halt early construction efforts.
"In the area are sacred stones where our ancestors went to pray for good direction, strength and protection for the coming year. Those stones are still there, and our people still go there today."
There are now more than 1,000 activists protesting near Highway 1806, and hundreds of tents have popped up at Sacred Stone Camp, prompting local law enforcement to detour traffic around the area.
So far, 16 people have been arrested in the police standoff, including Chairman Archambault and SRST Councilman Dana Yellow Fat, Archambault told Indian Country Today.
"The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is doing everything it can legally, through advocacy and by speaking directly to the powers that be who could have helped us before construction began."The Dakota Access pipeline developer denies any wrongdoing, saying they have a responsibility to protect their workers and are asking a federal court to issue restraining orders against the protestors.
Activists have launched a website and started a petition to support their standoff with police and efforts to shut down construction on the pipeline.
What do you think of the pipeline protest turned police standoff in North Dakota?
[Photo by James MacPherson/AP Images File]