Back in 2016, the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was scheduled to continue being built underneath a section of the Missouri River, was met with resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Problems and Purpose:
On July 25th, 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline that would cross underneath the Missouri River and half a mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation . Though the pipeline was not being built directly on the Standing Rock Sioux land, the reservation relied on their water supply from the Missouri River and “that even the safest pipelines can leak” . There were also concerns that the construction would ruin sacred burial grounds and that the federal government did not properly consult with the Standing Rock Sioux which is required under federal law and native treaties [3,10]. This sparked legal battles between the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along with a peaceful sit in protest in and around the construction site .
Background History and Context:
Since the rediscovery of the Americas by the Europeans, Native Americans have suffered the loss of land repeatedly as seen with the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Trail of Tears that followed . In 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty granted the Great Sioux Reservation land west of the Missouri river which included Black Hill. That was till February 28th, 1877, when gold was discovered in Black Hill and removed as part of the reservation . This violated the treaty as “the United States never obtained the consent of three-fourths of the Sioux” . In 1875 and 1889, the reservation’s boundaries extended to the Cannon Ball River and was then divided “into six separate reservations, including the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation ''. Though the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation acts as a sovereign nation and has “signed treaties as equals with the United States Government in 1851 and 1868”, they still have struggles to maintain the rights to their land. Now in 2016, tribal members are again threated by outside influences that could ruin sacred lands and possibly harm their primary source of water. The tribe was not consulted as their treaty with the government requires . We have seen sit-in protests the development of oil pipelines at the construction site with the Keystone XL Pipeline, though their protests were on a much larger scale and included sit-in protests at the White House.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities:
On August 10th, 2016, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation started the protest by the Cannon Ball River near the construction site with a few in numbers to hundreds and eventually grew to the thousands [3,10]. Support came from other Native American tribes such as the Osage Nation in the form of supplies such as blankets and flashlights . Native Hawaiians, who were also protesters in the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), also showed their support for the North Dakota Access Pipeline. Celebrities and public figures such as Shailene Woodley, Mark Ruffalo and Jesse Jackson visited the protest in show of their support.
Participant Recruitment and Selection:
Though the outcomes of the protest would mainly affect the members of the Standing Rock Sioux, we saw a range of other participants including other Indigenous American groups, other racial groups, and celebrities/activists [3,10 ,8,7]. Recruitment from other Indigenous American tribes may have come from helping a fellow tribe . Recruitment from other racial groups such as the Native Hawaiians came from Indigenous Americans helping them in their protest . And finally, celebrities and activists may have wanted to protect the rights of Native Americans and protect natural resources [3,5, 9].
Methods and Tools Used:
Protest and lawsuits. Along with protesting at the construction site, The Standing Rock Sioux tribe followed it with lawsuits stating the lack of consulting and violation of the National Historic Preservation Act . The other side countersues stating the protest has interfered with construction that had been previously approved .
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation:
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other supporters remained peaceful as they “set up camps and prayer circles on the property where construction is planned” . Some waved flags, waded in the rivers and danced in their cultural attire [3,4]. The North Dakota Governor, at the time, Jack Dalrymple “activates the North Dakota National Guard to assist the local law enforcement” . Some protesters were met with police tactics of tear gas, rubber bullets and sprayed water as the temperatures started to drop below freezing resulting in a few arrests . Construction halts time and time again through higher up requests and voluntary.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers then “tells protesters to leave some encampments on federal land’ by a certain date due to the harsh weather conditions that were to be expected . As 2017 begins, the U.S Army states they will run environmental impact reports to which President Trump expedites and is eventually granted permission to continue construction . The Cheyenne River Sioux along with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe asked “the U.S. District Court to issue a restraining order to block construction of the final piece of pipeline” . It was denied though Dakota Access LLC was required to notify when oil began passing through. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux tribe then requested “a summary judgement against both the Army Corps and Dakota Access LLC” that was denied by U.S District Judge James Boasberg due to the tribes unlikely to win at that point . A final date was given for the remaining protestors .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects:
Overall, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe was not able to stop the construction of the final section of the Dakota Pipeline. However, three year later, “a federal judge ordered a sweeping new environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline” .
Analysis and Lessons Learned:
It has been seen time and time again how treaties between Native American tribes and the United States have not been upheld [3,6]. Compared to the success of the Keystone XL Stone project, there was much more media coverage and awareness compared to the Dakota Access Pipeline. This could be due to the Keystone XL pipeline being an international issue crossing multiple states and counties compared to a small crossing at a river .
 Elliott, S. K. (2015 May 25). How American Indian reservation came to be. Arkansas PBS. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/stories/articles/2015/5/25/how-american-indian-reservations-came-be
 Friedman, L. (2020, March 25). Standing Rock Sioux tribe wins a victory in Dakota access pipeline case. The New York Time. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/climate/dakota-access-pipeline-sioux.html
 Hershey, R. (2017 February 22). Key moments in the Dakota access pipeline fight. National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/02/22/514988040/key-moments-in-the-dakota-access-pipeline-fight
 Levin, S. (2016 November 3). Dakota access pipeline: The who, what and why of the Standing Rock protests. The Guardian. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/03/north-dakota-access-oil-pipeline-protests-explainer)
 Solis, S. (2017 February 23) Last of Dakota pipeline protesters ordered to leave Thursday. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/02/22/dakota-access-oil-pipeline-protest-camp-deadline/98240228/
 Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. (Assessed 2021 October 27). History. https://standingrock.org/about/history/
 The Osage Nation. (Accessed 2021 October 27) Osage Nation joins support efforts for Sioux tribe at Standing Rock in pipeline protest. https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/news-events/news/osage-nation-joins-support-efforts-sioux-tribe-standing-rock-pipeline-protest
 Wang, F. K. (2016 September 26). Native Hawaiians, Asian Americans show support for North Dakota pipeline protest. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/dakota-pipeline-protests/native-hawaiians-asian-americans-show-support-north-dakota-pipeline-protest-n654321
 Woodley, S (2016, October 20). Shailene woodley: The truth about my arrest. Time. https://time.com/4538557/shailene-woodley-arrest-pipeline/
 Worland, J. (2016 October, 28). What to know about the Dakota access pipeline protest. Time. https://time.com/4548566/dakota-access-pipeline-standing-rock-sioux/
The first version of this case entry was written by Mia Bennett, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.