The Sioux’s battle against a Dakota oil pipeline is a galvanizing social justice movement for Native Americans.
By Kristen A. Carpenter and Angela R. Riley
September 23, 2016
What sparks and sustains a movement? For more than a month, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies have gathered in camps along the Missouri River in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. They are protesting the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline which, if completed, would carry half a million gallons of crude oil per day ultimately to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.* More urgently for the protesters, the pipeline is slated to be built within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, traveling across treaty-guaranteed lands, under the tribe’s main source of drinking water, and through sacred sites. As lawyers for the tribe have argued, “An oil spill at this site would constitute an existential threat to the Tribe’s culture and way of life.”
For now, a federal appellate court has granted an injunction to temporarily halt construction over certain portions of the pipeline as it considers tribal claims under the National Historic Preservation Act, Clean Water Act, and other statutes. This follows a statement by the Department of the Interior, the Army, and the Department of Justice indicating that construction would not be allowed to go forward while the government reviews whether federal agencies adequately consulted with the tribes before permitting the pipeline. These are positive steps forward, particularly given that, as the government concedes, the pipeline was “fast tracked” through the normal environmental review processes. The recent judicial decision gives the federal government time to consider more carefully the risks that the pipeline will pose for humans, the water, and the environment.