Oil and water: what you should know about the Standing Rock protests


Image credit to Camille Seaman, 2016. Image via TED Ideas.

Image credit to Camille Seaman, 2016. Image via TED Ideas.

Last Thursday, while families across the country sat down to a warm Thanksgiving meal, hundreds of protesters in Standing Rock, ND faced freezing temperatures in their attempt to protect the Sioux reservation and land around it from the construction of a massive oil pipeline.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a proposed route to transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois, making it approximately 1,772 miles long. The pipeline is promoted as a more cost- effective, efficient, and environmentally conscious option than transporting oil by truck.

The plans for the pipeline show it posing a potential threat to natural resources, as well as intruding on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation land and the reservation’s only water source. The Sioux people have come together with tribes from all over the country, as well as non-Native people, to protest the pipeline and the derogatory treatment of Native Americans. They refer to themselves as “water protectors,” standing for the safety of their environment as well as their tribes. Actress Shailene Woodley, one of the many non-Native Americans who came to support the protesters, was arrested for “trespassing and engaging in a riot” along with several dozen others in October, bringing more attention to the protests in the media. Bernie Sanders has offered his support on Twitter, contributing to the hashtag #NoDAPL. 

More recently, the protesters have had their voices heard concerning the brutality from law enforcement they’ve seen or endured while in Standing Rock. Some have filed a lawsuit against the actions of the police after nearly 300 protesters were injured from the use of tear gas and water hoses, and rubber bullets. In addition, some of the police reports of the protest have proved to be skewed or blatantly inaccurate in their depictions of the actions of the protesters.

Protesters have been camped at the Standing Rock Reservation for several months, and increased action from state and federal entities are in effect to try and clear the encampment. North Dakota officials released orders to evacuate the camp, as well as fines for drivers attempting to enter the area with supplies such as food and supplies for the winter. Temperatures in Standing Rock near freezing daily, adding a risk of hypothermia from a water cannon blast and insufficient shelter.

On Thanksgiving Day, protesters created a makeshift footbridge out of plywood to allow over 500 people to cross the icy Cannonball River to pray at the Turtle Island burial grounds while armed police monitored the ceremonial prayers, songs, and dances performed to honor the graves. Many tribes observe the holiday as a day of mourning for the ancestors they have lost, and the ceremony creates a sense of peace for the protesters as a way to combat the violence they and their ancestors have faced.