Everything You Need to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests
Understand the environmental and cultural issue that Bernie Sanders, Shailene Woodley, and everyone else is talking about.
Published on November 1, 2016

For weeks now, your social media has probably seen a steady trickle of people speaking out against the North Dakota Access Pipeline, culminating in the deluge of Facebook “check-ins” at Standing Rock on Monday morning. Celebrities, including Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley, have been outspoken opponents of the pipeline. Progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders have also expressed their support. Despite all this, you may not know exactly what’s going on with #NoDAPL. Let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on in Standing Rock, N.D., and why advocacy against the pipeline has become such an important issue.

What is the Dakota Access Pipeline?

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a proposed 1,134-mile pipeline that would transport massive amounts of crude oil from the Dakotas to Illinois. It is estimated that the pipeline could move as much as a half-million gallons of oil per day. The project has met with resistance since it began, and after being rerouted several times, the planned path of the pipeline now goes through Native American territory. Construction is not only underway, but is already close to being completed.

What’s the problem?

The pipeline was redirected due to environmental concerns, and now it runs directly through land that is sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux (or Standing Rock Lakota). The tribe feels that the pipeline is running roughshod over its land with no regard for the people or their natural resources. That isn’t hard to empathize with, as two-thirds of the Sioux on the Standing Rock reservation are unemployed, with a yearly income of only $5,000, yet they are expected to yield their land in the interest of a billion-dollar revenue machine.

The Standing Rock Sioux also feel that the water sources they rely upon are in grave danger. The tribes in the area also view their water source, the Missouri River, as sacred. They have attempted lobbying the government and consumer agencies to no avail. Feeling like they have no other recourse, this has led to the current protests. Since the protests began, 300 other tribes have stood in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux.

What is being done?

In recent years, “pipeline protests” have become a common environmentalist tactic. The combination of activists sympathetic to the environmental impact and those concerned with Native American rights and land use has created a powerful, resonant protest at Standing Rock. Since April, the Standing Rock tribe and a number of allied tribes have stood against the pipeline at the Sacred Stone Camp. The holding company for the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, employs private security officers who have used intimidating tactics, including attack dogs, against protesters. Since the beginning of August, 400 protestors have been arrested at Standing Rock, and 142 arrests were made last Thursday and Friday alone.

In response to the aggressive tactics by security and police, protesters have taken to filming the site. Democracy Now has also been embedded at Standing Rock. Here’s one video they produced that shows the nefarious tactics security officers are using.

Protesters have also taken their grievances to social media. One of the most successful social media tactics came last Monday, in the form of a mass “Facebook check-in.” In addition to raising awareness of the protests, the tactic was aimed at making it more difficult for local police to track the identities and whereabouts of protesters. Though the effectiveness of the tactic is questionable, the show of support certainly isn’t. There have also been successful crowdfunding campaigns on behalf of the protesters at Standing Rock that have raised in excess of $1 million.

What’s next?

Clearly, the protesters have been successful at raising awareness of the pipeline protest. Just days ago, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe announced that they plan to continue protests through the winter. This will prove to be a logistical challenge for the tribe, as temperatures get as low as -35℉. Unfortunately, construction of the pipeline gets closer to completion every day, and with the failure to stop construction in courts, tribal leaders are talking about a “last stand” against the pipeline. Though many images from the protest have been inspiring, sadly, the chances of the protest being a success grow more bleak with each passing day.

Brenden Gallagher
Brenden Gallagher works in television and writing in Los Angeles. He worked on Revenge, Heartbeat, and Famous in Love. His writing has appeared at Complex, VH1, and MERRY JANE. Follow him on Twitter @muddycreekU
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