ND pipeline protester: It's about our rights as native people

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Native American protesters march from an encampment on the banks of the Cannonball River to a nearby construction site for the Dakota Access Pipeline to perform a daily prayer ceremony.
Native American protesters march from an encampment on the banks of the Cannonball River to a nearby construction site for the Dakota Access Pipeline to perform a daily prayer ceremony.

In North Dakota, work has stopped on one section of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Still, over the weekend protesters continued to stream into camps set up near the construction site.

One protest camp is about an hour's drive south of Bismarck. A prairie there is covered with tepees, tents and RVs. Flags from tribes around the country line the dirt road into the camp.

More than 1,000 people, most of them Native Americans, have gathered at two prayer camps along the Cannonball River near its confluence with the Missouri in North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.
More than 1,000 people, most of them Native Americans, have gathered at two prayer camps along the Cannonball River near its confluence with the Missouri in North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

"We brought a ton of water, sleeping bags, mats to sleep on," says Jessie Weahkee of Albuquerque. She traveled 17 hours from Albuquerque to bring a moving truck full of donations for the hundreds of people who are now living at the camp.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposes the pipeline because the route crosses sacred sites and burial places. They're also concerned that if the pipeline ruptures it could pollute local drinking water.

Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, N.D., hours before a federal judge denied the tribe an injunction against the pipeline.
Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, N.D., hours before a federal judge denied the tribe an injunction against the pipeline.

Weahkee says her family faced a similar situation back home. They opposed plans to build a highway through Petroglyph National Monument, but they lost that battle. So she's here — hoping the Standing Rock Sioux can win this one.

For her, this protest is about more than opposing an oil pipeline. "It's about our rights as native people to this land. It's about our rights to worship. It's about our rights to be able to call a place home, and it's our rights to water," she says.

People raise their fists in solidarity as canoes arrive at a protest camp that sprang up to demonstrate against the pipeline. The canoe flotilla had representatives of tribes from across the Pacific Northwest, who had navigated the Missouri River from Bismarck to Cannon Ball to show their support.
People raise their fists in solidarity as canoes arrive at a protest camp that sprang up to demonstrate against the pipeline. The canoe flotilla had representatives of tribes from across the Pacific Northwest, who had navigated the Missouri River from Bismarck to Cannon Ball to show their support.

The company Energy Transfer Partners thought it had all the approval it needed to build the 1,172-mile-long, $3.78 billion pipeline.

Last Friday, a federal judge rejected a request from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to stop construction. But then the Obama administration stepped in and stopped construction on federal land. In a statement, the administration also asked the company to voluntarily stop construction within 20 miles of the section on federal land.

Speakers (left) at the Sioux tribal council lodge mark the first time that the Seven Councils of the Oceti Sakowin have met in more than a century, says Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II. (Right) A detail of regalia worn by Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of the Crow Nation. The Crow and Sioux nations were once enemies, and the show of support was considered historic.
Speakers (left) at the Sioux tribal council lodge mark the first time that the Seven Councils of the Oceti Sakowin have met in more than a century, says Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II. (Right) A detail of regalia worn by Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of the Crow Nation. The Crow and Sioux nations were once enemies, and the show of support was considered historic.

The tribe says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should have done a better job consulting with tribal leaders before approving construction. Now the Corps will go back and determine whether it should reconsider any of the conclusions the agency made that led to approving the pipeline.

The administration's decision was a win for the tribe and its supporters, but it's just a temporary halt to construction. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe wants a permanent halt.

Signs left by protesters at a pipeline construction site a mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
Signs left by protesters at a pipeline construction site a mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

Energy Transfer Partners did not respond to NPR's request for an interview. A group that supports the pipeline, Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, was critical of the Obama administration's move in a statement, calling it "deeply troubling" and saying it could have a chilling effect on infrastructure development in the U.S.

If the protests stall the pipeline's completion, the big losers could be oil drillers in North Dakota. Because of a production boom, they are producing more oil than the state can use and that pushes down the prices they get.

Young men chop wood at a family's camp circle in the protest camp.
Young men chop wood at a family's camp circle in the protest camp.

The Dakota Access pipeline would transport about 470,000 barrels of crude a day from western North Dakota down to central Illinois. Without the pipeline, drillers may have to discount the price they get for oil so it could be shipped by train.

And beyond that pipeline, supporters point out that shipping crude by pipeline is almost always safer than shipping it by train. Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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