Short Take: Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline

Sharon Carson 

It is no exaggeration to say that history is being made along the Missouri River in North Dakota right now, as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s legal and political stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has been endorsed by tribal nations across North America, while the on-the-ground organized “protest and protection” has been joined by thousands of tribal members who have gathered in the Sacred Stone Camp at Cannon Ball, N.D. 

Here is the link to Standing Rock’s official tribal website, with updates, press releases, and ways to support their efforts. You will also find a growing list of tribal resolutions and letters supporting Standing Rock at this link.

Media coverage has quickly gone international, and a series of legal rulings and political actions have taken place in very swift succession, especially over the past week.  By the time we post this, there will no doubt have been more developments.

These events are extraordinarily complex, especially as they relate to legal and historical dimensions of tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, American Indian identity and culture, environmental protection, energy policy, and constitutional protections for free speech and civil disobedience.

Central to the protests, and something that is very much on the legal and political table but seldom in the headlines, is the relationship between sovereign tribal governments and the United States government.  On Friday, September 9, 2016, came an important statement from The Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior, regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The DOJ statement may not halt the DAPL across the Missouri River but the statement includes a critical recognition of tribal sovereignty and authority: “Furthermore, this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.  Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions:  (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.”

In today’s Short Take, NDQ offers our readers a series of links, commentary and images offering much to consider and access to ongoing coverage.

We’ll open with coverage from American Indian journalists and commentators, starting with Mark Trahant, who is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota and an independent journalist.  Mark is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe.  His September 11, 2016  NativeVote16 blog entry for Trahant Reports entitled “Overdue national debate about pipelines and ‘sound science’” is partly a response to the DOJ statement above but expands the scope of the issues well beyond it.  Trahant’s piece also includes several embedded links important to events of recent days and presenting a range of viewpoints.

And speaking of science, after careful deliberation the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) has also issued this statement in support of Standing Rock.

Other American Indian journalists and columnists have been covering the protests and legal developments for several weeks now: you can find continued coverage from a range of perspectives in the Indian Country Today tab for ongoing developments in the story.

Also find continual updates and coverage on

Sound can offer an important opening for the energies in play; here’s a SoundCloud clip of Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II speaking to Native youth in Bismarck, ND at the capitol protest on September 9, 2016.

There has been much criticism of local mainstream media coverage (or lack of it) by the dailies and broadcast entities in North Dakota. Local media has seemed to many of us to have been extraordinarily  slow to cover the remarkable events unfolding at Cannon Ball or the complexity of the issues, and has often indulged in sensationalist headlines and one-sided framing of events.

But some regional reporters like Amy Dalrymple, who has longer experience in our region, have reported more fully on events, including the recent use of dogs against pipeline protestors, which resulted in shocking images reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement of the mid 20th century, images which are now circulating worldwide.

Graphic artist Scribe created this piece in response to the dog attacks and it is circulating widely in social media: 

IMAGE 1 DAPL  scribe cartoon

Some of the pictures of the dog attacks were taken by Amy Goodman, longtime radio journalist for Democracy Now who is currently facing trespassing charges for her presence at those confrontations. Here is Democracy Now’s ongoing coverage, which reaches a national and international audience:

There has also been some very thoughtful commentary by non-Native North Dakota writers. Clay Jenkinson wrote a piece on the importance of listening to tribal concerns that is getting wide circulation.

And longtime Ashley, ND columnist Tony Bender offered some very smart and welcome comic and satiric relief in this column:

National media in the United States has clearly registered the significance of these events, with recent articles and coverage delving into important details and complexities: From The Atlantic.

The Atlantic piece above features interviewees from the American Indian Law Program out of University of Colorado-Boulder, and they are providing important legal assistance to protestors taking part in principled civil disobedience at the protest sites.

Just a few other examples of recent longer stories from national media: 

The New York TimesThe New Yorker, and The Washington Post.

Many of these articles and links contain photographs and images that have quickly become iconic and are now circulating worldwide.  We close this Short Take with three images that capture other energies currently in play along the Missouri River. These pictures were taken recently and are circulating closer to home among regional participants of the protest down at Cannon Ball. Thanks to the photographers for sharing them with NDQ.  

Two images by Julie Garneau, Mnicoujou Lakota- CHEYENNE. River Sioux tribe

IMAGE 2 DAPL Julie Garreau

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And one from Lisa Lone Fight, a UND graduate. MHA, and geo-spatial Scientist and Researcher:

IMAGE 3 DAPL Lisa Lone Fight


Sharon Carson, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor, Department of English, University of North Dakota 

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