More than 300 tribes from around the globe came together to unite against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile pipeline slated to carry crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to storage facilities in Illinois. The first prayer camps were established in the spring by indigenous youth and by the end of summer, thousands of self-described Water Protectors had gathered on the banks of the Missouri River.
Their resistance is both novel and a perpetuation of history. While the scope of this tribal communion has never been seen before, the struggle for indigenous people seeking to protect and maintain their land has been carved deep into America’s past.
The $3.7 billion pipeline was originally slated to cross the Missouri River north of Bismarck, but was later rerouted to cross just 1500 feet upstream of the Standing Rock Reservation, through sacred territory originally set aside for the Sioux in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The Missouri is the tribe’s primary source of drinking water, along with 17 million other Americans.
In response to the movement, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department along with various state and local law enforcement used militarized tactics against the Water Protectors, leading to numerous injuries and hospitalizations.
During President Obama’s last days in office, the Army Corps of Engineers denied the easement needed for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River. The agency pledged to consider alternative routes as it prepared to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement, a process that would examine the environmental risks of a spill, as well as the tribe’s treaty rights. Less than a week after his inauguration, Donald Trump signed a memorandum ordering the Army Corps to review and approve the project. The EIS was annulled, pipeline construction has resumed, and the main Oceti Sakowin camp has been ordered to vacate by today.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, along with several others, have vowed to fight the pipeline in court and have asked for people to join them in their march on Washington next month.
Madeline Cottingham is a New York-based photographer, dedicated to examining environmental and human rights issues. Her photography has taken her across the globe, from gold mines in Tanzania and the ruins of Hurricane Sandy, to the front lines of the natural gas revolution in Pennsylvania.