Thousands of people have joined the Standing Rock Sioux Nation's fight against construction of a contentious oil pipeline, a showdown Indigenous leaders in North Dakota warn won't end anytime soon.

They're opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a multimillion-dollar project that's supposed to transport light sweet crude oil from the Bakken oilfield near the Canadian border to Illinois.

Pipeline track

An area cleared for the Dakota Access Pipeline can be seen from the side of Highway 6, south of Bismarck, N.D. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Tribal leaders and their supporters fear a potential leak in that pipeline would poison the Missouri River, which borders the entire western edge of the reservation. 

For weeks, people from across North America have been gathering at camps that have sprung up in and around Cannon Ball, N.D., a town within the Standing Rock Reservation, just south of Bismarck, N.D. 

"It's overwhelming," Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council chair David Archambault said. "I never expected it to be this big, but I'm thankful and proud to be Native American, because I know that with unity, there's a lot of things we can overcome."

'Good hosts'

The largest camp, called the Red Warrior Camp, has swelled even more since a recent confrontation involving private security guards armed with dogs and pepper spray, sparked after construction crews allegedly bulldozed an area believed to be a tribal burial ground.

The camp was already populated by Indigenous people from across the U.S. and Canada, but even more have arrived since video and photos of that incident were shared widely on social media.

Thousands of people are now living in what has become a small town of teepees, lodges, tents and RVs, where people on horseback are a common sight — and where even more people seem to arrive by the hour. Those entering the massive camp are greeted by a road lined with flags from dozens of Indigenous nations that have offered support to Standing Rock.

Flags at Standing Rock

Flags from dozens of Indigenous nations that support Standing Rock's fight against the pipeline greet people arriving at the camp. (Tim Fontaine/CBC)

Those who stay in the camp are fed from a huge kitchen that seems to operate round the clock, offering hot meals to an army of people. Clothing, camping supplies and toiletries are also distributed from a tent to anyone who needs them. Most of what's offered is donated; the rest is provided by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

"We want to be good hosts," said Archambault . 

'Uplifting' experience for youth

Layha Spoonhunter, 26, is from the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Already a youth advocate in his own community, Spoonhunter said living in the camp for over two weeks now has given him something of a spiritual reawakening.
 
"I'm not looking at a television each day. I'm getting to hear from elders, I'm getting to hear our stories, and hearing the different songs from all the different tribes that have come here, it's really uplifting."

Spoonhunter is among a group that has organized a two-day youth gathering at the Red Warrior Camp that kicks off on Thursday.

While most of the people who have arrived to support Standing Rock are Indigenous people from the United States, many people living north of the border are travelling here.

Kevin Hart, a regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations in Manitoba, recently spent a few days in the area. More from Manitoba and other parts of Canada are expected to arrive in the coming days.

Emergency declaration

But depending on where people are travelling from, the trip to this area can take a little longer than normal.

The quickest way to get to Standing Rock from Bismarck is usually south on Highway 1806, which winds along the western bank of the Missouri River. The trip normally takes under an hour. But for weeks, North Dakota Highway Patrol have been redirecting many people onto a detour that can double the normal travel time, depending on traffic.

It's the result of an emergency declaration signed by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Aug. 19, in response to the growing protest. The governor's office has said there have been complaints about the increase in traffic on that route since the protests began, and the detour is for safety reasons.

"The governor's executive order does not include activation of the North Dakota National Guard, but makes available other state resources for the purpose of protecting the health, safety and well-being of the general public and those involved in the protest," reads a statement from the governor's office.

'Not going to end anytime soon'

On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered work must stop on portions of the Dakota Access Pipeline, but many here are waiting for a separate ruling expected this Friday — an injunction that could potentially halt all work in and around the reservation.

Regardless of the outcome on Friday, Archambault  believes the losing side will file appeals.

"This didn't just begin two weeks ago, and it's not going to end any time soon," he said.