We asked 8 Indigenous activists: How significant was Standing Rock?

Last year, Indigenous people captured the world's attention when the Oceti Sakowin stood up to the Dakota Access Pipeline. It is a fight that brought out startling imagery after protesters we're attacked by security dogs, pepper sprayed, and eventually sprayed by a tank of water in frigid temperatures. The legal battle is not over, but here are some first hand accounts of what Indigenous people learned from the protests at Standing Rock.

Reflections on the pipeline battle that captured the world's attention

The protests in Standing Rock gained thousands of supporters last year and drew international media coverage. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Last year, Indigenous people captured the world's attention when thousands of protestors joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. It is a fight that brought out startling imagery after protesters were attacked by security dogs, pepper-sprayed, and eventually sprayed by a tank of water in frigid temperatures. The legal battle is not over, but CBC asked people what they learned from the protests at Standing Rock.

Do you think something like Standing Rock could happen again?

Nick Estes, Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule, N.D.

"One of the great things about it, it showed an alternative —  with all its faults and problems — what happens when people get together and take control of their lives. You had free food, free education, free legal aid for people, and you had a different sense of community that was built. Those sorts of things are absent in all poor communities in the United States, especially in Indigenous communities like Standing Rock. In that sense, people have envisioned a possible future. So there will be a Standing Rock, but maybe it won't be around a pipeline."
From left to right: 'Cuny Dog,' Dave Archambault, Sr., Nick Estes, and Bill Means at the camp. (Submitted)

Sadie Phoenix Lavoie, Anishinaabe, Sagkeeng First Nation, Man.

"I think this is just the beginning. There's still a lot of momentum in terms of the movement itself. I think it's going to be happening on all fronts. You're going to have Indigenous lawyers challenging them in the court system, you're going to have Indigenous land defenders fighting them at the construction site, you're going to have allies right across turtle island putting pressure to the politicians and challenging them at every opportunity."
Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie and Kevin Settee, pictured at Standing Rock in December. (Submitted)

How significant was Standing Rock to Indigenous peoples?

Isaac Murdoch, Anishinaabe, Serpent River First Nation, Ont. 

"I think it was very significant because it brought people together in unity, to stand for the environment. And right now, during climate change and during a time when industry is polluting all of our waters, it's pretty significant. People have learned how the police have militarized themselves, how they react. How we reacted. We learned about movements, what works, what doesn't work. The political stuff. People will be better equipped next time."
Isaac Murdoch is a well-known Indigenous artist and activist in Canada. (Submitted)

Amber Bracken, Edmonton, Alta. 

"From youth groups to elders, Indigenous people are leading the way fostering language, culture and spiritual teachings, developing economic strategies, standing up for the land and sacred places, creating effective outreach for residential school survivors and people affected by intergenerational trauma. It seems to me that there is an electricity about this moment in the way that, while there has always been an element of resistance, movements are reaching critical mass, which we saw recently in Idle No More and then again in the scale of the Standing Rock camps."
Photographer Amber Bracken described her experience at Standing Rock as 'profound, difficult, beautiful, disappointing, complex, sometimes a little unnerving, and I feel absolutely privileged to have witnessed and met the people there.' (Amber Bracken)

What was your experience like?

Sylvia McAdam, Nehiyaw, Big River First Nation, Sask.

"It was tense and frightening. Even during the day, there was the airplane and the helicopter that was circling and circling. You couldn't even rest. I was shocked. I came away from there shocked and astounded at how much military were there. I don't think people realize how much military activity was directed against that camp."
Police arrest protesters during a demonstration against the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Mandan, N.D. Nov. 15, 2016. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

Clayton Thomas Muller, Cree, Pukatawagan Cree Nation, Man.

"Complete shock and awe. Shock from the incredible manifestation of violence and white supremacy pointed towards grassroots water protectors at the hands of the government of North Dakota and the federal government. I was completely shook by the violence pointed at peaceful, non-violent Indigenous peoples that we're mobilizing to protect the sacredness of water. I was also in awe of just the incredible magnitude of this mobilization. There has not been a gathering of Indigenous peoples … since before colonialism."
Clayton Thomas-Muller is a campaigner with climate justice movement 350.org. (CBC)

Do you think things have changed since Standing Rock?

Pam Palmater,  Mi'kmaq, Mi'kma'ki, N.B.

"I don't think Canada or the U.S. governments have changed at all — we have been stuck in this same battle since Wounded Knee, Oka, Elsipogtog and Standing Rock. When it comes to Indigenous rights — whether treaty rights or constitutional rights — they are rights in theory only. Our 'rights' are only legal arguments we get to make in court if we survive the on the ground attack  and if we have enough money to fight the government in court for 25 years. They are certainly not 'rights' if the government can use all force necessary to stop us from peacefully protecting those rights."
Pam Palmater is a lawyer, professor, activist and politician from Mi'kma'ki, N.B. (Michelle Girouard)

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Lubicon Cree First Nation, Little Buffalo, Alta.

"Yes and no. Yes because it was the first time on such a large scale that massive waves of people from all walks of life came to support Indigenous peoples in protecting their homelands. Throughout the years we have seen solidarity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in their work to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth, but with the advent of social media we were in control of the messaging and we spoke for ourselves. We dominated the messaging, and mainstream media could not longer manipulate the truth. However, what has not changed is that the same perpetrators are still continuing their business as usual utilizing a corrupt system to continue extract resources from the land and contribute to climate change when we know it is essential to keep it in the ground if we want to continue have clean air, clean water, and a stable climate for future generations."
Melina Laboucan-Massimo said Standing Rock 'was like the Oka crisis for us.' (David Suzuki Foundation)