The Current

No end in sight for Standing Rock protest against Dakota Access pipeline

Indigenous activists in Canada and the U.S. are urging the Lakota Sioux to stand their ground in the Dakota Access pipeline dispute that they say has implications for Native lands. The company behind the pipeline says it's safe but the standoff continues.
Dakota Access Pipeline protesters square off against police between the Standing Rock Reservation and the pipeline route outside the little town of Saint Anthony, North Dakota, U.S., Oct. 5, 2016. (Terray Sylvester/Reuters)

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Protesters led by more than 90 Indigenous groups from across North America have been camping since April at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline. They say the pipeline that would carry crude oil across four states to Illinois is a threat to sacred land, and to the Missouri River which is the main water supply for the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation.

The Texas company behind the $3.8 billion U.S. dollar project says it's safe. But the standoff continues and more than 200 protesters have been arrested so far.

Tribal attorney Tara Houska is the national campaign director of Honor The Earth. She tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that "increased police response" is resonant in the protest camps.

"In just the last few days we saw police use rubber bullets, mace, Tasers, you know less lethal rounds on Native American men, women and children demonstrating against the Dakota Access pipeline."

Houska said police in riot gear raided the encampment that had been constructed right on the pipeline route to cease construction.

Authorities move in to evict pipeline protesters

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"The department of justice, the department of the army, the department of the interior has actually asked the Dakota Access multiple times now to stop construction."

"So the federal government has asked the company to stop. It has not."

Merrill Matthews supports the company's right to build the pipeline. He's a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation and tells Tremonti the government and company reached out for input, brought in archaeologists to produce cultural surveys involving land and rerouted the pipeline in different areas to avoid "certain sensitive areas."

The pipeline was originally slated to run through Bismarck, North Dakota but Houska says it was rerouted because there was concern about the drinking water.

More than 200 protesters have been arrested in recent weeks as the standoff continues against the Dakota Access pipeline. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

"The Missouri River is our soul drinking water source," Houska tells Tremonti. "So when the pipeline leaks that will contaminate the drinking water for the people."

She says that the existing aging pipelines also pose a great risk to the 17 million people that live along the river.

"That's the reason why you build a new pipeline in order to be able to get the new technology," Matthews argues. "So you're avoiding the potential hazards that you could otherwise have."

Matthews tells Tremonti he sees this divisive issue as a way to promote environmental activism.

"I think the environmental community sees fighting pipelines as a next major way to be able to try to essentially hinder the fossil fuel industry."

But Houska says what it comes down to is "this is a moment for Indigenous rights in which we're saying enough is enough."

"This is our homeland. This is our treaty land. You can't keep doing this to our our communities"

Listen to the full segment.

This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman, Pacinthe Mattar, Willow Smith and Karin Marley.