DEFENDING SACRED voice of the landless


Between the prairie and the Missouri River lies the whisper of a revolution.

Thousands occupied once sacred lands and put their bodies on the line to raise the level of debate.

They were known as 'water protectors'.




As a response to the forced construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through treaty lands, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe established resistance camps. Throughout much of 2016 between the prairie and the Missouri River stood the whisper of a revolution. Thousands occupied once sacred lands putting their bodies on the line to raise the level of debate. They fought a constant battle leaning on non-violent protest tactics against an increasingly militarized police force, the oil companies, and the media. By late September, over 300 federally recognized Native American tribes joined in solidarity; the largest gathering of Tribes in recorded history. Alongside activists and veterans, they became known as the 'Water Protectors' drawing the attention of the world and reframing the struggles of native land rights, climate change, fossil fuel dependency, and maintaining clean water for future generations.



On April 1, 2016, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, an elder member and historian of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and her grandchildren established the Sacred Stone Camp. It was to be ground-zero for their protest of the proposed re-routing of the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline from the heavily Caucasian Bismarck, ND area to just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. They stood on the claim that the 3.8 billion dollar project, which would carry about 500,000 barrels of crude per day from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield to Illinois, would cross unceded 1851-treaty lands without permission while threatening sacred burial lands and the upper Missouri River; the only water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and for an additional estimated 20-25 million Americans.

On September 3, Dakota Access responded to an injunction filed less that 24 hours earlier by the tribe to protect sacred sites said to contain Native graves and burial artifacts along the proposed route by jumping to bulldoze those very sites over the weekend. The company's hired security, using dogs and pepper spray, attacked unarmed Native American protestors as they discovered the atrocity and tried to stop the construction.


The camps swelled following the dissemination of the Labor Day Weekend footage by DemocracyNow! of Native Americans being attacked by private DAPL security in response to their protest of their sacred sites being razed without warning.
Many burial sites sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux were located along the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The September 3rd razing site became a 'frontline' camp.


By late September, over 300 federally recognized Native American tribes joined in solidarity, the largest gathering of Native Tribes in recorded history, alongside an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 pipeline resistance supporters residing in the camp. Many thousands more joined the ranks of 'water protectors' on weekends. North Dakota's former Republican Governor, Jack Dalrymple, declared a state of emergency to be able to mobilize the state's National Guard to assist the Morton County Sheriff Department, which frequently a greater concern for preventing further delays for the pipeline company than with keeping the peace.

The many Nations' color flying at the Sacred Stone Camp where the resistance began.

On December 4, a day before the deadline for a protester camp evacuation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not permit an easement through federal land and would temporarily halt the construction of the pipeline to allow an environmental impact review and the exploration of alternate routes.

This news broke after months of militarized law enforcement action taken against the protesters, who remained primarily peaceful and prayerful. Police occupied sacred burial sites and blocked major roadways preventing groups from praying with their ancestors and making it nearly impossible to reach the contested sites or the city of Bismarck effectively in the event of an emergency. In one instance, while razor wire barricades separated the water protectors from the police doused dissenters, who posed no threat, with water cannons in sub-zero temperatures.


North Dakota National Guard soldiers run a checkpoint on the main road from the state's capitol, Bismark, to the resistance camps.




The Dakota Access Pipeline violates Article 2 of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty which guarantees that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe shall enjoy the “undisturbed use and occupation” of their permanent homeland, the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The U.S. Constitution states that treaties are the supreme law of the land. Despite the protections supposedly afforded under law, and aside from the environmental concerns, history shows why they are talking a hard line on Dakota Access - The U.S. Government has not upheld any of their treaties with these indigenous tribes in full and continues to subvert those agreements further.

The Trump Administration along with those who stand to benefit from the pipeline project promote the idea that these projects will lower energy costs, will contribute to American oil independence, and will create jobs. The US Department of State has indicated that both projects will generate only 90 permanent full-time jobs, however. Since the majority of the oil carried by these two pipes will be used for export, the projects are likely not to accomplish the former goals either. Given the particularly dirty nature of tar sands and fracked crude to be run through these pipelines, environmentalists suggest the cost of the inevitable damage caused by a potential spill would be devastating to any local communities, which echoes the tribe's concerns.

Illustrated above: The progression of unceded lands taken from the Sioux Nation Tribes since 1851

In the 1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation built five large dams on the Missouri River, and implemented the Pick–Sloan Missouri Basin Program, forcing Native Americans to relocate from large areas to be flooded behind the dams. These dams were for flood control and hydroelectric power generation in the region. More than 200,000 acres on the Standing Rock Reservation and the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota were lost to the Oahe Dam alone.

Upper Lake Oahe (Reservoir), between Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and Pollock, South Dakota.


"She's your Mother; the fresh water is her veins." - Prolific
The Missouri River and Lake Oahe as seen from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.



(Life and conditions here will be of particular focus for further documentation)


The two counties that encompass the Standing Rock Reservation — Sioux County in North Dakota and Corson County in South Dakota — are both ranked in the top 10 poorest counties in America.

Of the 353 counties in the United States deemed by the federal government to be persistently poor — meaning the poverty rate has been above 20% for three consecutive decades — 85% are in rural areas that included Native American reservations like Standing Rock and its Oglala Sioux counterparts on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The Standing Rock poverty rate is 43.2%, nearly triple the national average of 14.5%. There is little economic activity to speak of on the reservation and childhood mortality, suicide, and dropout rates are among the highest in the nation. Food insecurity is vast. Access to quality healthcare and education is lacking. Far too many go without electricity or running water. These conditions are made worse by political and economic red tape that stymie growth and development.


A bar and the casino on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.



The water protectors inhabiting these lands sparked a national movement in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The water protectors occupying these lands have sparked an international movement in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and fossil fuel dependency.




A protest encampment established inline with the proposed route of the Dakota Access Pipeline; known to the native activist community as the 'Black Snake'.

A relentless North Dakota winter has now descended on the 'water protectors', while a new administration has made clear they support oil infrastructure projects. On January 24th, just days after taking office, Donald Trump issued an executive memorandum ordering the Secretary of the Army to expedite approval of Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access Pipeline. He also issued a memorandum to resurrect the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. Finally, he issued an executive order expediting the environmental-review and approval process as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The stock values of both companies have benefited greatly from the news of the executive actions.

The press, meanwhile, has made clear the extent of the reciprocal investment between the Trump administration and Energy Transfer Partners. Though he has divested his entire stock portfolio in preparation to take office, a May 2015 disclosure listed his holdings in the company to be worth between $500,000 and $1 million. The Washington Post also uncovered that the company’s CEO Kelcy Warren donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory Campaign, a fundraising committee jointly run by Trump’s campaign, the Republican National Committee, and several state parties. Finally, Rick Perry, former Republican Governor of Texas and Trump's cabinet pick for Energy Secretary held an influential seat on the corporate board of Energy Transfer Partners.

As our nation's newest president scars another page of history with his mark and another multi-national company benefits to pollute the earth with their greed and filth, a voice from the outer-limits of the fringes of our society is calling for help with the fierce urgency of now. Is anyone listening? Is anyone out there? Those committed say their fight against the 'Black Snake' will continue until it's pronounced dead or the oil begins to flow.

A state highway sign displays the outline of a Native American Chief near the reservation.



This piece was produced as a prospectus to garner support for the continued documentation of this story by Ryan Spencer Reed both in North Dakota and beyond. The work remains unpublished; first-looks and guarantees are on the table in exchange for sufficient support and reasonable compensation.





Created By
Ryan Spencer Reed


All photographs and text ©Ryan Spencer Reed 2017 / All rights reserved

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