What Really Happened Standing Rock
On Thursday, November 16, 210,000 gallons of oil leaked from the Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota. We should have seen it coming. If we had listened to the environmental activists and indigenous people who have put their bodies and well-being on the line for years — and, most notably, at Standing Rock reservation last year — to adamantly warn us about the environmental dangers of pipelines and their tendency to leak, we would have.
Activists have protested pipeline constructions for years, but gained little media attention for doing so until 2016, when thousands gathered to speak out against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which they claimed would pose not only an environmental and economic threat to the nearby Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but would also cut through their sacred land, putting it at risk. The DAPL would run more than 1,800 miles beneath land spanning from North Dakota to Southern Illinois — and notably beneath Lake Oahe, which is sacred to tribes near Standing Rock, like local Lakota and Dakota people. It was estimated to eventually transport more than 520,000 barrels of oil per day.
The media representation of this movement, however, often failed to fully describe the complex, harrowing, and incredible experience of the predominantly young activists on the frontline. Here’s what actually happened over the past year at Standing Rock, according to Andreanne Catt and Lauren TwoBraids Howland — two youth leaders who witnessed it all firsthand and gave their account to MTV News. They are leading the movement forward.Seeding Sovereignty
At left, Lauren TwoBraids Howland and, at right, Andreanne Catt
May 2016: Contracted workers begin to clear a path for the pipeline, although final approval for construction isn’t given until July. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe sues the federal agency that granted the pipeline's final permits, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to try to halt pipeline construction. Activists begin to mobilize.
Andreanne Catt: I didn’t tell anybody I was leaving — I just hopped a bus to Standing Rock. I only had a purse and a blanket and I just decided I needed to go.
Standing Rock [camp] was a home to all of us: [the protesters] were all family. All the happiness at camp made us stick together; it made us hopeful, it kept us all in high spirits.
The frontlines were a whole different place and a different story. The frontlines were scary.
We never used the word ‘protest’ because it wasn’t an ‘us and them’ thing. We called it ‘protecting’ because that’s what we were doing — defending the land, people, and water using non-violent direct action. We stressed non-violence throughout.