Protesters from multiple tribes say they are taking a stand for future generations against the four-state Dakota Access Pipeline Project.
Native tribes and environmentalists say the pipeline would disrupt a sacred burial ground, as well as threaten water quality in the area. They argue that the Army Corps of Engineers should never have granted permits for its construction.
“(It’s) about a half a mile away from the main water intake of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. We know that pipelines break, we know from the engineering schematics of this particular pipeline, it is most likely to break here,” one protester says.
A teenager who joined the demonstration said: “The elders keep saying 'we’re saving this for our children'. And we’re the children. We want to fight for our water. We want to fight for our rights and our children’s rights. So why not step up and use our voices and our bodies to fight for our water?”
The protests have sparked a wide-spread debate over the history of the United States. American television commenter Lawrence O’Donnell broadcast a powerful video on MSNBC about “the history America always tries to forget.”
The video, featuring poignant commentary, has gone viral. “This country was founded on genocide, before the word genocide was invented,” O’Donnell says.
On Tuesday a federal judge decided to temporarily halt construction on some, but not all, of a $3.8 billion four-state oil pipeline, but its broader request still hangs in the balance.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said that work will temporarily stop between North Dakota's State Highway 1806 and 20 miles east of Lake Oahe, but will continue west of the highway.
A confrontation between protesters and construction workers over the weekend near Lake Oahe prompted the tribe to ask on Sunday for a temporary stop of construction. Four private security guards and two guard dogs received medical treatment, officials said, while a tribal spokesman noted that six people - including a child - were bitten by the dogs and at least 30 people were pepper-sprayed.
Dakota Access attorney Bill Leone said during Tuesday's hearing that if it weren't for the stoppages, the section in question would be finished by the end of this week.
Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault II issued a statement after the ruling, saying: "Today's denial of a temporary restraining order ... west of Lake Oahe puts my people's sacred places at further risk of ruin and desecration." Attorney Jan Hasselman with Earth justice, who filed the broader lawsuit on behalf of the tribe, noted the tribe will "know more by the end of the week about where we're heading."
A spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners didn't immediately respond to telephone messages requesting comment.
Over the weekend, workers allegedly bulldozed sites on private land that Hasselman said in court documents was "of great historic and cultural significance to the tribe." The tribe's cultural expert, Tim Mentz Sr., said in court documents that the tribe believes there are human remains in the area and that it wants "an opportunity to rebury our relatives."
"The elders say that reburying can help deal with the loss and hurt of disturbing these graves," he said.
Lawyers for Energy Transfer Partners filed court documents Tuesday morning denying that workers have destroyed any cultural sites and asking the judge to reject the tribes' request for a temporary work stoppage. The company said it "has taken and continues to take every reasonable precaution" to protect cultural sites.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers didn't oppose the tribe's most recent request, with Assistant Attorney General John Cruden saying in court documents that "the public interest would be served by preserving peace."
The tribe's outstanding lawsuit attempts to halt construction of the pipeline, which is due to be finished this year. The suit says the project violates several federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, will harm water supplies on the reservation and downstream and disturb ancient sacred sites.