For months, the Standing Rock Sioux have camped on the outskirts of their North Dakota reservation in an effort to stop the installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which they say could ruin their primary source of water.
The nearly $4 billion project traversing four states from North Dakota to Illinois would cross underneath the Missouri River if construction continues on its current path. The reservation relies on the water, and residents are afraid that if anything goes wrong and causes a leak, thousands of people there and many more downstream will suffer.
“Water is life,” they say, a statement echoed in a segment broadcast by MSNBC’s The Last Word on Tuesday night.
On Friday, a federal judge in Washington rejected the tribe’s bid to halt construction of the pipeline.
The standoff reached its peak on Sept. 3 when construction crews began clearing topsoil near the proposed route a mere 24 hours after the tribe identified that land as sacred in a court document.
But you might not have heard of this struggle.
Cable news has barely broached the topic. As of early Wednesday afternoon, the only headline on CNN’s website with the search term “Standing Rock” is an editorial written by a Native American urging Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to respond to the tribe’s protest. Fox News has utilized Associated Press stories on its own site.
MSNBC is the only major network to have dedicated some resources to the Standing Rock Sioux’s plight, but it hasn’t been a major headline. Lawrence O’Donnell has discussed it a few times on The Last Word, including Tuesday night’s piece on his visit to the Sacred Stones camp over Labor Day Weekend.
Newspaper reports have not garnered much attention.
So if this protest is news to you, here’s what you should know.
The scene on Sept. 3 turned chaotic fast.
Protestors clashed with the construction crew’s guards. A tribe spokesman told The Associated Press that six people were bitten by security dogs and at least 30 others were pepper-sprayed. The AP also disclosed that the Morton County Sheriff’s Office, which said four private guards and two dogs were injured in the ruckus, did not report injuries to protesters.
Vicki Granado, speaking on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners, told CBS News that protesters “attacked” the crew.
The pandemonium prompted tribe Chairman David Archambault II to find a bigger forum for his tribe’s pleas.
“On a holiday weekend — only days away from a decision in our case — they ransacked the ground, clearing topsoil across a two-mile stretch. Our sacred sites were ravaged and ruined by an oil company focused solely on profit,” Archambault wrote in a letter published by The Hill. “On Sunday morning, under the cover of dark, they came back to finish the job. (...) Our people are heartbroken. Our history is destroyed. That ground is now hollow.”
Since then, the Standing Rock Sioux have petitioned for a temporary restraining order to keep Dakota Access from continuing its work. U.S. Judge James Boasberg granted only a partial stop Tuesday after determining the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lacked jurisdiction on private land, reported The Associated Press.
But the tribe still has plenty at stake.
The Sioux challenged the Corps’ handling of the project, saying the approval process did not follow protocol. Per federal law, the Corps was supposed to consult with the tribe before giving the Dallas-based company the green light, but Archambault called the regulators out in his letter on The Hill for not doing so.
By the end of this week, Boasberg will rule on the Standing Rock Sioux’s challenge. A decision in their favor would at least halt construction until the Corps and the tribe could settle on a solution for how to handle the remains of Sioux ancestors found in the area.
Hundreds of Native American tribes from across the country have declared support for the Sioux, according to the Washington Post. Celebrities have also chimed in, including Shailene Woodley, Susan Sarandon and the “Justice League” cast.
Politicians have taken sides, too.
But the Sioux are still waiting on presidential candidates to speak out. Sarandon implored President Barack Obama to take action.