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Why the fight for Standing Rock isn't over

After months of protests, activists near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are celebrating a victory: The federal government said it won’t allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the disputed portion of the Missouri River.

After months of protests, activists near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota are celebrating a victory: The federal government said it won’t allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the disputed portion of the Missouri River.

Instead, the Army Corps of Engineers plans to explore alternate routes for the pipeline and to prepare an environmental impact statement.

But this isn’t the first time such steps have been considered, nor is it a full resolution. Here’s our timeline chronicling the two-year-long dispute pitting the Sioux Tribe’s interests against those of a major oil company and the federal government:


May 29, 2014 – Dakota Access LLC (DAPL) proposed a pipeline route that went just north of Bismarck.

Source: Environmental Assessment, Dakota Access Pipeline Project, July 2016

Sept. 29, 2014 – DAPL rerouted the pipeline south to cross Lake Oahe, a dammed part of the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Reasons given for the new route:

  • 11 miles shorter
  • Followed an existing gas pipeline
  • Wasn’t near Bismarck’s water supply

Sept. 30, 2014 – Standing Rock Sioux tribal leaders told Energy Transfer Partner representatives they opposed the pipeline in a meeting.

Nov. 6, 2014 – DAPL adjusted part of the route to avoid municipal growth expected in the Williston area.

Dec. 17, 2014 – DAPL applied to the North Dakota Public Service Commission for permits. The state then conducted cultural and environmental impact assessments.

Feb. 17, 2015 – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which approves construction involving national waterways, sent a letter to the tribe asking if it was interested in consulting on the pipeline proposal.

Feb. 25, 2015 – The tribe responded to the Army Corps, saying it was “committed to participating in these efforts” and requesting a formal environmental impact statement.

May 28, 2015 – State regulators held the first of three public hearings on the pipeline in Mandan.

June 2015 – DAPL reached agreements with landowners to build in the state.

June 15, 2015 – The second of the state regulator’s public hearings was held in Killdeer.


June 26, 2015 – The final public hearing was held in Williston.

Dec. 9, 2015 – The Army Corps released a draft environmental assessment and said public comments would be accepted until Jan. 8, 2016.

Jan. 8, 2016 – The tribe submitted 23 written comments opposing the pipeline plans in response to the draft environmental assessment.

Jan. 20, 2016 – The state’s regulators voted 2-0 to give DAPL a permit. One of the three regulators recused himself due to a conflict of interest: DAPL was negotiating with his mother-in-law to build on her property.

Feb. 26, 2016Tribal members demonstrated in front of the tribal administration office to protest the decision.

March 24, 2016 – The tribe submitted 16 more written comments opposing the pipeline plans in response to the draft Environmental Assessment.

April 2016 – LaDonna Brave Bull Allard founded the first camp, now known as Sacred Stone, near the construction site.

April 29, 2016 – The Army Corps held a public forum to listen to comments and concerns from Native Americans at the Grand River Casino in Mobridge, South Dakota.

May 19, 2016 – The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation wrote to the Army Corps opposing the Corps’ determination that the pipeline wouldn’t impact historic properties. The ACHP said those findings were “based on an incomplete identification effort, which was not sufficiently informed by the knowledge and perspective of consulting parties, including federally recognized Indian tribes.”


July 27, 2016 – The tribe filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps in federal district court to attempt to stop pipeline construction.

July 28, 2016 – The Army Corps released its final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact, giving DAPL another OK for building. But it did not issue the final approval, or easement, that DAPL needs to drill under the river.

Aug. 4, 2016 – The tribe requested a preliminary injunction to stop construction while its lawsuit played out, arguing that DAPL might complete the pipeline before the lawsuit was decided.

Aug. 24, 2016 – Amnesty International USA sent a delegation to the main camp to observe clashes between law enforcement and indigenous demonstrators. The group later expressed concern over what it saw in letters to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Sept. 3, 2016 – A private security company hired by DAPL used dogs that bit demonstrators. The Hartville, Ohio-based company was not licensed to operate in North Dakota, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. The demonstrators were trying to protect what they said was sacred burial land. DAPL bulldozed the area the next day, according to the tribe.

Sept. 9, 2016 – A judge rejected the tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction, but the Department of the Army asked DAPL to voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of the river crossing.


Sept. 12, 2016 – The tribe filed an emergency request for injunction pending appeal.

Oct. 9, 2016 – The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the tribe’s request, but the Army said it would continue its review. It reiterated its request that DAPL pause work in the area. Lawyers for the tribe say on their website that DAPL “forcefully rejected the Government’s request for a voluntary pause, and continues to pursue construction ever closer to the Missouri River and the camps of protesters.”

Nov. 1, 2016 – President Barack Obama said in an interview, “There is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans” and that the administration would let the situation in Standing Rock “play out for several more weeks.”

Nov. 3, 2016 – An activist was hit by a rubber bullet while filming a protest near the construction site. Police also used pepper spray on demonstrators.

Nov. 14, 2016 – The Army finished its initial review of the tribe’s concerns and said “additional discussion and analysis are warranted.” It said construction on federal land couldn’t occur while discussions continued with the tribe, since the Corps hadn’t granted DAPL the easement to drill under the river.

Nov. 15, 2016 – DAPL filed a counter-lawsuit saying it already has the necessary permits for finishing the pipeline.

Nov. 15, 2016United Nations observers said law enforcement used “unjustified force” on protesters and that people who were arrested suffered “inhuman and degrading conditions in detention.” They called on Energy Transfer Partners to halt construction.


Nov. 20, 2016 – Police hit hundreds of protesters with water cannons in freezing temperatures, sending some demonstrators to the hospital. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department told local media the cannons were a “pretty effective means of crowd dispersal and to avoid escalation into other tactics.”

Nov. 25, 2016 – The Army Corps told campers to relocate from the main camp by Dec. 5. It said it created a “free speech zone on land south of the Cannonball River for anyone wishing to peaceably protest the Dakota Access pipeline project.”

Nov. 27, 2016 – North Dakota’s governor ordered the immediate evacuation of the main camp following a heavy snowstorm.

Nov. 28, 2016 – An initiative of the National Lawyers Guild said it filed a class action lawsuit against Morton County and its law enforcement accusing them of using excessive force on demonstrators.

Nov. 30, 2016 – Law enforcement officials said they would fine people bringing supplies into the camp in an effort to force people to leave.

Dec. 4, 2016 – The Army Corps announced it would not grant the easement for DAPL to drill under the river. It said it will consider alternate routes and prepare an environmental impact statement. DAPL companies called the announcement a “purely political action.” Separately, about 2,000 military veterans were expected to have arrived at the camp to form a human shield between protesters and police.