No DAPL! Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Native Americans
The movement called No DAPL involved people across the country advocating for land rights alongside the Native American Sioux Tribe in the Standing Rock reservation. The Sioux tribe and their supporters gathered for months to protest a decision to lay oil pipeline across the reservation, potentially harming the environment, water source, health, and heritage of the residents. The protest was philanthropically significant for its social activism and the involvement of veteran and youth groups.

Written by Gabriel Soliman



No DAPL was a movement in the U.S. to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Dakota Access LLC is “a subsidiary of the pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners” (Hersher 2017), and its Dakota Access pipeline stretches across “nearly 1,200 miles, from the Bakken oil fields in northwestern North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa and down to a terminal in Illinois” (Hersher 2017). The pipeline would ultimately cost “$3.8 billion” and “transport up to 520,000 barrels of crude [oil] a day” (Brady 2017). Furthermore, it was projected to “create 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs — though far fewer permanent jobs to maintain and monitor the pipeline” (Healy 2016).

However, not all Americans perceived the pipeline to be a benefit to the community. For the Native American Sioux Tribe in the Standing Rock reservation, the Dakota Access Pipeline not only posed a threat to their community’s environment and health, but also to their cultural heritage. According to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the “route traverses ancestral lands – which are not part of the reservation – where their forebears hunted, fished and were buried” (Healy 2016). At this same location, pipes would run “under a Missouri River reservoir called Lake Oahe, [which] would jeopardize the primary water source for the reservation,” should a leak occur (Hersher 2017).  Through both legal channels and social activism, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, as well as other organizations and individuals supporting the cause, have worked to halt or reroute the construction of the pipeline.


Historic Roots

For a long time, the U.S. has had a massive network of pipelines to transport “products like oil and natural gas, pumping them to processing and treatment plants, power plants, homes and businesses” (Healy 2016).  As of 2016, the U.S. had approximately 2.5 million miles of pipelines coursing through the country both above-ground and underground (Healy 2016).  The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers began drafting a plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline in December of 2015.  Most pipelines meet little controversy, but to the community of Standing Rock, North Dakota, the Dakota Access Pipeline posed a threat to their public health and cultural heritage.  The first main issue brought up was one of water security, which is the ability for people to access clean and adequate water. If a leak in the pipelines were to occur, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe feared that their main water supply in Lake Oahe, a reservoir off of the Missouri River, would be contaminated (Hersher 2017).  Furthermore, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe claimed that the construction of a pipeline on its planned route would “damage sacred burial sites” (BBC News1 2017).  On July 25, 2016, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the Dakota Access Pipeline route that crossed the Missouri River at the Lake Oahe reservoir (Hersher 2017).

Protesters had been gathering since April (Healy 2016) at the site of the pipeline’s construction, but in August of 2016, the Sioux Tribe, under the leadership of their chairman, David Archambault II, sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “claiming that the Corps had failed to adequately consult tribe members before approving the pipeline, and had violated the National Historic Preservation Act when it effectively authorized construction of the vast majority of the pipeline in and around federally regulated waters without any provision to ensure against destruction to culturally important sites” (Hersher 2017). 

As more information on the issue disseminated, more protestors outside of the Sioux tribe gathered at Standing Rock, and peaking at an estimated 10,000 people who had come to the region to join in the demonstrations (BBC News1 2017).  Throughout the course of the protests, several other individuals and groups joined in solidarity with the Sioux Tribe. As many as 2,000 veterans joined demonstrations in Standing Rock (Healy 2016).  Several celebrities became involved in the protests including Mark Ruffalo, “who provided infrastructure for the camp, including solar panels” (Baldacci et al. 2016) and Shailene Woodley who was arrested by North Dakota police for alleged criminal trespassing (Ehrbar 2016).  Despite the massive scale, No DAPL was not successful in fully halting or rerouting the Dakota Access Pipeline.  On January 24, 2016, just four days after taking office, President Trump “signed executive actions allowing construction on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines to move forward,” by expediting the “comprehensive environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline” that Obama had ordered just a few months prior (Norris 2017).  In March and April of 2017, the Dakota Access Pipeline suffered several minor leaks, the largest resulting in a spill of 84 gallons of oil in South Dakota on April 4 (The Guardian 2017).  In November of 2017, an equally contested pipeline, Keystone XL, which traversed through South Dakota leaked 210,000 gallons of oil (Kaufman 2017).  These leaks only served to further galvanize the opposition of both pipelines’ operation, and the legal battle and protests still persist today.



The No DAPL protests were monumental in illustrating the power of social movements and their relationship to the government.  It signified the importance of American rights as citizens, particularly the rights outlined in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Under the 1st Amendment, Americans have freedom of speech, the right to report information in the press, and the right to peacefully assemble (Legal Information Institute), yet some felt that these rights were threatened during the protests.  While the No DAPL protests were overwhelmingly peaceful, there were instances where police, security personnel, and protesters clashed.  In late October 2016, at least 117 protesters were arrested at Standing Rock, where police fired “bean bag rounds and pepper spray gas and unleashed a high-pitched siren to disperse the crowd” (Baldacci et al. 2016).  Protesters charged with misdemeanors were subject to “widespread use of strip search in the Morton County jail,” including Sioux Tribal chairman, David Archambault II (Goodman 2016).  Several journalists, including Amy Goodman, a host for Democracy Now!, and filmmaker, Deia Schlosberg, were arrested as well.  Schlosberg faced charges that could result in a maximum prison sentence of 45 years; Edward Snowden, a former NSA employee charged with espionage, tweeted in response, “for reference, I face a mere 30 years” (Anderson 2016).  Amy Goodman, who “filmed security guards working for the Dakota access pipeline using dogs and pepper spray on protesters,” was accused of “participating in a ‘riot’, a serious offense that could result in months in jail” (Levin 2016).  While the charges against Goodman were rejected by a judge (Levin 2016), the arrests endangered the right for people to report on the No DAPL protests. Actions by the police and Dakota Access security personnel sowed fear in journalists and protesters, which many interpreted to be an effort to deter them.

Despite these tactics, the majority of protesters and journalists remained resolute. The No DAPL protests most notably illustrated the power of social movements, and its ability to mobilize thousands toward a common goal.  At the height of the protests, nearly 10,000 people were physically present at the protest camps in Standing Rock (BBC News1 2017), and many note the No DAPL protests to be the largest gathering of Native American tribes in a century (Ehrbar 2016).  With the advent of technology, the number of people in solidarity was even greater. No DAPL was by no means the first social movement to utilize the internet and social media, but the scale to which it supported the movement was impressive. Nearly 1.4 million people checked in on Facebook to Standing Rock in an effort to confuse police whom protesters believed were “using Facebook's location feature to compile a list of activists” (BBC News3 2016).  Under the banner of the hashtags #NoDAPL and #StandWithStandingRock, rallies were organized from San Francisco, where more than 5,000 people gathered at City Hall, to St. Paul, Minnesota, where 1,000 people gathered at the Army Corps office, and New York and Washington D.C. where 2,000 and 3,000 people demonstrated respectively (Sierra Club 2016). However, despite the massive scale and pressure from the protests, the pipeline was approved and operates today.

Ultimately, No DAPL showed that who is in government does matter.  As mentioned previously, under the Obama administration, it appeared that the protests were working.  Obama called for “a comprehensive environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline before its final section could be built,” but shortly after President Trump took office, these environmental reviews were ordered to be expedited, and the pipeline section was approved (Norris 2017).  This does not mean that the pipelines would have indefinitely been rejected had the end of 2016 not been a time of presidential transition, but, undoubtedly, the contrasting perspectives of both President Obama and President Trump influenced, at the very least, the speed at which the pipeline was ultimately approved.  Protests have the power to influence government policy, but they are still at the mercy of the government’s willingness to receive their outcry.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

One of the most important connections to the philanthropic sector that the No DAPL movement had was to youth organizations. Associations like the One Mind Youth Movement and Rezpect Our Water were some of the first to organize for Standing Rock. As some of the first protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the youth from these organizations set the example for nearly 10,000 people to join the demonstrations at Standing Rock.  

The One Mind Youth Movement was initially started to help curb suicides among the Native American youth (Elbein 2017).  They worked to set up safe havens for struggling youth on reservations, but, in 2015, they fought the Keystone XL pipeline until Obama “denied the Keystone XL permission to cross the U.S.-Canadian border” (Elbein 2017).  After that victory, they set their sights on the Dakota Access Pipeline.  In March of 2016, “citizens of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, frustrated with the lack of action from their tribal council… put out a call for help to other Sioux Reservations,” and the One Mind Youth Movement answered (Elbein 2017). With minimal support from the Tribal Council, One Mind set up a prayer camp that mirrored what they had created in opposition to Keystone XL (Elbein 2017); this camp became the epicenter of the protests as they grew in Standing Rock.  To bring more attention to the issue and to put greater pressure on the U.S. government, One Mind started a “500-mile relay run from the Sacred Stone Camp to Omaha to deliver a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking it to deny the Dakota Access Pipeline permission to cross the Missouri River” (Elbein 2017).  While the run did not stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from providing an easement for the pipeline, it certainly mobilized the older generations in their community, and it brought together several Native American tribes and other Americans of contrasting backgrounds to stand with Standing Rock.

Rezpect Our Water was another youth movement that came out of the No DAPL protests.  They performed two of the most important functions of philanthropy – advocacy and disseminating information. Rezpect Our Water was started by Native American youth in Standing Rock. They contested the pipeline with videos by local youth and celebrities, including the cast of the Justice League movie (Rezpect Our Water 2017). Through Rezpect Our Water, several high school and middle school students living in the path of the pipeline wrote letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the organization set up a petition that today has over 500,000 signatures (Rezpect Our Water 2017).

However, the No DAPL movement was a legal battle as much as it was a protest movement. In their effort to reroute the Dakota Access Pipeline, philanthropic law organizations such as Earthjustice aided the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in taking their dispute with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to court. Earthjustice is an environmental law organization that primarily works on cases related to wildlife preservation, community health, and clean energy (Earthjustice2 2017), and following President Trump’s executive order to grant permits to the Dakota Access Pipeline, they represented the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in a lawsuit to challenge that decision.  While the pipeline had been completed and continues to operate today, the court ruled in favor of the Sioux Tribe and “ordered the Army Corps to do a new analysis of these critical issues, in what is called a ‘remand’ process” (Earthjustice1 2017).


Key Related Ideas

  • The 1st Amendment – In the U.S. Constitution, the 1st Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (Legal Information Institute). Actions by law enforcement during the No DAPL protests were considered by some to be threats to this amendment, specifically in reference to “the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”
  • Indigenous Rights – This concept refers to the rights of indigenous people, or “people who inhabited a land before it was conquered by colonial societies and who consider themselves distinct from the societies currently governing those territories” (University of Minnesota Human Rights Center). In the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the issue surrounds the rights of the Sioux Tribe in Standing Rock and other Native Americans whose health and cultural heritage would be threatened by the pipeline.
  • Keystone XL – An international pipeline stretching from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska (Robinson 2017), the Keystone XL pipeline underwent similar controversy to the Dakota Access Pipeline. In 2015, former President Obama halted approval for Keystone XL, but shortly after taking office, President Trump issued a “memorandum inviting TransCanada, the developer of the Keystone XL Pipeline, to re-submit its application to the Department of State for a Presidential permit for the construction and operation of the pipeline” (Robinson 2017).  In November 2017, the pipeline suffered a leak, spewing 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota (Kaufman 2017).
  • Water Security – The United Nations defines water security as “the capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of and acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability” (UN Water). One of the main concerns of the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline is that, should a leak occur, it poses a severe risk of contamination to the local Sioux Tribe’s main water source in Standing Rock (BBC News1 2017).


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Amy GoodmanGoodman is a host for the news program, Democracy Now! On September 3, 2016, she was arrested on charges of rioting after filming “security guards working for the Dakota access pipeline using dogs and pepper spray on protesters” (Levin 2016). Ultimately, the charge was rejected by a North Dakota judge, but the arrest acted as an example of freedom of the press potentially being restricted by pipeline stakeholders.
  • Barack Obama – As the president of the United States from 2009 – 2017, Barack Obama was a key political actor at the height of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In response to the protests, Obama ordered a comprehensive environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline before the final section could be built (Norris 2017).
  • David Archambault II – The former chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, David Archambault led the Native American opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (Brady 2017). He recently lost the tribal councilman election to Mike Faith (Brady 2017).
  • Donald Trump – The current president of the United States, Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 24, 2017 “allowing construction on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines to move forward” (Norris 2017).
  • Shailene Woodley – Woodley is an actress famous for her starring roles in the “Divergent” series and “The Fault in Our Stars”. She was active in the No DAPL protests in Standing Rock, and on October 10, 2016 she and “26 other individuals were arrested during a peaceful protest at a pipeline construction site in Sioux County, North Dakota” (Ehrbar 2016).  The footage of her arrest went viral, for “Woodley was able to capture much of the encounter on video, as she was streaming the protest via Facebook Live at the time” (Ehrbar 2016).


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Earthjustice – This organization is a nonprofit environmental law organization whose primary mission is to “preserve the wild, to fight for healthy communities and to advance clean energy to promote a healthy climate” (Earthjustice2 2017). They represent the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their lawsuit against the Army Corps (Earthjustice1 2017) (
  • One Mind Youth Movement (OMYM) – An organization comprised of “youth leaders organizing out of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota,” One Mind Youth Movement has worked to serve Native American children (OMYM 2017). They were instrumental in starting the No DAPL protests, and established the prayer camps which became the center and staging point for opposition to both the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipelines.
  • Rezpect Our Water – A Standing Rock Youth Organization, Rezpect Our Water has used YouTube and social media to advocate for the No DAPL movement and to encourage supporters to sign a petition “urging the Army Corps of Engineer NOT to sign off on a construction permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline” (Rezpect Our Water) (


Reflection Question - What do the events surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline and No DAPL indicate about the strengths and shortcomings of protest?



  • Anderson, Rick. “Charges dropped against filmmakers arrested while taping pipeline protest”.
  • BBC News1. Dakota Pipeline: What's behind the controversy?
  • BBC News 2. Riot police move in on North Dakota pipeline protesters.
  • BBC News3. What is Standing Rock and why are 1.4m 'checking in' there?
  • Baldacci, Marlena, Emanuella Grinberg, and Holly Yan. “Dakota Access Pipeline: Police remove protesters; scores arrested”
  • Beaumont, Hilary “Standing Rock celebrates after Army Corps announces it will look at other routes for Dakota Access Pipeline.”
  • Brady, Jeff. “Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Voted Out Of Office.”
  • Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute. U.S. Constitution: First Amendment.
  • Dwyer, Colin. “Dakota Access Pipeline Owner Sues Greenpeace For 'Criminal Activity.”
  • Earthjustice1. DAPL Update: The Oil Will Keep Flowing, The Fight Continues.
  • Earthjustice2. Our Work.
  • Ehrbar, Ned. “Shailene Woodley arrested at Dakota Access Pipeline protest.”
  • Elbein, Saul. “The Youth Group That Launched a Movement at Standing Rock.”
  • The Guardian: Associated Press. “Dakota Access pipeline and a feeder line leaked more than 100 gallons in March”.
  • Healy, Jack. “North Dakota Oil Pipeline Battle: Who’s Fighting and Why”.
  • Hersher, Rebecca. “Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight”.
  • Kaufman, Alexander C. “Keystone XL Pipeline Just Cleared One Of Its Final Hurdles Despite A Massive Leak”. nebraska_us_5a12faaee4b0c335e99615fc
  • Levin, Sam. “Judge rejects riot charges for journalist Amy Goodman after oil pipeline protest.”
  • Norris, Courtney. “Trump signs order to advance Keystone XL and Dakota pipelines.” PBS News Hour.
  • One Mind Youth Movement. About Us.
  • Rezpect Our Water. What We Stand For.
  • Robinson, Khalea Ross. “Dakota Access and Keystone Pipelines Revived: Why Does It Matter?”
  • Sierra Club. Tens of Thousands #StandWithStandingRock.
  • UN Water. Water Security and the Global Water Agenda.
  • University of Minnesota: Human Rights Library. Study Guide: The Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.