Despite bitter cold, wind, rain and hail, hundreds of members of Native American tribes and supporters from around the country turned out Friday to march on the White House, in an effort to turn the momentum of the Standing Rock protests into a more sustained movement for native rights.
The march and a rally in Lafayette Square across from the White House came after four days of protest, prayer and lobbying on Capitol Hill, where Native communities called for the protection of natural resources and demanded the new administration honor treaties with indigenous peoples.
Those issues were drawn into sharp focus last year during the months-long fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock reservation. Oil is set to flow as early as next week through the pipeline, a $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile project running from North Dakota to Illinois.
“Since the very beginning, we understood that Dakota Access was just one part of a greater fight for indigenous rights and indigenous sovereignty,” said Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the more active groups behind the Dakota Access protests at Standing Rock.
Last July, the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes filed a lawsuit to stop the pipeline’s construction, sparking months of protests. In court filings, they said the pipeline “threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious and cultural significance.”
On his fifth day in office, President Donald Trump gave the green light to the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as the Keystone XL pipeline, which indigenous groups have also protested. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for all water crossings, granted a final easement required to complete for the Dakota Access Pipeline last month.
The executive order and Army Corps decision was a blow for opponents of the pipeline. But Goldtooth said the momentum from the fight signaled the start of a larger movement.
“That resistance is growing,” he said. “The fire of Standing Rock burns brightly in countless communities across the country, native and non-native.”
On Friday, indigenous groups were joined by Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, along with celebrities, environmental groups, peace activists, veterans, college students and nonprofits working on First Amendment and LGBT rights.
Logan Betts, a student at George Washington University, decided to come to the march after following the protests at Standing Rock — including reports of violent confrontations between law enforcement officials and protesters in November — for months in the news.
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