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Donald Trump mounted an aggressive defense of his presidency Thursday, lambasting reports that his campaign advisers had inappropriate contact with Russian officials and vowing to crack down on the leaking of classified information

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Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

People protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrate at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota on Thanksgiving Day 2016. Cassi Alexandra for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cassi Alexandra for NPR

The Dakota Access Pipeline’s route takes it over four states and nearly 1,200 miles, from the Bakken oil fields in northwestern North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa and down to a terminal in Illinois. But one Missouri River crossing just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota has become the focal point of a fight over how the pipeline’s route was analyzed and approved by the federal government. In legal challenges and public demonstrations, members of the tribe and their supporters have argued that they were not adequately consulted about the route. Running the pipeline under a Missouri River reservoir called Lake Oahe, member say, would jeopardize the primary water source for the reservation, and construction would further damage sacred sites near the lake, violating tribal treaty rights.

After more than six months of legal wrangling, the Trump administration reversed a decision by the Obama administration and announced it is allowing the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, to drill under Lake Oahe and finish building the last section of the pipeline. Here are some key moments in the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

This story has developed over many months, and this timeline captures only a portion of the newsworthy developments that have occurred, focusing largely on legal and policy decisions.

Dec. 2015 – Jan. 2016

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Omaha District publishes a draft[1] of its plan to approve the Dakota Access Pipeline route under the Missouri River. The Corps opened the plan up to public comments, including comments on environmental and cultural impacts.

April 2016

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office determines that no historic properties will be affected by the pipeline crossing.

A letter[2] from the Corps’ senior field archaeologist for the project lists five “recorded cultural sites” within the area that could be affected by construction of the pipeline, and more than 30 others that are thought to be within a 1-mile radius.

Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

The letter supports the determination that “no historic properties will be subject to effect,” by the crossing under Lake Oahe, and notes that the Standing Rock Sioux has requested further archaeological survey of the area.

June 2016

The U.S. government’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation disputes the Corps determination in a letter[3] to the assistant secretary of the Army, citing the need for cooperation with tribal leaders to identify areas of concern to them. In the letter, the advisory council director asks the Corps to justify its decision.

July 25, 2016

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves[4] the portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline route that crosses the Missouri River at the Lake Oahe reservoir. The crossing is on Army Corps-controlled land. The 1,261-page report announcing the approval said of the public review process: “No significant comments remain unresolved.”

The Omaha district commander, Col. John Henderson, wrote, “I have evaluated the anticipated environmental, economic, cultural, and social effects, and any cumulative effects” of the river crossing and found it is “not injurious to the public interest.”

Aug. 4, 2016

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sues[5] the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The tribe alleged 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.”

“There is a high risk that culturally and historically significant sites will be damaged or destroyed in the absence of an injunction,” the tribe wrote in its court filing.

Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

In August 2016, demonstrators rally near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. That same month, a subsidiary of the company building the pipeline, accused protesters of halting construction activities. James MacPherson/AP hide caption

toggle caption James MacPherson/AP

Aug. 15, 2016

Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of the pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners, countersues[6] leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux, alleging that protesters near the Lake Oahe river crossing have “halted construction activities” that had been scheduled to begin five days earlier.

“On Wednesday August 10, 2016, representatives of Dakota Access arrived at the Construction Site and were met with resistance by approximately 15 to 30 individuals … who were protesting the construction of the Pipeline. By the afternoon, the number of individuals protesting at the Construction Site increased to approximately 100,” the company wrote.

Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

Native American protesters and their supporters approach construction crews during a demonstration against work being done for the Dakota Access Pipeline near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Sept. 3, 2016. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Sept. 3, 2016

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe issues a statement saying Energy Transfer Partners demolished an area that contained “significant Native artifacts and sacred sites” when construction crews bulldozed a two-mile-long area near the Lake Oahe river crossing and north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

“I surveyed this land and we confirmed multiple graves and specific prayer sites,” the tribe’s historic preservation officer, Tim Mentz, said in the statement. “Portions, and possibly complete sites, have been taken out entirely.”

Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

And protests in North Dakota turned violent[7] when private security guards clashed with some protesters. As reporter Amy Sisk of the public radio collaboration Inside Energy said in an NPR Live discussion on Facebook[8], “What happened is some protesters who’ve been camped out near this construction area broke through a fence to access this construction site and were met with some private security guards and guard dogs hired by the pipeline company. … Law enforcement says the protesters attacked the security guards and the dogs.” She added that[9] demonstrators said the dogs “actually bit some of the protesters.”

Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

Demonstrators march from an encampment on the banks of the Cannonball River to a nearby construction site for the Dakota Access Pipeline to perform a daily prayer ceremony in September 2016. Andrew Cullen hide caption

toggle caption Andrew Cullen Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

Protesters (left) wade into the Cannonball River as others (right) pray and hold flags while marching across a wooden pedestrian bridge across a creek north of the main protest camp near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Emily Kask for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Kask for NPR

Sept. 9, 2016

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg denies[12] the Standing Rock Sioux’s request to stop construction. In his decision[13], he writes that “the United States’ relationship with the Indian tribes has been contentious and tragic.” But he went on to say that the Army Corps “likely complied” with its obligation to consult the tribe, adding that the tribe “has not shown it will suffer injury that would be prevented by any injunction the Court could issue.”

But the Justice Department, the Department of the Army and the Interior Department announced that construction[14] on Army Corps-controlled land near the Lake Oahe river crossing should not proceed and asked that the pipeline company honor the request pending further evaluation and consultation with the tribe.

Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

Oct. 12, 2016

Energy Transfer Partners proceeds with construction despite the request by the three federal agencies that it voluntarily halt activities near the Lake Oahe river crossing. The Morton County Sheriff arrests 27 people[15] demonstrating at the site.

Oct. 24, 2016

The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, Dave Archambault II, sends a letter[16] to then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting an investigation “to protect civil rights” of protesters, citing the “overall militarization of law enforcement response.”

Nov. 2, 2016

Then-President Obama says in an interview[17] that the U.S Army Corps of Engineers is “examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline in a way. So we’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans.”

Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

Military veterans protesting the pipeline stand opposite police guarding a bridge at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Dec. 1, 2016. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Scott Olson/Getty Images Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

Oceti Sakowin Camp occupied by protesters can be seen in the distance on Dec. 4, 2016. Cassi Alexandra for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cassi Alexandra for NPR

Dec. 4, 2016

The Army Corps halts construction[22] of the Dakota Access Pipeline and says it intends to issue an environmental impact statement with “full public input and analysis” before it approves the river crossing at Lake Oahe.

Jan. 18, 2017

The Army publishes a notice[23] in the Federal Register saying it is preparing the environmental impact statement and soliciting public comments until Feb. 20, 2017, on whether to grant the easement necessary to cross under Lake Oahe.

Jan. 24, 2017

Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight

President Trump signs an executive memorandum instructing the Army to expedite the review and approval process[24] for the unbuilt section of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Jan. 31, 2017

The Army says[25] it has been directed to expedite the review process for the easement request, and that “the Assistant Secretary for the Army Civil Works will make a decision on the pipeline once a full review and analysis is completed in accordance with the [president’s] directive.”

Feb. 7, 2017

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers grants the easement[26] allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The Corps also issues a memo[27] saying it intends to terminate the public comment period and rescind its notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact assessment. The pipeline company immediately began construction[28] near the crossing under Lake Oahe.

Feb. 9, 2017

The Cheyenne River Sioux tribe asks the U.S. District Court to issue a restraining order[29] to block construction of the final piece of the pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe officially joins the request[30] a few days later. Both reservations get their water downstream of the Lake Oahe crossing.

Feb. 13, 2017

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg denies the tribes’ joint motion, noting that oil is not yet flowing under the reservoir. In his decision, Boasberg requires Dakota Access LLC to update the court on Feb. 21, “and every Monday thereafter as to the likely date that oil will begin to flow beneath Lake Oahe.”

Feb. 15, 2017

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux tribe request a summary judgement[31] against both the Army Corps and Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of the pipeline company.

The plaintiffs cite tribal land rights under the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty[32] and argue that the Corps decision to grant the easement was “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.”

Feb. 17, 2017

The Corps formally terminates its environmental review in a notice published[33] in the Federal Register.

Feb. 22, 2017

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum sets this date as a deadline[34] for the remaining protesters to leave an encampment on federal land near the area of the pipeline company’s construction site.


  1. ^ publishes a draft (
  2. ^ A letter (
  3. ^ in a letter (
  4. ^ approves (
  5. ^ sues (
  6. ^ countersues (
  7. ^ protests in North Dakota turned violent (
  8. ^ said in an NPR Live discussion on Facebook (
  9. ^ She added that (
  10. ^ temporarily halts construction (
  11. ^ activates the North Dakota National Guard (
  12. ^ denies (
  13. ^ decision (
  14. ^ announced that construction (
  15. ^ arrests 27 people (
  16. ^ sends a letter (
  17. ^ says in an interview (
  18. ^ uses tear gas and sprays water (
  19. ^ tells protesters (
  20. ^ follows up (
  21. ^ Nonetheless, many people stay (
  22. ^ halts construction (
  23. ^ publishes a notice (
  24. ^ expedite the review and approval process (
  25. ^ Army says (
  26. ^ grants the easement (
  27. ^ issues a memo (
  28. ^ began construction (
  29. ^ asks the U.S. District Court to issue a restraining order (
  30. ^ the request (
  31. ^ request a summary judgement (
  32. ^ 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty (
  33. ^ notice published (
  34. ^ as a deadline (

Inside the final days of the Standing Rock protest

Nancy Shomin first came to Standing Rock back in September after a stint in recovery for alcoholism. She was born in Flint, Michigan and had been the only native girl in her elementary school. Her father couldn t stop Nancy s classmates from bullying her, but he tried to balance his daughter s loneliness with a steady exposure to tribal customs and rituals. Her life had been spent in and out of institutions prison, rehab, therapy. In rehab, Nancy tried to process what had happened to her during a violent childhood, but she found that she was constantly doubting the veracity of her memories. She decided to head to Standing Rock because a friend had put out a call on Facebook. When Nancy first saw line of tipis by the Missouri River, she felt the neurosis of recovery melt away. Nancy quickly committed herself to life as a water protector. She went on marches to the pipeline construction site, got arrested, and spent time in jail. Whenever she would leave camp to see her family back in Michigan, she would feel a creeping unease what was she missing back in camp? Did the resistance still need her? She kept coming back to North Dakota and started picking up the camp s dual languages of activism and spirituality. She was no longer at Standing Rock to block the construction of the pipeline and protect the waters of the Missouri River from contamination but also to decolonize herself in a sacred space of prayer. At the front lines, where water protectors faced off with Morton County sheriff s deputies and the National Guard, Nancy played the role of a watcher she made sure the situation was in some semblance of control.

There s always one or two policemen who break away from the line, she said. And they re the ones you have to watch out for because something in them has broken, and they re going to be the ones who will respond violently to a prayerful protest. In early December, however, after the Army temporarily blocked the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Standing Rock Sioux leadership asked people to leave camp and return to their homes. They said they would fight any future battles in court. Nancy didn t leave because she, like many in camp, did not believe that the victory was a permanent one, especially with Donald Trump coming into office. Rumors were flying around that the tribe had been paid off by the state of Nevada, by the company building the pipeline, by the incoming presidential administration. But a blizzard in early December and the hierarchies of camp, which did not allow activist organizations to question tribal leadership, pushed most people out of camp. Nancy watched as the infrastructure of the camp, Oceti Sakowin the young lawyers, the bearded hippie builders, the cheery kitchen staff, and roving security force all left camp along with the most of the four thousand veterans who had crashed into camp the weekend of the Army s announcement as part of a doomed, nightmarishly disorganized campaign spearheaded by Wesley Clark Jr., the screenwriter son of the three-star general who ran for president, and Michael Wood Jr., a former Marine-turned-whistleblower with the Baltimore Police Department.

By early February, just two weeks after Trump signed a presidential memorandum to expedite construction of the pipeline, the ten thousand who had been in camp for the Army s announcement had been weeded down to a few hundred. Then, in compliance with his executive action, the Army Corps of Engineers reversed the previous decision and granted the final permit necessary to complete the pipeline.

A spell of unseasonably warm weather had started to melt the sheet of ice that covered camp throughout the winter and turned the ground at Oceti Sakowin into a bog of broken tents, coolers filled with rotting food, and abandoned, busted cars. A small network of tractors, backhoes, and dump trucks began to enter camp to start clearing away the tons of garbage. The putter of heavy machinery and the crashes of big bits of trash being dropped into a dumpster replaced the constant chatter of the camp. Nancy found a spot on higher ground and shacked up in an old Army tent with a few friends.

Inside The Final Days Of The Standing Rock Protest

Now, the resistance at Standing Rock is on its last legs the legal challenges have gone unheeded. Tribal leadership has gone silent. The activist journalists that were sending out livestreams from the front lines have gone off with the rest of the media to cover the Trump presidency. At the Grammy Awards, Paris Jackson said to a cheering crowd, We could use this kind of excitement at a pipeline protest, guys. And then, awkwardly pumping her first, she said, Hashtag no DAPL. She was talking about a ghost there is no more protest at Standing Rock, and the people left at camp are split between those who have already resigned themselves to the inevitability that the pipeline will be built and those who talk to one another about some miracle they hope will still come down the line. In early February, the Army Corps told everyone to clear out of Oceti Sakowin by Feb. 22. Back in December, that kind of of ultimatum would have been absurd a sizable militia would have been needed to clear ten thousand people off the banks of the Missouri River. Now, with only a few hundred left, the infrastructure gone, and roadblocks set up that have deterred people from bringing supplies into camp, twenty committed police officers and a paddy wagon could uproot six months of continued protest and prayer. Nancy doesn t know exactly what will happen on Feb. 22, but she has no intentions on leaving camp. They re going to have to arrest people, she said. It s going to get ugly, whether it s bloodshed or not.

If the camp is, indeed, raided, the police will have to pick through dozens of empty tipis and tents to find and arrest the remaining water protectors. On Monday night, celebrities helped distribute a video on Facebook and Twitter that showed some of the remaining women and ended with this message: Protectors. Media. Get here by Feb. 21. The police have surrounded Oceti Sakowin camp. But there is no emergency deployment of activists heading to North Dakota today, no rush of young civil liberties lawyers, no critical mass of festival-goers or eco-warriors who will stand in front of the pipeline. The diagnosis is easy enough. When I first visited Standing Rock in early December, the camp had already been divided into a handful of warring factions. Some were disgusted with what the camp had become a holy ceremony of resistance had been overrun with festival goers and homeless people who had come to North Dakota for meals, shelter, and community. Others, including Wanbli, a Cheyenne River Sioux former police officer and high ranking member of the camp s security force, felt like the camp s leadership and it was never clear who was actually in change had sold everyone out. Everyone was accusing everyone else of corruption. When the good news came that the pipeline would be halted, however temporarily, all those tenuous bonds broke down. And although nearly everyone I spoke with in camp believed the incoming administration would simply reverse the decision, the false victory created enough space for collective exhaustion to set in. The blizzard that battered North Dakota in early December and the chaos of the veterans deployment finished it all off what had been a sprawling economy of protectors and support was now a mess of collapsed tents, stranded veterans, and people who had given up everything to come to Standing Rock and now had nowhere else to go.

Trump, of course, did the rest.

Inside The Final Days Of The Standing Rock Protest

I do not know what it means for democracy and dissent that the ten thousand at Standing Rock could be so easily dispersed. It did seem to show the limits of a movement that scaled up almost entirely through social media and arresting images #NoDAPL became a shorthand for protest and resistance; a broadly sympathetic, yet still subversive cause for celebrities and the Facebook commentariat alike. The actual terms of what was happening remained largely undefined and poorly chronicled.

In early January, the New Yorker ran a column by Jelani Cobb in which he argued that a new wave of civil disobedience was taking over the country. He cited Standing Rock as proof Thousand of activists, Cobb wrote, including members of Black Lives Matter, and two thousand military veterans went to Standing Rock, to protest on the Sioux s behalf; last month, they endured rubber bullets and water hoses fired in freezing temperatures. This was all fantasy; the veterans arrived well after the night of violence Cobb describes. (In fact, many veterans said they had come because they had seen the footage of peaceful protesters being hit with a water cannon.) And while there were some Black Lives Matter activists at camp, they hardly proved that a movement of broad solidarity had taken root in North Dakota. The protectors who got hit with rubber bullets and tied themselves to construction equipment and soaked with water cannons were overwhelmingly Native American. All this could have been found with a quick Google search, but the fact that it wasn t shows just how much Standing Rock has been stretched into a vague idea what was once the physical act of putting one s body in front of a pipeline is now padding for aimless, liberal theses about resistance.

I also don t know what it means that nearly everyone left Standing Rock behind. Historical tellings of protests are shaped, in large part, by their aesthetic. The inconvenient narrative realities of Standing Rock the stranded protectors at camp, the failure of the much-lauded Veterans movement and the questions around the evacuation of the camp should all eventually be reduced down to a series of familiar, stirring images. We will only remember the tipis on the banks of the river, the warriors who chained themselves to the drills.

What s startling is that this process, which usually takes years, has already run its course. The speed of the reduction may have come, in large part, from how the greater public processes every Native American struggle through a filter of nostalgia, but it also seems to show just how quickly a movement can be co-opted in an era of replicating protest imagery. Every moment is now the property of anyone who can access it through their phone. Dissent can propagate quickly now, but it also means that every protest, however specific and physical in its conception, ultimately gets reduced down to a generic feeling. This is how a writer like Cobb can take Occupy, Standing Rock, and Black Lives Matter and stitch them all together into a prediction about the future of protest politics; it s how phrases like #NoDAPL, Black Lives Matter, and My body, my choice can be diluted down, so they mean the same thing. At that scale, all causes becomes interchangeable.

Long-shot lawsuits still making their way through the court system will decide the future of the pipeline. But the historic legacy of what happened at Standing Rock will have to be parceled out through small, personal victories. Those small victories were always difficult to claim at Standing Rock because the terms of the protests were absolute either the pipeline was built or it wasn t and I imagine that as people return to their homes or ship off to the next fight, they will have to find a more personal justification for the months they spent there.

Sean Sullivan, one of the vets who came in December, told me that while he believed the deployment had done more harm than good, he had been able to feel the blessings of sacred land and prayer, which helped him heal from his PTSD. He said there had been veterans who had been cut off from camp by the blizzard and had never been able to stand by a sacred fire, sit in a tipi and indulge in the healing properties of prayer. For Nancy, her time in North Dakota had accomplished what recovery and therapy could not and reminded her of the edifying responsibility of family. Whatever had me triggered in my past from trauma and the prejudice and the pain . Coming here has closed that gap, she said. It s just taught me so much now to keep going forward. The grandbabies were born at this time and I got life to live now.

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