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  • Writer's pictureJosey Goggin

Building a Movement at Standing Rock

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

Water is Life.

The Standing Rock Sioux’s battle to prevent an oil pipeline from crossing sacred territory on their reservation and tunneling under their primary water supply, the Missouri river, is a signpost for our times, a reference point of how to stand against a huge corporate force and for a critical resource.

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why one nonviolent action works, inspires, goes viral, and another falls flat. Is it timing, or persistence, or creativity that drives the success? I suspect it is a combination of all three. I also wonder about how one action leads to another, and how a series of actions go from being just that, to becoming a movement.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has a lot to teach us.

Standing Rock’s efforts against the Dakota Access Pipeline is a multifaceted, ongoing effort, a complex, interwoven network of nonviolent actions including a 500 mile relay race to deliver a petition to the Army Corps of Engineers[1], a petition and social media campaign organized by a group of indigenous youths[2], and the leadership of a Standing Rock Sioux elder, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, in establishing a camp along the pipeline route with non-violence, resistance, and cultural sovereignty at its core.[3] These played, and continue to play, out against a background of legal challenges.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard established the Sacred Stone Camp on April 1, 2016 and began a multitude of nonviolent actions, within the camp and without. Some actions were intended to impact that construction onsite, while others were meant to pressure those entities who supported the pipeline.

Alternative facilities grew up to feed the assembled protesters and to continue educating children on site[4] Tribes and organizations from across the US and around the world including Black Lives Matter and the UN threw their support behind the #NoDAPL protests[5] Toolkits for how to pressure the banks funding the projects were assembled and actions to implement them popped up around the country.[6] The members of the camp took on the name of Water Protectors[7] and set up roadblocks to control access to the site[8]

As months passed and the construction drew closer to the river, tensions rose, but the defenders stood their ground and responded creatively to the advance. In early November the Water Protectors gathered to pray and sing and waded into the river.[9] When bulldozers began work unexpectedly near the camps, Water Protectors gathered and overwhelmed the effort, forcing the workmen to quit work and withdraw.[10] There were smaller individual actions with activists obstructing work and tempting fate with arrest.[11] At other points the Water Protectors were on the receiving end of police violence in the forms of dogs, physical violence, and water cannons. These dramatic responses reveal both the effectiveness of the Water Protectors coordinated efforts and the profound power inequity at play.[12]

Outside of the camps, and across the world, support for the #NoDAPL movement grew. When it became clear the police were using social media records to tracks activists, thousands of people not onsite at the camps marked themselves present to muddy the police’s ability to track individuals.[12] A week after the 2016 US presidential election protests erupted around the world in support of the Water Protectors, many taking place in front of Army Corp of Engineers offices.[13]

I tracked over thirty different forms of nonviolent actions in writing this and I am certain there are many, many more I don’t know about, and were thus not recorded here.

Persistence, and creativity, and use of available skills and temperaments and resources, are all on display in Standing Rock. It is not a series of individual nonviolent actions, Standing Rock is an ongoing movement.

As one of the front lines in the fight against corporate exploitation, climate change, indigenous rights, the indigenous populations’ battles against big oil pipelines demand our ongoing attention and support.

Methods of Nonviolent Action employed:

1] No. 2: Letters of opposition or support, No. 6: Group or mass petitions, No. 15: Group lobbying, No. 21: Delivery of symbolic objects, No. 41: Pilgrimages, and No. 158: Self-Exposure to the elements.

[2] No. 6: Group or mass petitions

[3] No. 29: Symbolic reclamations, No. 183: Nonviolent land seizure (though I think that this might be debatable depending on how you think about native sovereignty issues), No. 173: Nonviolent occupation, No. 174: Establishing new social patterns, and No. 158: Self-Exposure to the elements

[4] No. 179: Alternative social institutions.

[5] No. 3: Declarations by organizations and institutions

[6] No. 86: Withdrawal of bank deposits

[7] No. 27: New signs and names

[8] No. 172: Non-violent obstruction (These roadblocks did later become a target for the police.)

[9] No. 37. Singing, No. 20 Prayer and worship, No. 47 Assemblies of protest and support and No. 165: Wade-in

[10] No. 184: Defiance of Blockades

[11] No. 195 Seeking Imprisonment

[13] No. 170 Nonviolent invasion? And No. 175 Overloading of facilities

[14] No. 31: “Haunting” officials, No. 38: Marches, No. 18: Displays of flags and symbolic colors, No. 26: Paint as protest and No. 8: Banners, posters, and displayed communications

Additional resources:

How youth Native American built and sustained the #NoDAPL movement

Timeline of Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

A Timeline of a year of resistance at Standing Rock

Thousands gather in North Dakota

Spiritual Relay protest Dakota Access Pipeline

Standing Rock Protests: This is only the beginning


#NoDAPL #StandingRock #WaterisLife

#Nonviolence #NonviolentAction


#FormalStatements #NVA2 #NVA2LettersofOppositionorSupport

#NVA3 #NVA3DeclarationsbyOrganizationsandInstitutions

#NVA6 #NVA6GrouporMassPetitions

#CommunicationswithaWiderAudience #NVA8 #NVA8BannersPostersandDisplayedCommunications

#GroupRepresentations #NVA15 #NVA15GroupLobbying

#SymbolicPublicActs #NVA18 #NVA18Displayofflagsandsymboliccolors

#NVA20 #NVA20PrayerandWorship

#NVA21 #NVA21DeliveryofSymbolicObjects

#NVA26 #NVA26PaintasProtest

#NVA27 #NVA27NewSignsandNames

#NVA29 #NVA29SymbolicReclamations

#PressureonIndividuals #NVA31 #NVA31Hauntingofficials

#DramaandMusic #NVA37 #NVA37Singing

#Processions #NVA38 #NVA38Marches

#NVA41 #NVA41Pilgrimages

#PublicAssemblies #NVA47 #NVA47AssembliesofProtestandSupport


#ActionbyHoldersofFinancialResources #NVA86 #NVA86WithdrawalofBankDeposits


#PsychologicalIntervention #NVA158 #NVA158SelfExposuretotheElements

#NVA165 #NVA165Wade-in

#NVA170 #NVA170NonviolentInvasion

#NVA172 #NVA172NonviolentObstruction

#NVA173 #NVA173NonviolentOccupation

#SocialIntervention #NVA174 #NVA174EstablishingNewSocialPatterns

#NVA175 #NVA175OverloadingofFacilities

#NVA179 #NVA79AlternativeSocialInstitutions

#EconomicIntervention #NVA183 #NVA183NonviolentLandSeizure

#NVA184 #NVA184DefianceofBlockades

#PoliticalIntervention #NVA195 #NVA195SeekingImprisonment

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