With options dwindling to stop construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, American Indians and their supporters brought their message to President Donald Trump on Friday with rallies outside the White House and his Washington hotel.
Even if the pipeline is completed, the protest movement has been successful because it has called attention to the issue of tribal sovereignty, participants said.
The final, disputed section of the pipeline would pass under a reservoir that provides drinking water to the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux reservations. The tribes and their supporters say the pipeline threatens their religious rights and water supply.
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners would ultimately pay a price for disregarding the tribes' religious beliefs.
U.S. & World
"We have not lost this battle," Goldtooth said. "Nothing will ever go right for those corporations. It's only a matter of time before it will fall flat on its face."
A federal judge this week declined to halt construction of the final section of the pipeline, meaning oil could begin flowing through it as early as next week. The disputed section would pass under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota. The pipeline stretches from North Dakota to Illinois.
The Obama administration halted construction of the pipeline, but Trump gave it the green light to start again with an executive order. A court hearing in the ongoing legal fight against the pipeline is not expected until at least April.
Hundreds of people participated in Friday's march, which began at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters. The agency manages the Missouri River and last month gave Energy Transfer Partners permission to finish the project. Protesters also erected a teepee outside Trump's hotel.
The rally revealed divisions among the pipeline opponents. Dave Archambault, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, was booed and heckled by some in the crowd who called him "DAPL Dave" and accused him of being complicit with the bulldozing of a camp where thousands of protesters had lived.
"We are not defeated. We are not victims," Archambault said. "An obstacle is also an opportunity."
Mark Charles, a Navajo writer, speaker and activist who lives in Washington, said the activism around the pipeline has drawn new attention to the "dehumanization" of Native Americans. He and other protesters called on the Catholic Church to revoke 15th-Century documents that they said underpinned the treatment of Indians as inferior.
"America has to decide, does it want to be a nation where 'We the People' means all the people?" Charles said. "We need to stop talking about how great we are."