Standing with Standing Rock: It’s more than just a pipeline — Part 1: History

When did it start? What does it all mean? How are we called to respond?

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) snakes 1,700 miles from the Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota to Southern Illinois and that, if completed, would transport 450,000 barrels of fracked, highly volatile Bakken crude through land sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux and under the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

The original planned route of the pipeline had it crossing the Missouri north of Bismarck. That route was scrapped in late 2014, according to the Bismarck Tribune, due to the “potential threat to Bismarck’s water supply.” Shifted now to the south, through unceded land of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, it would cross the Missouri just north of the Cannonball River and the intake valves for the tribe’s water supply. This rerouting was done without an adequate environmental impact study and without any conversation with the tribe.

As construction neared U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land on the north side of Cantapeta Creek this April, the people of Standing Rock set up camp just south of the Route 1806 bridge and began efforts to block construction physically and through litigation. They obtained a stay in federal court and, over the summer, were joined in that camp — Oceti Sakowin or Seven Council Fires — by growing numbers of people from other Native American nations and allies.

Then, in late August, a federal judge lifted the stay and the Texas-based owners of the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, bolstered by new funding from Marathon Petrolum and Canada’s Enbridge Partners, began round-the-clock construction under the protection of local and state police, the National Guard, and company vigilantes. 
The population of Oceti Sakowin Camp swelled to over 2,000 and, in September, clashes escalated between the Native American “water protectors” rallying round the cry “Mni Wiconi” (“Water is life”) and law enforcement massively arrayed at the north end of the Cantapeta bridge. 

Law enforcement at the bridge

As protectors and journalists — exercising their First Amendment rights — found themselves facing armored cars, dogs, pepper spray, and rubber bullets or being arrested, strip searched, and confined, in many cases, in dog kennels, The Episcopal Church stepped forward to stand with the people of Standing Rock. Bishop Michael Smith and the Diocese of North Dakota issued a strong statement of support. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry visited Cannon Ball and, describing what he experienced a “new Selma,” called upon Episcopalians to stand with their besieged Native American sisters and brothers. At its October convention, the Diocese of California passed a resolution applauding the Presiding Bishop’s actions; calling upon Bay Area Episcopalians to support the people of Standing Rock with money, study, and pilgrimage; and urging the Army Corps of Engineers to halt construction under the Missouri. 

Still the construction continued — right up to the bank of the river — and violence threatened on an even larger scale. In late October, the Rev. John Floberg, Canon Missioner to Standing Rock and Rector of St James Episcopal Church in Cannon Ball issued an urgent call for “more than a hundred” faith leaders to gather on November 3 at the bridge over Cantapeta Creek — an ugly frontline of burnt-out vehicles, a Jersey wall, and, now coils of barbed wire — in peaceful, prayerful, legal witness for justice and peace.
To his surprise, more than five hundred faith leaders — clergy and laity — responded. They were mostly Episcopalians, but Christians of all denominations, as well as Muslims, Jews, and others. Among that cloud of witnesses were a dozen or so — deacons, priests, laity, and a bishop — from the Diocese of California. Bishop Marc, Alan Gates of Epiphany, San Carlos, and a lay person or two slept in their tents in the camp. The older, less hearty among us slept in the comfortable beds of the nearby Prairie Knights Casino. All of us, however, spent considerable time in the camp, listening to the stories of those who had been there for months, imbibing their resolve, and rejoicing in the “opportunity to testify.” 

For me it was a mountaintop experience…an experience that began with a November 1 evening arrival at Bismarck airport with two other deacons — Kathleen Van Sickle and Nancy Pennekamp (later joined by Phyllis Manoogian who flew up from Guatemala). Driving south on 1806, we were turned back at a National Guard roadblock and directed twenty miles north to a dirt road and a roundabout alternative route to Cannon Ball where we arrived close to midnight.

Continued next week in Part 2: Action

The East Bay chapter of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship is planning to host an early January forum to share the experiences of those who have been to Standing Rock and to provide information to others who may wish to go or otherwise support the people of Standing Rock. Those interested in sharing their experiences and those interested in learning more at such a forum should contact the Rev. Vicki Gray at or 707.554.0672.