Dakota Access Pipeline halted after veterans join Standing Rock protesters

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In a sudden turnabout that few could have predicted, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it's been ordered by the federal government to halt construction of the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

This last-minute development comes in the wake of a weekend influx of more than 2,000 veterans to Standing Rock, where some 5,000 pipeline protesters have been camped next to the Sioux Reservation — many of them for months — in increasingly hazardous weather conditions. The incoming veterans vowed to create a human chain around the encampments tomorrow, in order to shield protesters from what was seen as a potentially violent forced eviction.

Concerns over violence were not unwarranted. Two weeks ago, an estimated 4,000 protesters faced off against police during an attempted march across the bridge to the pipeline construction site. Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, which were deployed in below-freezing conditions. A reported 300 protesters were injured, one of whom nearly lost her arm from a concussion grenade that police insist they did not fire.

Last Sunday, I spent three days camping out with protesters and joined them in a silent march across that same bridge. Halfway across, there was a barrier of razor wire, cement blockades, riot police and an elevated "sound cannon." An aircraft circled the area, while a drone silently hovered above the crowd. After a tense standoff, the large contingent of women leading the march turned their fellow protesters back around. While returning to the encampments, a heavy rain began falling, followed by a blizzard that would blanket the camp in nearly two feet of snow.

While the pipeline was originally intended to run along the outskirts of Bismarck (a North Dakota town with a 92% white population), community fears of drinking water contamination prompted a change of course. Energy Transfer Partners — whose investors have included president-elect Donald Trump — responded with a new plan to reroute the pipeline through Native American lands located more than 100 miles south of Bismarck. In addition to creating the same safety issues, tribal leaders say the new route would result in the desecration of sacred burial sites.

Prior to the veterans' involvement, national news outlets had virtually blacked-out coverage of the Standing Rock protests. But a CNN reporter reassured viewers, somewhat condescendingly, that this was not at all due to bias or negligence. Broadcasting live on a split-screen with scrolling social media reactions, she responded on camera to the barrage of angry, real-time posts.

"I don't think you saw a lot of national coverage when it comes to the last few months," she explained, "because there was this thing called the 2016 election."

We'll be posting further updates as events unfold in the days ahead. Meanwhile, you can read Nat Stein's Nov. 23 Indy cover story for an account of indigenous locals' participation in the Standing Rock protests.

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