Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the North Dakota Capitol on Thursday. (Photo: AP)

US Government Steps In After Judge Rules Against Standing Rock Sioux

Federal judge denies tribe's request for injunction, but federal agencies issue statement pausing pipeline construction

Deirdre Fulton

This story may be updated.

A series of "game-changing" developments impacting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) battle on Friday afternoon were testament to the power of organizing.

Striking a blow to the vibrant, Indigenous-led resistance movement that has sprung up against the four-state oil pipeline, a federal judge on Friday denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's attempt to halt its construction.

Shortly afterward, however, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement indicating that "important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding [DAPL] specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain."

As a result, the statement read, construction on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe—which straddles North and South Dakota—will be halted until the Corps "can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws." 

"In the interim," the agencies continued, "we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe."

The statement continued:

Furthermore, this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects. Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions: (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.

"The joint statement by the DOJ and other agencies makes it clear that the process used to approve this pipeline's construction was insufficient and did not fully take into account the environmental impact or the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Native peoples," said Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance and a member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma.

"Tribes from across Indian Country have drawn the line here with the largest show of unity and grassroots power in our history," said LeBlanc. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who on Thursday proposed legislation that would prevent the Army Corps from approving the pipeline until the agency has completed an environmental impact statement, also praised the agencies' decision:

As Common Dreams has reported extensively, the Standing Rock Sioux had challenged the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to grant permits for Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners' $3.8 billion pipeline, saying that the project violates federal laws—including the Clean Water Act and National Historic Preservation Act—and would endanger both water supplies and ancient sacred sites.

But in his decision (pdf), U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington, D.C., said "the Tribe has not carried its burden to demonstrate that the Court could prevent damage to important cultural resources by enjoining the Corps' DAPL-related permitting."

He ordered the parties to appear for a status conference on Sept. 16.

Still, those who have voiced their opposition to the controversial project said they'd fight on. 

In the lead-up to the ruling, tribal chairman David Archambault II declared: "Regardless of the court's decision today, we will continue to be united and peaceful in our opposition to the pipeline. Our ultimate goal is permanent protection of our sacred sites and our water. We must continue to have faith and believe in the strength of our prayers and not do anything in violence. We must believe in the creator and good things will come."

Earthjustice, who filed the lawsuit in July on behalf of the tribe, said in the days before the ruling that it would be challenged.

A press conference and protest will take place at the North Dakota Capitol starting at 3pm local time on Friday. Solidarity events are planned nationwide next week.

Updates are being shared under the hashtags #NoDAPL, #RezpectOurWater, and #StandWithStandingRock.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Historic Offshore Wind Lease Sale in California Gets Over $750 Million in Winning Bids

"If we build on today's forward momentum, the United States can dramatically reduce its global warming emissions and become a global leader in renewable energy technologies like deep-water offshore wind."

Brett Wilkins ·


Solidarity Fund Up and Running for Designer Behind Iconic Bernie Sanders Posters

Tyler Evans "has dedicated his life to the progressive movement," says the GoFundMe created for the hospitalized designer. "Now it's our time to have Tyler's back when he and his family need it most."

Jessica Corbett ·


Journalism Defenders Push for Passage of 'Game-Changing' PRESS Act

"The PRESS Act is the most important free press legislation in modern times because it would finally stop the government from spying on journalists and threatening them with arrest for doing their jobs," explained one advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


New York Times Union Workers Planning Dec. 8 Walkout, Rally Over Pay

"Our collective action is working: Management backed off its attempt to kill our pension and agreed to expand fertility benefits," the union said of ongoing talks. "But management still barely budged on some of our most important priorities."

Jessica Corbett ·


Dems Back Blue Dog Spanberger for Swing District Post Over Progressive Cartwright

The corporate Democrat's path to victory was "pretty simple," said one progressive. "Matt Cartwright supports Medicare for All and Spanberger is a former CIA agent who spends all her time punching left."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo