Protest Grows Ahead of Key Ruling on Dakota Access Pipeline

September 9, 2016 Updated: September 9, 2016

NEAR THE STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION, N.D.—Awaiting Friday’s critical federal ruling on the Dakota Access pipeline, more than 1,000 people gathered at the site of a long-running protest in NorthDakota.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said he will rule by the end of Friday on the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s request to block the $3.8 billion project, which will carry oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

The tribe’s lawsuit challenges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant permits at more than 200 water crossings. It argues the project threatens water supplies and has already disrupted sacred sites. The developer, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, says modern technology allows quick detection of leaks, and pipeline supporters say it would cut the amount of oil that travels by train.

Friday’s gathering of Native Americans might be the largest in a century, according to Judith LeBlanc, a member of the Caddo Nation in Oklahoma and director of the New York-based Native Organizers Alliance, a group that aims to help advance the interests of Indian Country. People came from as far as New York and Alaska, some bringing their families and children.

“There’s never been a coming together of tribes like this,” she said. “This is historic.”

Hundreds of tribal flags dotted the camp, along with American flags flown upside-down in protest. LeBlanc said she expected the protest to remain peaceful, no matter how the judge rules.

“People would not bring their children with them if it weren’t,” she said.

A weekend confrontation between protesters and private security guards on private land near the protest site left some guards injured and some protesters with dog bites. In response, North Dakota authorities said earlier this week they’d increase the number of officers at the protest site, which is near the reservation that straddles North and South Dakota, as well as a handful of National Guard members to provide security at traffic checkpoints ahead of the federal decision. No law officers had arrived at the scene by late Friday morning.

The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Thursday to send federal monitors to the protest site, alleging racial profiling and other transgressions are happening.

“Our people have a right to peacefully assemble and protest on federal lands,” association President John Yellow Bird Steele wrote. Lynch’s office did not immediately comment on the request.

Kate Silvertooth, who has no tribal affiliation, spent Thursday driving to the protest from Loveland, Colorado. She spent hundreds of dollars on supplies such as tarps, gloves and food for the protesters.

“People standing up against a $3.8 billion pipeline — I just felt moved to come here,” she said.