Hope lights the way for Standing Rock

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Fireworks fill the sky above Oceti Sakowin Camp near the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation outside Cannon Ball, N.D., as activists celebrate a victory over the planned rerouting of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“Mni wiconi!” — “water is life!” — rang out through the sprawling North Dakota camps on Dec. 4, the day the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would no longer allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock reservation.

It was a victory for thousands of Native Americans and activists, identifying themselves as water protectors, who had flocked to Standing Rock to protest the oil pipeline. The project, they said, threatened the area’s water supply, passed near sacred burial sites and would bring no economic benefit to the Standing Rock Sioux, who would be most affected by spills and leaks.

"The original peoples of these lands fought with all of our hearts against injustice and won. Let this send a message around the world: We are still here. We are empowered."

- Tara Houska, member of the Ojibwe nation

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Native American activists and their allies celebrate on Dec. 4 at Oceti Sakowin Camp, on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation outside Cannon Ball, N.D., after learning the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had denied an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Native Americans had camped out since April to oppose construction of the pipeline, which snakes nearly 1,200 miles, running from northwest North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to an oil tank farm in south-central Illinois. Support for the protest grew via social media posts hashtagged #NoDAPL and the involvement of military veterans who traveled to the camp; as months passed, a diverse coalition of activists formed against the multi-billion dollar project.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Despite blizzard conditions, veterans march in support of the water protectors on Dec. 5 at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation outside Cannon Ball, N.D. A few days earlier, a large group of veterans joined activists working to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

10,000 people camped out to support the movement
200+ Native American tribes joined the protests
$1.14 million raised by military veterans since Nov. 11 to cover supplies for new volunteers

Almost as soon as victory celebrations broke out, some leaders of the #NoDAPL movement warned that the fight was far from over. The pipeline’s fate could change under the incoming President Trump, whose Trump Victory Fund received $100,000 in campaign donations from the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline. According to financial disclosure forms filed in 2015 and 2016, Trump has owned up to $1 million in ETP stock, though a spokesperson says he sold his shares over the summer.

2016 in numbers