WASHINGTON - Activists and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe marched to the White House on Friday to protest the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will run directly through land set aside for Native Americans.
"We're from Standing Rock, so we came on charter buses yesterday,” Juliana Takenalive told VOA while sitting in Lafayette Park across from the White House at a rally.
“It's about 30 hours,” she said of the road trip nearly 140 people made from North Dakota to protest in the nation's capital.
Dede Banerjee, who was born and raised in North Dakota on a reservation by her Sioux stepfather, also showed up to march.
“I drove from Toronto yesterday,” Banerjee said.
March passes Trump Hotel
The march, which began at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters, passed by the Trump Hotel, in front of which organizers set up a tepee before ending at the White House.
In a blow to activists, a federal judge this week declined to stop construction of the final section of the $3.8 billion pipeline.
That section of the 1,885-kilometer (1,171-mile) pipeline, owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, would run under Lake Oahe, a reservoir in North Dakota formed by a dam on the Missouri River. The pipeline is designed to transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois.
'Symbolic' camp set up
Members of reservation, other Native Americans and so-called “water protectors” brought their fight to the U.S. capital after months of protest at the site of the planned construction ended when their camp was evacuated.
The Sacred Stone camp, which expanded to a number of other camps that at times housed a thousand water protectors, put up its first tepee in April last year. The number of residents fell to a couple hundred as the winter months set in and the battle moved to the courts. On February 22, the camp was evacuated.
“We were out there since the beginning,” said Ron Martel of the Standing Rock tribe. “We're here again. Standing with Standing Rock,” he said. “It's not over.”
Tribe members set up traditional Sioux tepees on the National Mall near the Washington Monument earlier this week, calling them a “symbolic” camp as overnight sleeping is not permitted.
Former neighbors together again
During the day, however, the camp organized multiple events, including speakers, workshops and “Native talent” open-mic nights.
“The people from Standing Rock ... it's like family,” Banerjee said. And they called out ‘come,’ ” she said between hugging and joking with her former neighbors from the camp whom she hadn't seen since December.
Native Americans and environmental activists say the proposed pipeline route threatens the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's water resources and disregards the land's sacred status.