Standing Rock Primer

Standing Rock Primer, A Bioneers Indigeneity Publication

A guide to the people, places and events that took place to put a stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

The purpose of the Standing Rock Primer is to provide context to the Standing Rock occupation and demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In the fall of 2016, Bioneers hosted several water protectors, who came straight from Standing Rock to join us at the annual Bioneers Conference where they made a moving call for solidarity and shared what it was like to be on the frontlines of the Indigenous Rising Indigenous Forum Panel. The ancestors of today’s Lakota People knew the pipeline was coming when they told the prophecy of the black snake that would bring destruction to everything in its path.

Summer and fall of 2016 witnessed the largest and most diverse gathering of Native Americans to ever assemble around a single issue: putting a stop to the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, or #noDAPL. More than 10,000 Native Americans and non-Native allies occupied several demonstration camps to prevent the pipeline from being drilled under Lake Oahe, a human made lake at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers a half a mile upstream from the Standing Rock Reservation. More broadly, #noDAPL was a fight against irreparable environmental damage caused by the faceless corporate greed of the fossil fuel industry.

What happened at the camps on the edge of the Standing Rock Reservation is hard to understand for those who were not there. Camp life was structured around the embodiment of ceremony, rooted in traditional practice and mindfulness, although there were minor controversies over whether a handful of non-Native allies treated the camps as a sort of “exotic protest tourism.” Many of our friends and colleagues returned from the camps forever changed, and have spoken about leading a well-intentioned life since returning from Standing Rock.

We wrote this primer to a general audience that can include students, organizers, or anyone interested in Standing Rock. Millions of people worldwide care about what happens at Standing Rock. They understand that #noDAPL represents a fight to protect water and land for generations to come. This primer was written to provide more information about the Standing Rock movement in relation to people, place, and the events that occurred in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. It is written from an Indigenous perspective reflecting our values and worldviews.

The Bioneers Indigeneity Team

Alexis Bunten (Aleut/Yupik) and Indigeneity Program Manager

Cara Romero (Chemehuevi) and  Indigeneity Program Director

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Excerpt 1
A Movement: Resistance to the Fossil Fuel Economy

Standing Rock is probably best known as a the social movement, often referred by the hashtag, #noDAPL, that emerged in 2016 in an attempt to stop the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. The purpose of the 1,1721200 mile pipeline’s purpose pipeline is to transport fracked oil from the Bakken Formation subsurface oil fields in North Dakota to existing pipelines in Illinois. Broadly, the #noDAPL movement protested the fossil fuel-based economy contributing to global climate change. More specifically, they opposed the pipeline’s plan to cross under the Missouri River where it meets the Cannonball River and feeds into Lake Oyate, the source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This crossing, where the two rivers meet, is a very sacred site for Native Peoples. According to the Mandan origin story, this is the place where their ancestors came into the world after the great flood. Before the US Army Corps of Engineers rerouted waters in the 1950s, this place was the creation site of Iŋyaŋ Wakháŋagapi Othí, spherical Sacred Stones (hence, the colonizer’s name for it “Cannonball River”). The pipeline route would also destroy many other spiritually important places, including burial grounds, village sites, and places of ceremony and prayer.

10,000 Indigenous Peoples from around the world (but, mainly North America) joined in solidarity to protest the pipeline. It became the biggest and most diverse gathering of Native Americans working together to fight for their rights in centuries, possibly ever. Thousands more non-Native allies and accomplices –from farmers, to stay at home parents, veterans, and many more– came to stay and join the fight to protect water.

Excerpt 2
Laws the Pipeline Breaks

How DAPL violates treaties:

The Dakota Access pipeline violates the Fort Laramie treaties signed between the US government and the Great Sioux Nation, ignoring tribes’ historic rights to unceded territories.

How DAPL violates tribal sovereignty:

According to the 1889 Act that set the Eastern Boundaries of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Reservations as “the center of the main channel” of the Missouri River, lands used to create Lake Oahe are on reservation, and under the sovereign authority of the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes.

How DAPL violates religious freedom:

By desecrating the sacred waters of Lake Oahe, the Dakota Access pipeline prevents Native peoples from exercising their religious beliefs, violating their rights to religious freedom.

How DAPL violates rights to heritage:

The pipeline destroyed up to 380 sacred, historical and archaeological sites critical to the cultural perpetuation of Native peoples, and a part of all Americans’ heritage in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act.

How DAPL violates rights to consultation:

The US Army Corps of Engineers did not properly consult local tribes about the planned pipeline in violation of US law requiring the US federal government’s responsibility to notify tribes of any developments that might negatively impact them.

How DAPL Violates International Human Rights

The Dakota Access pipeline threatens article 19 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, endorsed by the United States in 2010, that mandates consultation and cooperation “in good faith with the Indigenous people concerned in order to obtain their fair, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measure that may affect them.”

How DAPL violates environmental regulations

The US Army Corps of Engineers terminated the environmental review process leading to a full environmental impact statement, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act in place to protect all Americans.

To learn more, see the Bioneers Indigeneity Program videos:

“What you need to know about Standing Rock”

“Indigenous Rising – Solutions to the Climate Crisis”

Prophecy of the Black Snake


BIONEERS is a hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. Bioneers’ highly acclaimed annual conference is complemented by year-round content including an award-winning radio series, videos, articles and other written material. No other organization provides more people free access to cutting-edge research, cross-cultural ideas and the most effective practices in environmental education and social justice.

INDIGENEITY is a Native-led Program within Bioneers that promotes indigenous knowledge and approaches to solve the earth’s most pressing environmental and social issues through respectful dialogue. By fostering a broader understanding of indigenous perspectives, we are building a network of allies to protect and restore traditional homelands. We do this by bringing people together, making original Indigenous-content media, fostering Native youth leadership, and developing learning materials for students and lifelong learners.


Alexis Bunten, (Aleut/Yup’ik), Indigeneity Program Manager, has served as an educator, manager, consultant and applied researcher for indigenous programming for 20 years. After receiving a BA in Art History/Studio Art at Dartmouth College, Alexis returned to Alaska, where she worked at the Sealaska Heritage Institute, and the Alaska Native Heritage Center in programming. Subsequently, Alexis earned a PhD in Cultural Anthropology at UCLA, and has served as the Project Ethnographer for the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage project, and as a Senior Researcher at the FrameWorks Institute. Alexis is an accomplished researcher, writer, media-maker, and curriculum developer. She has published widely about Indigenous and environmental issues in academic and mainstream media outlets. In addition to writing, Alexis has contributed to several Indigenous-themed productions, including a documentary nominated for the Native American Film Awards. Alexis has developed educational material for both formal and informal learning environments including university level-courses as well as lifelong learner curriculum.




Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Indigeneity Program Director, possesses a background Indigenous cultural studies, fine art and documentary photography and videography, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) workshops, protection of indigenous intellectual property, conservation of indigenous cultural resources, fundraising, grantwriting, marketing, and the formalization of the Bioneers Indigeneity Program. Cara’s earned degrees in Cultural Anthropology (University of Houston), Fine Art Photography (Institute of American Indian Arts) and Photography Technology (Oklahoma State University). Prior to coming on board with Bioneers, Cara served as the first Executive Director of the Chemehuevi Cultural Center. She was an elected member of the Chemehuevi Tribal Council from 2007-2010, and became the Chairman of the Chemehuevi Education Board and Chairman of the Chemehuevi Early Education Policy Council.

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