The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has lost ancestral lands in one broken treaty after another, and even in outright theft.

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For the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline recalls a bitter history the tribe does not want repeated.

“We want to protect our land, and we want to protect our water,” said Dave Archambault II, tribal chairman. “Our concerns and interests don’t matter and this is how we have been treated for over 150 years.”

Once roaming the Great Plains, living in teepees and hunting buffalo, the great Sioux leaders such as Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse are household names for many. Their bloodiest moments are, too: Wounded Knee. Custer’s Last Stand.

But the history of the Sioux people and the United States is also one all too familiar: of broken promises, and a relentless taking away of lands for white settlement, gold mining and development. Those lands were promised to be reserved for the Indians’ sole use forever, in peace treaties that were supposed to be the highest law of the land.

The first treaty, in 1851, established the Great Sioux Reservation. It was quickly abrogated with one rewrite after another, each resulting in further land takeaways from the Sioux.

If enough tribal members wouldn’t agree to a new treaty, acts of Congress took back the Sioux people’s land instead. Some of the Sioux’s most sacred lands, the Black Hills, were simply stolen after the discovery of gold brought miners streaming in.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court was appalled. In 1980, it upheld a U.S. Court of Claims decision in favor of the Sioux. The majority opinion by Justice Harry Blackmun quoted from the lower court’s decision: “A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.”

The value of that claim is now $1 billion.

The money sits today untouched by these, some of the poorest Indian people in the U.S. They would rather have the land.

Still more losses came when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flooded much of the Sioux’s remaining and best agricultural lands, impounding a vast reservoir behind a dam. That was in 1958. The Sioux people were never consulted.

That is the same reservoir Energy Transfer Partners wants to tunnel under today to complete its oil pipeline. And now the Army Corps holds the last easement the company needs to finish its project. Archambault says he is just hoping the agency will “do the right thing.”

About the DAPL protest

The Trump administration has advanced the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipeline projects. Seattle Times reporter Lynda V. Mapes and photographer Alan Berner traveled to North Dakota last year to cover the protests against the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. Here are recent stories to help you understand the conflict:  

“We are not opposed to economic development and industry; what we are opposed to is threatening our land and threatening our water. Do this somewhere else,” Archambault said. “You did it to us for over 200 years and you continue to do it. We are taking a stand and saying, ‘Enough is enough.’?”