A blinding blizzard buried the landscape last week at Standing Rock in North Dakota. The place where thousands gathered to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline was temporarily blotted out by the snow. Blocked from view. It was a fitting metaphor for a seven-month protest that many Americans knew nothing about until recently when there was a threatened forced evacuation.

The pipeline would have cut through parts of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and four other states. The Sioux called themselves water protectors. They claimed the pipeline would not only damage sacred grounds, but also contaminate the tribe’s main water source and put at risk the safety of the Missouri River and its watershed—serving some 10 million people. A Sioux proverb says, “The frog does not drink up the pond where he lives.”

Just before the snowstorm hit, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the demonstrators what they had been demanding—they denied Energy Transfer Partners a permit to complete the oil pipeline. For the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters this marked the immediate end of the nonviolent human blockade on the road where the construction was to continue. And it has recast the players in the ongoing pipeline vs. environment debate because...

President-elect Donald Trump is in favor of completing the pipeline, and just named Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Not only has Pruitt complained of an activist agenda at the EPA, but he has said the issue of global climate change is “far from settled.”

More than 200 tribes from across the country, Latin America and Canada came to North Dakota to stand in solidarity with the Sioux at Standing Rock. It’s been one of the largest organized native oppositions ever. They set up camp in tents and sturdy shelters in what grew into a small village as winter approached. While the presidential campaign diverted the attention of most Americans, hundreds of non-native supporters were moved to travel to Standing Rock as a way to raise awareness about this potential for an environmental crisis.

During the monthslong protest more than 500 people were arrested. The charge was trespassing. That didn’t make sense to me since the Sioux --like other indigenous nations--govern their reservation under sovereign law negotiated under decades-old treaty agreements.  It’s why the Sioux are also fighting the pipeline in court.

It was alarming to see the violence visited upon Standing Rock’s demonstrators by state troopers and--on at least one occasion—by a private law enforcement group.  21-year-old Sophia Wilansky may lose an arm after being hit by a concussion grenade. The police insist protesters throwing rocks sparked the incident, but others, including Wilansky, say it was the police who threw the grenade. On the day the officers turned dogs loose at Standing Rock, and shot the protesters with freezing water and pepper spray, I thought of the demonstrations in Birmingham during the civil rights movement.  Back then, Americans were shocked to see Birmingham’s Bull Connor sic dogs and aim powerful water hoses onto peacefully marching children. Some 50 years later, it’s still shocking.

Despite the permit victory, many believe the stand down at Standing Rock may be short-lived. Tom Shaving of the Cheyenne Tribe told NPR he wasn’t leaving Standing Rock just yet, saying, “We have to keep going. We have to persevere. “