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Pipeline protest boosts significance of annual tribal leaders summit, powwow in Bismarck

BISMARCK -- An annual summit of American Indian tribal leaders and the traditional powwow that follows are expected to draw big numbers and heightened interest in Bismarck this week as protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline about 40 miles away co...

A line of traditional dancers are seen at the 2015 United Tribes Technical College International Powwow last September in Bismarck, N.D. Submitted photo by Dennis J. Neumann, United Tribes Technical College
A line of traditional dancers are seen at the 2015 United Tribes Technical College International Powwow last September in Bismarck, N.D. Submitted photo by Dennis J. Neumann, United Tribes Technical College

BISMARCK - An annual summit of American Indian tribal leaders and the traditional powwow that follows are expected to draw big numbers and heightened interest in Bismarck this week as protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline about 40 miles away continue.

"This is kind of unprecedented. It's a historical event," said Leander "Russ" McDonald, president of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, which sponsors both events.

About a dozen tribal leaders, mainly from North Dakota and South Dakota, are expected to attend the 20th annual summit Tuesday through Thursday, and the $3.8 billion crude oil pipeline will be a hot topic of discussion.

In an event open to the public, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II and his fellow tribal council members will give a briefing and discuss issues surrounding the pipeline from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Bismarck Event Center.

McDonald said nearly 900 chairs will be set up in Hall A.

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"We hope that's enough," he said.

The summit and powwow coincide with a critical week in court for the four-state, 1,172-mile pipeline and its detractors.

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has said he will rule by Friday on the tribe's request for an injunction that would halt pipeline construction. Dakota Access LLC, while noting it has the necessary permits and approvals, has temporarily suspended construction near where the pipeline would cross the Missouri River about a half-mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The tribe is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over permits issued for the pipeline, and hundreds of self-described "water protectors" from Standing Rock and tribes across the nation are camped out on corps and private land north of Cannon Ball, N.D., in protest.

A hearing also is scheduled Thursday in federal court in Bismarck on Dakota Access LLC's request for an injunction against Archambault and other protesters, after the judge granted a temporary restraining order on Aug. 16 to keep them from interfering with construction. Thirty-seven people have been arrested on misdemeanor charges during several nonviolent protests since mid-August.

This week's summit segues into the 47th annual United Tribes Technical College Powwow Sept. 9-11, which typically draws upward of 1,000 Native American dancers and singers and 10,000 or more people when counting spectators, McDonald said.

He's hoping for a strong turnout this year, including from protesters, noting representatives from the Camp of the Sacred Stones at Standing Rock will have informational booths at both the powwow and summit.

"We're hopeful that they come up and maybe take a little break and enjoy a good powwow," he said, adding the theme of both events, "Empowerment Through Unity," is "a good fit for what's happening down at the camp there with all the tribes coming together on one issue."

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The new Native American Hall of Honor inside the North Dakota Heritage Center also will induct its first seven members during a public ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday, with many family, tribal and community members expected to attend.

"That's going to bring a lot of people to Bismarck who otherwise wouldn't be here," UTTC spokesman Dennis Neumann said.

Resolutions developed at the summit will be forward to the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association and ultimately to the National Congress of American Indians, whose president and executive director will attend the summit. The NCAI released an "action alert" last month about how tribes can help Standing Rock.

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