The standoff at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation brought national attention to the struggle over indigenous lands and resources. This video series examines the ways tribes in North America have dealt with mounting pressures from governments and corporations that take over their land for mega-projects such as dams, freeways and oil pipelines. Some tribes have fought back with lawsuits and protests; others have cut deals with energy producers. While these projects are touted as a benefit to the general population, the costs often are borne by the Native populations whose land is in the path of development.

More Chasing Energy coverage

One Year at Standing Rock

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Jasilyn Charger was one of the first people to set up camp at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in April 2016. Along with youth from neighboring tribes, the then-19-year-old helped raise awareness about construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline by staging a 2,000-mile run from North Dakota to Washington. By the time the group returned to Standing Rock, the camp population had swelled into the thousands. One year later, she reflects on the protests and how the movement has changed the course of her life.

The Land Beneath the Lake

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The Dakota Access Pipeline now runs beneath Lake Oahe. The lake was created after the U.S. government seized the surrounding land through eminent domain and dammed the Missouri River. Candace Ducheneaux’s father was a negotiator for the tribe in settlement talks with the government. She remembers what life was like before her family was relocated from its ancestral home and the tribe from its most fertile farmland. She shares her family’s collection of photographs, along with her memories.

Plowing Through Sacred Sites

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In the middle of the night in fall 2013, California Department of Transportation workers dug into the earth to construct a new highway bypass in Willits, about two hours north of San Francisco. According to federal law, the local Pomo people had a right to send tribal monitors there, but they allegedly were barred from the nighttime construction. Caltrans admitted that in the process, a known cultural site was disturbed. Priscilla Hunter, an elder from the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, says Caltrans destroyed the site and kept cultural artifacts that should be returned. Today, Hunter’s tribe and the Round Valley Indian Tribes are suing Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration, demanding they pay for the damage done to the sacred sites. The National Historic Preservation Act, cited in the lawsuit, is the same one the Standing Rock Sioux claims the Dakota Access Pipeline violated.

Betting on Oil, Paying with Land

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Fort McKay First Nation, a reservation in northern Canada, is home to nearly 400 Cree, Dene and other indigenous people. It began as a trading post for fur trappers, and the land continued to be used that way until the mid-20th century. In the 1950s and ‘60s, trapping became less profitable, as petroleum operations started to surround the community, extracting oil from the nearby tar sands.

Initially, Fort McKay’s tribal leaders resisted the encroachment, but in the 1980s, they changed direction and decided to go into business with oil companies. Fort McKay’s chief, Dorothy McDonald-Hyde, helped create the first tribe-owned company to service the oil industry. Since 2011, the nation has earned more than $2 billion from its work.

But these profits are not without costs. Elders such as 96-year-old Flora Grandjambe have not forgotten what their land used to look like. When she was raising her children, her family lived off the land – trapping fur for trade, hunting moose to eat and drinking water from the nearby Athabasca River. Today, she says no one can drink or fish out of the river because of pollution from the tar sands.

David Ritsher is the senior editor for TV and documentaries for Reveal. He has produced and edited award-winning investigative documentaries for over 15 years, on subjects ranging from loose nukes in Russia to Latino gangs in Northern California. His work has appeared on FRONTLINE, PBS NewsHour, ABC News, National Geographic, Discovery, KQED and other national broadcast outlets. Before joining CIR, David was the coordinating producer for FRONTLINE/World for over six broadcast seasons and championed much of its experimentation with video on the web.

Rachel de Leon is a reporter and  producer for TV and documentaries for Reveal. De Leon has worked in video for more than 10 years as a videographer and producer. Throughout 2017, she was the coordinating producer for Glassbreaker Films – an initiative from The Center for Investigative Reporting to support female filmmakers – helping to produce five half-hour documentaries for national and festival distribution, and more than 20 online minidocumentaries. In 2016, she won two Emmys for her work on the web series "The Dead Unknown" and the PBS NewsHour segment "Deadly Oil Fields." In 2014, she completed her first short documentary, “Cab City,” for her master’s thesis in the documentary program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. De Leon is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.