Beyond Standing Rock: WPLC Adopts New Vision and Mission Statements

WPLC board president Daniel T’seleie attending the two-day retreat from Radili Ko
(also known as Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories) via video conference.
Our retreat was facilitated by Jordan Marie Daniel of Wopila Consulting.


WPLC’s Board of Directors gathered with staff in Bismarck, ND for a two-day facilitated retreat at United Tribes College on December 15-16 to work on planning for the organization’s future.

We spent time reflecting on what we had learned through our work at Standing Rock about the state’s playbook—multiple mass arrests, overcharging, the use of paid informants and infiltrators, a propaganda and disinformation campaign, repeated assaults on Indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights, acts of increasingly escalated violence and human rights violations that shocked the world—and the likelihood that these same tactics will be employed in future struggles. For example, in preparation for anticipated resistance to the construction of the KXL pipeline, Butte County, SD has already contracted with a county 270 miles to the east for jail cells at $85 per night.

We also discussed the shifting landscape of state legislation with respect to dissent generally and pipelines specifically, so-called infrastructure protection laws or SB 176, the “undisturbed use” bill passed in South Dakota in response to the mass convergence of Water Protectors at Standing Rock. While described as “an Act to preserve the use of public land, to ensure free travel, to enhance emergency response, and to declare an emergency,” in reality the law allows certain state officials to prohibit more than 20 people from gathering on public lands, schools and roads.

In addition, we weighed the growing public awareness of the reality of catastrophic climate change which includes an increased acknowledgement of the disproportionate adverse impacts and burdens on Indigenous peoples and communities; both to survive it and to defend against it.

Given all of those factors, and with the mission in North Dakota near completion, clearly our motto  on-the-ground legal support for the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance at Standing Rock” was historic, and would need to be updated to reflect our new direction.

WPLC board members Hon. Holly Bird and Jeffrey Haas
conferring with WPLC Outreach Organizer Leoyla Cowboy (on right)

As an organization, we are guided by our shared Vision – grounded in our belief that Indigenous peoples have a unique and profoundly important role to play to stem the tide of the unfolding climate emergency we are living in. This vision is in part a result of the inspiration we draw from the transformative experiences that some of us glimpsed and others of us lived at the NoDAPL resistance camps at Standing Rock:

We envision a world where Indigenous peoples are centered and guiding the world to protect the environment for all.

After receiving requests for assistance from Indigenous-led struggles in multiple regions we took stock of what skills and experience WPLC has to offer. In addition to our core legal support work, we recognized that education and skill-development for Indigenous people is a central component of our work, as is sharing legal information as a means to building agency and power in the struggle for liberation and against environmental destruction and racism. We crafted a new mission that gives us a framework for determining our future programatic work:

Water Protector Legal Collective provides legal support, advocacy, and knowledge sharing for Indigenous centered and guided environmental and climate justice movements.

WPLC is a diverse group of people from a wide range of backgrounds and experience. The thread that ties us together is that we are called to protect those who stand up to protect the environment and climate. We remain deeply honored for the opportunity to be a part of this growing movement and to continue this important work beyond Standing Rock.

WPLC board member and mass defense expert King Downing
at United Tribes College in Bismarck, ND