In 2016, thousands of people, led by Oceti Sakowin Tribal members, gathered at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota in an attempt to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The movement aroused international media attention, mass support from a wide range of individuals and environmental groups, and political debates regarding Indigenous rights, climate change, fossil fuel reliance, water protection, and corporate power. Ultimately, 10 months into the movement, it was halted by the US federal government and the pipeline was installed. During the movement, state and federal military forces worked alongside a private military and security contractor (PMSC), TigerSwan, hired by owners of the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners. This case study addresses the ethics of the use of private military against Indigenous-led environmental activists at Standing Rock. Readers will review the modern rise and use of privatized militia, examine specific tactics used by TigerSwan at Standing Rock, and consider the ethics surrounding principles of transparency, accountability, regulation, and the potential risk for increased violence against citizens. A brief historical overview of Oceti Sakowin’s political resistance to US federal land appropriation and corporate exploitation is provided, as well as an analysis of future implications for Indigenous-led environmental justice movements. With this case study, instructors, students, and researchers can debate and analyze the ethical dilemmas regarding the use of PMSCs to target environmental justice movements.

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