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Standing Rock historian, 'matriarch' of DAPL protests LaDonna Allard dies

Allard was known as a wellspring of the tribe's history with an unyielding commitment to protecting it. In the summer of 2016, she donated her family's land at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers to be the site of the Sacred Stone Camp, the first opposition encampment of Dakota Access protests.

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LaDonna Allard, founder of the first resistance camp against the Dakota Access Pipeline, gestures while talking to a participant in the Intertribal Summit to Protect Our Water. Forum News Service file photo
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BISMARCK — LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a Standing Rock Sioux historian who founded the first Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp, died Saturday, April 10.

Her son announced her death on social media over the weekend. She was recently diagnosed with brain cancer and was 64 years old.

Allard, who for a time worked as the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer on Standing Rock, was known as a wellspring of the tribe's history with an unyielding commitment to protecting it. In spring of 2016, she donated her family's land at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers to be the site of the Sacred Stone Camp, the first opposition encampment of Dakota Access protests.

It was ground zero for what would grow into a globally recognized movement that attracted thousands of protesters and representatives from tribal nations across the country to Standing Rock.

The camps were also at the center of the bitter conflict over the pipeline's construction. Clashes with law enforcement near that site sometimes grew violent, and hundreds of people were arrested over the course of the monthslong protest.

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Dakota Access opponents argue the pipeline's Missouri River crossing endangers Standing Rock's water supply. The pipeline began operating after the last protest camps cleared in spring of 2017, and it remains a flashpoint of energy and environmental justice debates today.

Allard spoke often of how this opposition movement began on her land and how the pipeline was constructed near the burial site for one of her sons.

"I have a moral obligation to protect the land and the water for future generations," Allard told The Forum at a hearing on the proposed expansion of the pipeline in 2019. "I am from the Cannonball River and the Missouri River. The camps were established in my backyard, as they put this pipeline next to my son's grave. Who does that?"

She added, "I will not stop until this pipeline is out of the ground."

Allard's persistent personality and depth of historical knowledge became hallmarks of her leadership, and members of the environmental justice community remembered her as an educator and shepherd for other pipeline opponents.

"She was a pretty amazing person and was a fighter in more ways than one," said Kandi White, a campaign coordinator with the Indigenous Environmental Network, who recalled getting to know Allard during the Dakota Access Protests.

White, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said Allard's keen knowledge of Standing Rock history and environmental law educated many younger tribal members of what was at stake in the conflict, helping to galvanize the youth movement that drew the national and international spotlights to the protests.

In a Facebook post over the weekend, the Standing Rock Youth Council remembered her as "a matriarch of the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline."

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Members of the Indigenous rights group NDN Collective similarly recalled Allard's work as an educator and steward of tribal history during the pipeline protests.

"I will always remember her as a storyteller, sharing the history of the spaces we protected and why those spaces are significant," said Krystal Two Bulls, a campaign director for the organization, in a statement. "I will always remember the love and joy in those stories — the way her voice and mannerism changed to emphasize the significance of that time and space."

White said Allard "knew the laws and she knew the regulations" governing the pipeline's construction, and she made sure the rest of her community knew them, too.

Even so, White said, Allard never predicted how big the protest movement she helped found would become.

"She would tell me, 'Can you believe this? Can you believe this, Kandi?'" White recalled her marveling. "She just wanted people to know what their rights were."

Jeremy Turley contributed reporting to this story.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.

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