The Story of Water Protector Legal Collective
The Water Protector Legal Collective is an Indigenous-led legal nonprofit that provides support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples and Original Nations, the Earth, and climate justice movements.
Born out of the #NoDAPL movement, WPLC's founding mission was to serve as the on-the-ground legal team for the Indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Since we first arrived at the request of tribal leadership and set up a legal tent in Oceti Sakowin, WPLC has been providing legal support to the Water Protector Movement.
We are guided by our shared vision of a world that is 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 live 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.
In 2019, after over 800 criminal defense cases for Water Protectors came to a close in North Dakota, WPLC moved our office to New Mexico, where we have expanded our organization’s founding mission. In addition to our core legal support work, we recognize that education and skill-development for Indigenous peoples 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.
WPLC is a diverse group of people from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. The thread that ties us together is that we are called to protect those who stand up to protect the environment and sacred, ancestral lands threatened by extractive industry, and economic development projects that put property rights over human rights. We remain deeply honored for the opportunity to be a part of this growing movement and to continue this vital work beyond Standing Rock.
Our work on behalf of the Standing Rock Water Protectors has been its own reward, but it has been wonderful to be the recipient of two special awards:
The 2018 Arc of Justice Award, North Dakota Human Rights Commission
The 2017 Law for the People Award conferred by the National Lawyers Guild for extraordinary commitment to uphold human, civil, and constitutional rights