#NoDAPL: 3 Media Tips for Sticking to Your Message

And How We've Put Them To Use for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

Celebrity endorsements and a swelling protest camp; tribes and cities passing resolutions of support and Native youth running to the Capitol in solidarity. The No Dakota Access Pipeline (NoDAPL) movement grew organically, through word of mouth from Native peoples and groups to activists across the nation. But it also moved across digital channels and spread quickly through thousands of stories in print, online and TV coverage. While the courts have denied an injunction that would halt construction on private lands, the Obama administration has temporarily halted construction on federal lands and called on Energy Transfer Partners to do the same on private lands. Two months into this national movement, people are now asking, how did the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe gain such a massive following of support and get its message out there? 

The answer is that ultimately, this issue captured the hearts and minds of people dedicated to tribal rights, the environment and social justice. But how?  

As the fight of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was gaining national attention, Pyramid was honored to be called upon to assist with the efforts. With daily media requests and all eyes on the protest camps, our team worked with the tribe to make sure that the tribe’s main message and goal were heard: That the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lands, people, waters and sacred places are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline which the U.S. Corps of Engineers approved without upholding treaty rights or engaging in meaningful consultation with the tribe. 

The tribe’s leadership and the outpouring of support from more than 300 tribes across the nation helped propel this issue to the forefront. And millions more have stood with Standing Rock. So, while we can’t speak to every element that created this historic movement, we do know that a powerful story and message can make all the difference. Here are three tools we used to frame the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's message, and what you should consider when the attention turns your way:

1. Know your Target Audience

Who do you need to reach to achieve your long-term goal?

For Standing Rock, federal agencies can deny or grant permits for construction of the pipeline. These agencies are under the direction of President Obama. We are focused on directing our messaging at a D.C. audience, since reaching these key influencers is critical.

2. Be Picky and Stay Focused 

Now that you know who your target audience is, you need to know which outlets and reporters are going to be most effective to reach them. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe receives hourly requests for interviews. This is a luxury, to be sure. Even so, the tribe couldn’t and shouldn’t respond to every request it receives and needs to assess what best venues are for reaching its target audience.


Pyramid worked with the Tribe to publish this op-ed for The Hill, a political newspaper based in D.C. This piece focused on the desecration of sacred sites, which was one of the tribe's key arguments for halting construction. Published during a time when the main media story focused on the camp and the protesters, and not so much on the legal process, stories such as this one helped communicate the tribe’s message at a national level and reach its target audience of the Obama administration. 

3. Never Lose Sight of Your Main Message

The NoDAPL movement is rich with stories. The passion of the water protectors camped out at the site, the broad government support, the call from indigenous peoples to honor treaty rights—there’s no shortage of narratives. The key is to use media strategically to elevate your primary message, no matter the story.

In this case, it is vital to bring stories back to the central message: The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lands, waters, people and sacred places are at risk because of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and that the U.S. Corps of Engineers failed to uphold treaty rights by approving pipeline permits without engaging in meaningful consultation with the tribe.


On Sept. 3, the same day that sacred sites were bulldozed, protesters were attacked by dogs and security. News stories were largely focused on these attacks, but it was critical to bring the message back to the story that sacred sites were bulldozed and destroyed, as we did with this CNN story. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline continues. And while there may be uncertainties as the court case proceeds, staying focused on the tribe’s main message and conducting strategic outreach to allies and reporters will be instrumental to this battle that has captured the attention of millions across the nation and world.

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