Tourists and other passers-by might be startled to see teepees scattered across the lawn of the Washington Monument, but for the American Indians who set them up, that’s partly the point.
Activists from tribes across the country set up camp there Tuesday, marking the start of what they called a symbolic four-day demonstration in support of indigenous people’s rights as well as to protest the Trump administration and the Dakota Access pipeline.
The tribal members and supporters have scheduled daily cultural events at the camp until Friday, when they plan to march two miles from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office to the White House.
About 20 advocates and organizers began preparing the grounds Tuesday morning by holding a short prayer ceremony next to a teepee with “Water is Life” painted in large letters across its front.
By Friday, organizers expect roughly 2,000 people to arrive at the camp, said Jade Begay, a spokeswoman for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
“We came here to show unity, to show we stand together,” Ms. Begay said. “What we’re dealing with is not just one tribe and one fight. It’s all tribes, and all indigenous nations are having similar fights across the country.”
As of Tuesday morning, four teepees had been set up, and volunteers worked to assemble several more. A portable electric fire pit was placed near the center of the camp to hold the “ceremonial fire.” No one will sleep in the tents overnight, organizers said.
The demonstration started when a federal judge in the District on Tuesday declined a request by the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes to temporarily halt construction of the last section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which is set to be completed within days.
Opponents say that section of the 1,172-mile-long underground pipeline, which will pass under Lake Oahe, a large Missouri River reservoir, threatens the tribe’s water supply and sacred sites.
But U.S. District Judge James A. Boasberg said the tribes had been silent on the issue for more than two years after they were made aware of the pipeline’s proposed route.
After issuing in July an easement for the final 1,100-foot stretch under Lake Oahe, the Obama administration delayed and then revoked the permit. The Army Corps reissued the easement in January after President Trump signed a memorandum to expedite the project.
Protest organizers in the District said Friday’s march will begin at corps’ office because the agency gave the pipeline developer, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, permission to finish the project.
Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said bringing Indian rights activists together in Washington will help send a stronger message to Mr. Trump.
“We have four years of a lot of question marks,” Mr. Goldtooth said. “A lot of native people are wondering what this administration means for our communities. We don’t want to be reactive; we want to be very proactive and assert where we stand.”
More than 100 tribal nations will be represented at Friday’s rally in front of the White House, Mr. Goldtooth said. In the meantime, the teepee camp will serve as a “strong visual medium” to raise awareness for American Indian rights.
“The hope is to publicize the issues,” he said. “We need to ensure that our rights will be respected, and so far, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he doesn’t really care about tribal law.”
• Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.