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Tribal Chairman Demands Rerouting of North Dakota Pipeline, Protesters Gather at Capitol

Tribal members fear the pipeline will harm their drinking water and violate sacred sites.
Image: Protesters against the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline block a highway
Protesters against the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline block a highway in near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Oct. 26, 2016. Law enforcement officials have asked people protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline to vacate an encampment on private land, and the protesters said no. Protesters are trying to halt construction of the pipeline they fear will harm cultural sites and drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux.James MacPherson / AP

The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is calling for rerouting the Dakota Access oil pipeline that is the target of protests in southern North Dakota.

At a news conference Saturday outside the Morton County Courthouse, tribal Chairman Dave Archambault said the pipeline "doesn't have to put our water at risk" and that "everybody can still benefit."

Tribal members fear the pipeline will harm their drinking water and violate sacred sites.

Related: North Dakota Pipeline Protesters Vow to Continue Fight

But supporters say the pipeline will have safeguards against leaks, and is a safer way to move oil than trucks and trains.

Increased calls to stop the pipeline was bolstered by more than 60 opponents demonstrating Saturday at the state capitol in Bismarck. The 1,172-mile pipeline being built by companies led by Energy Transfer Partners LP would offer the fastest route to bring Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, advocates argue.

The project has drawn opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux, as well as environmental activists. More than 400 protesters have been arrested since Aug. 10.

The "Rally To Protect Our Future" was billed as a peaceful demonstration in the wake of law enforcement officers arresting 140 protesters in a violent clash Thursday.

Related: Tribe Asks DOJ to Intervene in Escalating Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

“I’ve been doing my part by getting a safe and secure area where people can gather, speak their mind, chant, hold signs — just let people know and get that message out that we’re a group of people who are nonviolent,” said Kirsten Kelsch, 47, who organized the event and is married to a member of the Standing Rock Sioux.

Hundreds attended another protest she organized outside the Capitol last month. Kelsch told NBC News that the pipeline's building would have an impact on future generations.

“We are looking to stop this pipeline and make our earth, water and future safe for everybody,” she said.

Reuters contributed.