The ongoing resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline has continued to smolder, with 126 protesters arrested over the weekend in a series of clashes with police and sheriff's deputies in ongoing demonstrations at the contested construction site in North Dakota. In addition to the arrests, the local sheriff's department admitting to using tear gas against the protesters where hundreds of Native American nations have been gathering for months to demand the project’s cancellation.
On Saturday, 83 protesters were arrested on numerous charges ranging from assault on a peace officer to rioting and criminal trespass, the Morton County Sheriff's department said in a statement.
Cody Hall, Red Warrior Camp spokesman, noted that the police tactics used on Saturday were reminiscent of the 1973 Occupation of Wounded Knee. "They're trying to provoke a response, they're trying to provoke violence from our side. We have to deal with the militarized mindset of Morton County and North Dakota officials," Hall stated to local Fox affiliate KFYR.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, reports on social media also said that more than 800 protesters from various tribes blocked the main highway at Standing Rock, which would amount to almost the entire encampment.
The protesters used cars and their own bodies to block the highway. Police round-ups of peaceful protesters added to a weekend total of 126 arrests on charges ranging from reckless endangerment to criminal trespass, engaging in a riot, assault on a peace officer and resisting arrest.
On Saturday morning, police responded to a report about an SUV on private property near the pipeline construction site and found that four men had attached themselves to the vehicle. Police removed the men from the SUV before arresting them.
Kellie Berns, a protester who hung back behind a fence at the scene, told the local Bismarck Tribune people were being pepper-sprayed and thrown to the ground and added that law enforcement was more aggressive than in past confrontations.
"People came back very distressed," she said of those who returned to the fence following the demonstration. "The pipeline is getting a lot closer, so the stakes are getting higher."
The demonstration closed a section of a local highway, but it was reopened on Saturday afternoon.
“This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities," Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a statement, defending the use of force in removing and arresting the protesters.
The sheriff's office also claimed that arrows were launched at a helicopter, and that the same helicopter was forced to engage in evasive maneuvers after a civilian drone was deployed by one of the protest camps. The pilot and a passenger claimed that the “drone came after us” and that they were "in fear of their lives," while independent media collective Unicorn Riot posted video showing two officers firing at the drone with live weaponry.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and environmental activists have been protesting construction of the 1,100-mile pipeline in North Dakota for several months, saying it threatens the water supply and sacred sites.
The action against the pipeline has attracted more than 300 Native American tribes from across the United States as their cause secures national and international support.
Last month Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux nation, spoke at the United Nations in Geneva, calling on the U.N.’s Human Rights Council to intervene to stop the construction of the pipeline while complaining that U.S. courts had failed his people.
More than 1,200 archaeologists, anthropologists, curators, museum officials and academics signed a letter in support of the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline and calling on the U.S. government and its agencies to put an end to the construction of the oil facility.