Protesters at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota came under attack again Wednesday by local police who used teargas against some people who were allegedly on private land owned by the company building the oil facility.
Morton County officials claimed in a statement that protesters on the banks of the Cantapeta Creek river attempted to build a wooden pedestrian bridge across the creek to gain access to the Cannon Ball Ranch, privately land owned by ETP.
“Officers responded and ordered protesters to remove themselves from the bridge and notified them that if they cross the bridge they would be arrested,” the statement said.
The police then proceeded to attack them with rubber bullets and teargas as they continued their peaceful protest. The statement said they were “violating numerous federal and state laws.”
However, water protectors said they were being indiscriminately targeted by law enforcement, who were given permission by the U.S. army corps to enter the private land to confront the protesters.
“It messed me up, but I’m slowly recovering,” Danyion LeBeaux, an 18-year-old protester at the standoff and a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, told the Guardian Wednesday. “People were standing there unarmed, and they start macing us for no apparent reason.”
LeBeaux also said he saw another protester bleeding from his mouth after being hit in the face by a rubber bullet.
Johnny Dangers, a photographer who posted images from the police confrontation, told the newspaper police were attacking everyone involved in the standoff despite the protest’s peaceful nature. “They were spraying people so intensely … A lot of people had to be treated.”
Dana Yellowfat, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council, called the police’s actions a “surprise attack,” because the protesters were on a “prayerful march” at the river. “Everyone is pretty stressed out at this point,” he said. “You might want to call it a surprise attack.”
The action against the US$3.8 billion pipeline has attracted more than 300 Native American tribes from across the United States in a show of unity that is being called historic. They say the project will damage burial sites considered sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and will pollute the area's drinking water.
The latest attack on protesters comes a few days after a U.N. group on Indigenous issues sent representatives to Standing Rock Indian reservation to investigate human rights abuses by the local police, including keeping arrested demonstrators in “cages”.
As the protests continue to gain national and international attention and solidarity, authorities seem to have taken a more aggressive approach against the protesters.
Just last week 142 water protectors were arrested over the weekend in a series of clashes with police in ongoing demonstrations at the contested construction site in North Dakota. Police also used tear gas against demonstrators. More than 400 people have been arrested since August when the protests kicked off.