A front-line camp established by Native American water protectors directly between the proposed path of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Missouri River was assaulted by armed hundreds of North Dakota law enforcement on Thursday.
I received this message from a friend at the camp:
“We are on all three sides with snipers. Guns drawn on us. People are being brutalized. Broken ribs from batons. Pepper spray. They are shooting people. Everyone is fleeing.”
And further reports and videos that came in through social media and confirmed by women, children and elders, assembled in prayer to protect their drinking water and sacred sites from destruction were brutalized. Police shot at the crowd with rubber bullets, concussion cannons and pepper spray at close range and used a painful high-pitched siren.
A man could be seen in a video posted by Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with Indigenous Environmental Network, with his leg bleeding after being hit with a concussion cannon. Elders praying were maced directly in the face and there were reports of people being pulled out of a sweat lodge, a sacred religious ceremony that is one of seven rites given to the Dakota/Lakota people by White Buffalo Calf Woman, a sacred being who some believe appeared to the people not far from the site of the camp.
A Lakota grandparent posted on Facebook looking for her 15-year-old grandson who had his horse shot out from under him by private Dakota Access Pipeline security. The young horse riders were later found and interviewed on a video shared in the Facebook group Indigenous Life Movement and claimed that they and their bleeding horses were fired on with live ammunition while they were herding buffalo that had wandered into the confrontation.
About 140 were arrested including leaders from other tribal governments that have stood in solidarity with Standing Rock. This is following a similar crackdown on the forward camp last Saturday where similar hardline tactics were used by North Dakota police and DAPL security.
On that day an estimated 140 were arrested and sent out to jails all over North Dakota. Jasilyn Charger, a member of the International Indigenous Youth Council was interviewed by Native journalist Myron Dewey and reported that one of their members was hit with a baton and maced and ended up in the hospital. She noted, that “made me sad because the police are supposed to protect us. That’s their job and they’re hurting us. They’re hurting our youth. They called us out here and most of my council went up and now half of them are gone, half of them are in jail.”
It should be noted that Morton County has been strip-searching youth and even strip-searched the tribal chairman — who is the head of state of a sovereign nation — when he was arrested for participating in a peaceful protest opposing the pipeline in August. There have also been reports of a Native woman who was arrested and left overnight naked in a jail cell. Her mother is a well-known camp leader.
The photos posted by on the ground independent journalists like Unicorn Riot and by Native Americans show shocking images reminiscent of the Indian Wars of the 1800s. Heavily armed police in riot gear pointing guns, some lethal, at unarmed Native women. Large groups of police with guns drawn entering a teepee and entering another tent dragging a woman out. Grey-haired elders armed with nothing but prayers facing down on a public road armed-to-the-teeth law enforcement.
Reporting has been difficult not just because of the remoteness and lack of cell reception and WiFi, but the active suppression of reporting by the sheriff’s department. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, an internationally-known and widely respected journalist, was charged with inciting a riot for her coverage of the dog attacks. The judge dismissed her case but the state attorney said they would be combing through her footage to look for further reasons to arrest her again. The suppression continued yesterday as Atsa E'sha Hoferer, a Native man live streaming on Facebook, reported, "They are arresting people here, they are censoring our media.”
This most recent assault on the water protectors occurred on a day when Ammon Bundy and several of his followers got off scot-free for their armed takeover in Oregon of a wildlife refuge and as thousands of Cleveland baseball fans can be seen on national television at the World Series cheering their team whose mascot is a grotesque and racist caricature of a Native American Chief Wahoo. Needless to say, the baseball team and its mascot receive more media screen time than real Native Americans fighting for their drinking water in North Dakota do.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been fighting for the right to true consultation regarding the construction of the nearly US$4-billion crude oil pipeline within a mile of their reservation border and only 10 minutes upstream from their sole water intake source on the Missouri River. It had originally been routed north of Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota but was moved when the governor and the city worried it would harm their water intake on the Missouri River. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was just at the protest and said, ”This as the ripest case of environmental racism he’d seen in a long time.”
The tribe says that no meaningful consultation has taken place with the Dakota Access Pipeline owners, Energy Transfer Partners of Texas. In 2014, tribal leaders met with the DAPL representatives and at the meeting Chairman Dave Archambault II told them there was no way the tribe could approve this crossing. Ladonna Allard, tribal member and founder of the first protest camp, Sacred Stone, has said in an interview with teleSUR after that DAPL took them off their email lists, wouldn’t return calls or emails and even removed the reservation, which is a sovereign nation, from its maps. This “gotcha” consultation is sadly common for companies to engage in with tribes, with whom consultation is required by law. There are reports consultation requests are sometimes even sent to tribal janitors.
The new frontline camp was erected Sunday, directly across the road from where DAPL security dogs attacked water protectors on Sept. 3. Then, the water protectors were trying to stop DAPL from destroying some 23 burial sites and other archaeological sites that had been identified by the tribe’s historic preservation officer, Tim Mentz, Sr., the day before. The tribe had filed for an injunction and in the filings identified the sites and shockingly, the very next day, during a national holiday weekend, large heavy construction equipment was moved 14 miles to the site and the burial grounds were completely destroyed.
Camp leaders who set up the new forward camp cited the tribe’s right to the land under the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie. They erected several structures, including tipis, and declared, “This is unceded land.”
Unceded land is land that the tribes did not agree to give up in a treaty with the United States and technically, under international law it is still Dakota/Lakota land that is held strictly by military force by the United States. And that military force is out in full display in North Dakota today as the state is taking an active role in trying to force the tribe, which is a sovereign nation — to accept this pipeline despite their concerns about the danger it poses to their people’s drinking water and the destruction of cultural and sacred sites.
Archambault had called on the U.S. Department of Justice to exercise oversight over the outrageous and possibly illegal actions of the state of North Dakota in its handling of peaceful water protectors. Last night he issued an even stronger statement:
“The Department of Justice must send overseers immediately to ensure the protection of First Amendment rights and the safety of thousands here at Standing Rock. DOJ can no longer ignore our requests. If harm comes to any who come here to stand in solidarity with us, it is on their watch. They must step in and hold the state of North Dakota and Morton County accountable for their acts of violence against innocent, prayerful people.”
Local and some national media reported the Morton County sheriff department’s statements uncritically without reviewing the actual footage and testimony of Native Americans who were there. Sheriff Kirchmeier has made outrageous and unsubstantiated claims against water protectors before and continued to do so with this latest attack which was framed as an “eviction from private land.” Pointedly ignoring the tribe’s legal claims to the land under treaty and the protectors’ constitutionally-protected rights to free speech and non-violent protest. Local media have been reporting that the state has spent nearly US$6 million on the heavily militarized response to peaceful protests.
On CNN, actor and activist Mark Ruffalo was interviewed and strongly condemned the state of North Dakota’s violent response to the peaceful, and legal demand for consultation.
“Governor Jack Dalrymple if there is blood on anyone's hands, it's on his hands,” he said.
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon. She has been published in Salon, Indian Country Today, Earth Island Journal, the BBC and the Nation. She is finishing her first novel "Leaving the Glittering World" set in the shadow of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State during the discovery of Kennewick Man.