Protesters seeking to block the construction of an oil pipeline under a reservoir that provides clean drinking water for thousands of people won a major victory last Sunday. That victory may be short-lived, however, as the energy company’s CEO announced that they plan to proceed whether the government backs them or not.
By Sophia Meyer
On Dec. 4, at the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II delivered a victorious announcement to 11,000-plus “water protectors,” among them about 2,000 unarmed U.S. military veterans who traveled to the site to peacefully stand with and protect the constitutional rights of their fellow Americans.
The group, which has endured vicious attacks by private security forces and law enforcement agencies, is standing in opposition to the placement of an Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) oil pipeline on treaty land and beneath Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River that supplies the tribe’s water.
The Army Corps of Engineers, Archambault told the assembled, had just issued a notice denying an easement necessary for completion of the pipeline. While many of the assembled prayerfully gave thanks and briefly celebrated their victory, most knew it was only a fleeting reprieve.
Just hours later, pipeline operator ETP’s billionaire CEO Kelcy Warren issued a news release: “As stated all along, ETP and SXL [Sunoco Logistics Partners] are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”
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The group’s rallying slogan, Mni Wiconi, Water Is Life, succinctly articulates their legitimate concerns.
Not only have Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) contractors bulldozed and desecrated sacred Sioux burial grounds while disregarding treaty rights dating to 1851, but the risk of a pipeline break—which is significant, given that just such a disaster has occurred over 2,000 times since 1995—is potentially catastrophic. Oil would pollute not just the reservoir and seep into local aquifers and the tribe’s water supply, but also the Missouri River, which supplies millions of people down-river.
The response to this massive effort to protect the waterways has been extreme—and violent.
In August, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency in response to the enlarging group, and in early September, responses to the water protectors began to grow increasingly brutal. On Sept. 3, a small group of people who had traveled to one of the destroyed burial sites were stopped by ETP’s private security forces, who unleashed mace and attack dogs on the group in an assault well documented by independent media on-site but totally unreported by the mainstream media.
Later, water protectors attempted to remove barricades police had erected to block North Dakota Highway 1806—a main route connecting the area with Bismarck to the north, the closure of which prevented travel by emergency medical vehicles as well as locals. With mainstream media finally covering the event, “dozens of police from six states, dressed in riot gear and equipped with armored personnel carriers, cleared the path of protesters, teepees, and in one instance, a horse,” reports Wes Inzenna.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, who had invoked the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an act usually reserved for requesting help to respond to natural disasters, directed the contingent of personnel and materiel. His forces deployed a barrage of so-called nonlethal weaponry against both people and horses.
Tasers, pepper spray, rubber bullets and pellets, and tear gas canisters were shot directly at people’s faces. One female peacekeeper was blinded in one eye while attempting to assist a female journalist retreat from the front lines, when she was hit directly in the face by a round of tear-gas cannisters shot at her from close range. Journalists report an ear-piercing Long-Range Acoustical Device (LRAD), which can cause permanent hearing loss, was deployed repeatedly. At least 141 were arrested, and many women reported they were strip- and cavity-searched, given a number that was written on their arms, and were then held overnight in empty chain-link dog kennel-type pens on the concrete.
On Nov. 21, law enforcement doused the crowds with tear gas and water cannons, despite sub-freezing temperatures, lobbed concussion grenades—resulting in one young woman’s forearm being shredded when she was hit directly as the device exploded—and shot rubber and plastic bullets at the faces and groins of the peacefully assembled group. Because the highway remained blockaded, ambulances were unable to reach the wounded in a timely manner. The Standing Rock Medic and Healing Council reported that 26 people were transported to hospitals, while 300 were treated at the camps.
A multitude of questions arise about accountability—and the future of our now-precarious Bill of Rights—when one considers that these “public servants” were paid, with our taxpayer dollars, to protect the activities of a corporation that unapologetically spat in the face of the federal government. To ensure the oil continues to flow through our precious land, our unarmed, peacefully and prayerfully assembled fellow Americans were repeatedly, violently assaulted—made possible by our dollars.
Calls, letters, and visits demanding accountability and immediate justice are in order to elected representatives at all levels. As the popular saying goes, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
Originally from the Midwest, Sophia Meyer is a freelance writer and editor, small farmer and avid gardener now living on Florida’s sunny east coast.