On October 10, dozens of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers, clad in riot gear, descended on a peaceful prayer ceremony held by hundreds protesting the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). They arrested 27 protesters, including Divergent actress Shailene Woodley, who livestreamed her arrest.
It is the latest incident in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s months-long struggle to stop construction of the 1,168-mile-long pipeline owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners.
The protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” were charged with engaging in a riot, criminal trespass, and reckless endangerment, Red Warrior Camp tells DeSmog. Two protesters were charged with felonies for locking themselves to DAPL machinery.
The Red Warrior Camp, one of the frontline, Indigenous-led resistance groups supporting the Standing Rock Sioux, wrote about the Columbus Day actions in a Facebook statement, refuting law enforcement claims of violence:
“Upon arrival [at Dakota Access pipeline worksite 118], the People began a powerful ceremony. The Morton County Sheriff’s department insists that the action was not a protest but a riot…This was a ceremony in defense of sacred water. The gathering of Nations from coast to coast, the north to the south remained calm and orderly until dozens of riot police intending to harm and arrest all present. The Riot Police were armed and dangerous, yet we managed to diffuse them even though they were aggressively asserting they would and did arrest anyone and everyone who held the line, no one was rioting in any manner and everyone remained to hold them off for four hours.”
The Red Warrior Camp posted a video of the standoff and the arrests.
Officers in riot gear at the October 10 protest. Credit: Used with permission of Red Warrior Camp
In a Facebook post following the arrests, Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network wrote, “It is NOT ironic that we have riot police facing off against #NoDAPL protectors on #IndigenousPeoplesDay. Our resistance is alive and well.”
Also on Monday, activists protesting in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux shut down five pipelines bringing tar sands oil into the U.S. at various points along the nation’s northern border. The direct actions took place at Enbridge line 4 and 67, Leonard, Minnesota; TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline, Walhalla, North Dakota; Spectra Energy’s Express pipeline, Coal Banks Landing, Montana; and Kinder-Morgan’s Trans-Mountain pipeline, Anacortes, Washington.
A Setback for the Standing Rock Sioux
Monday’s actions came less than a day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the tribe’s request for an injunction to halt construction on contested land near the town of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, while the appeals process plays out.
Protesters on October 10 made calls to “defend the sacred,” referring to cultural lands and waters potentially threatened by the pipeline's construction. Credit: Used with permission of Red Warrior Camp
The two-page ruling issued Sunday night allows DAPL construction activity to resume in the areas within 20 miles of Lake Oahe. The ruling also reiterated that the federal government still has jurisdiction over whether the pipeline construction under the Missouri River will be allowed to fully proceed.
In September a federal judge denied the tribe's request to temporarily halt construction, but the Departments of Justice, Army, and Interior intervened immediately with a joint statement requesting that DAPL voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.
The same federal departments issued a second joint statement Monday clarifying that construction was not authorized in the contested zone.
“The Army continues to review issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Tribal nations and their members and hopes to conclude its ongoing review soon,” Monday’s statement read.
“In the interim, the Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe. We repeat our request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
As with the agencies’ similar statement in September, the key words were request and voluntarily. The federal government has no authority to halt construction on private lands.
Construction of the controversial pipeline resumed amid protests, resulting in dozens of arrests by militarized law enforcement officers. Credit: Used with permission of Red Warrior Camp
It was not a surprise to the tribe and its supporters that the company ignored the request and resumed construction immediately. In a statement following Sunday’s ruling, Dave Archambault II, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, said the tribe continues to explore “all lawful options to protect our people, our water, our land, and our sacred places.”
“Not surprisingly, Energy Transfer Partners has ignored the Obama Administration’s call to voluntarily halt construction and continues to desecrate our sacred places. They have proven time and time again that they are more interested in money than the health and wellbeing of the 17 million people who get their drinking water from the Missouri River. They have bulldozed over the burials of our Lakota and Dakota ancestors and have no regard for the sanctity of these places.”
While Sunday’s ruling was a setback for the tribe, the legal fight continues, according to Earthjustice, the tribe’s counsel.
“We asked the court for a pause in construction during the appeals process and it’s unfortunate that DAPL is allowed to continue working on sacred lands while we’re working through the legal process,” Earthjustice associate attorney Stephanie Tsosie told DeSmog.
Sacred Sites at Risk
The tribe claims that the pipeline route crosses ancestral lands and within a half mile of the reservation boundary, and says construction crews have already desecrated confirmed sacred and historic sites, including burials and cultural artifacts. Over the Labor Day weekend, the pipeline company plowed through a burial site that had been identified by tribal experts a few days before. It was during that activity that DAPL security personnel confronted protesters with attack dogs.
Because the federal government is still deciding whether or not DAPL should get a permit for the contested land, sacred sites could be decimated long before a decision is made, the tribe says.
Police showed up to Monday's protest in highly militarized vehicles and dressed in riot gear. Credit: Used with permission of Red Warrior Camp
With law enforcement intervention intensifying in recent weeks, some North Dakotans have been voicing their dissatisfaction with the state spending resources on riot gear and armored vehicles to stop peaceful protesters. A letter to the editor published in the Bismarck Tribune excoriated the governor for dispatching the National Guard and “a horde of law enforcement to a patch of prairie smaller than a square city block and a couple thousand unarmed citizens.”
“The Department of Emergency Services’ recent request for ‘up to $6 million borrowing authority’ for providing assistance to local law enforcement is utterly astonishing!” the reader wrote. “Would the state respond in this same manner if a group of Christian parishioners gathered on the open plains to express their constitutionally protected rights?”
Main image credit: Used with permission of Red Warrior Camp