The Dakota Access Pipeline protests (or DAPL) have sparked a historic clash between Native American protesters (who are called Water Protectors) and law enforcement over a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline that would traverse four states.
The months-long protests – which have only grown despite mass arrests, claims of injury and dramatic images of protesters on horseback facing off against police officers in armored vehicles – are simply the Native American people’s way of saying: Enough. At long last, Enough.
However, on January 24, new President Donald Trump – who had investments in the company building the pipeline – signed an executive order to advance it forward. You can read more about that here.
There have been a series of troubling allegations throughout the months of protests: snarling dogs were used against protesters, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe claims burial grounds were bulldozed, a woman’s arm was blown off, another woman allegedly fired a weapon in a struggle with a cop, and law enforcement officials have used an increasingly militarized approach to force mass arrests when protests veer onto private property. The scene has also brought moving images of peace, unity, and prayer as children, elders, and people of every age in between say they are fighting to protect the earth.
The Water Protectors (and the people of all races who have joined them) have alleged a series of human rights abuses at the scene of the protests, even saying they were kept in mesh enclosures that resembled dog kennels and had numbers drawn on their arms; law enforcement said the temporary shelters were surrounded by chain link fences. A group of military veterans is now organizing to join the protests in December to help the Water Protectors.
The North Dakota protest site at the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux has grown into “the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years,” reports the BBC. The protesters, who have gathered together from multiple tribes, and others supporting the cause, say they are taking a stand for future generations against the four state Dakota Access Pipeline Project, and are trying to preserve their cultural and spiritual heritage. The gathering is “historic,” Judith LeBlanc, director of the New York-based Native Organizers Alliance, told ABC News, adding, “There’s never been a coming together of tribes like this.”
Citizens have routinely posted videos of the scene on social media. One had more than 300,000 views in just a few days:
On September 9, a federal judge denied the tribes’ legal request to temporarily stop the pipeline, said ABC News. The Los Angeles Times reported that “U.S. District Judge James Boasberg issued an order in Washington that lifted a temporary halt on a portion of the pipeline that crossed public land.” However, a short time later the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was stepping in, saying “that the Corps of Engineers will at least temporarily halt authorization for construction of the pipeline around Lake Oahe, while it reviews its previous decisions regarding this large reservoir,” according to ABC.
That hasn’t stopped the protests or the clashes. Three days before that ruling, the North Dakota governor activated 100 National Guard troops on September 8 in advance of the expected ruling by the federal judge, said Reuters.There were reports of injuries on both sides — of people and dogs — as protesters and security clashed violently on September 3. The tribal chairman contended that burial grounds were destroyed and desecrated by bulldozers.
“In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground,” the tribal chairman said, according to The Chicago Tribune.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is worried that the pipeline will negatively impact water quality on its reservation and imperil cultural heritage sites, reports The Dallas Morning News. Meanwhile, proponents of the project say it will boost the economy, creating thousands of construction jobs.
According to Energy Transfer Partners, the company whose subsidiary is developing the project, the 1,172-mile pipeline “will connect the rapidly expanding Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois,” transporting some 470,000 barrels a day. “The pipeline will enable domestically produced light sweet crude oil from North Dakota to reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Guards Previously Used Attack Dogs Against Protesters & Law Enforcement Used Military Vehicles in the Mass Arrest
In October, CNN said the protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline (also known as “DAPL”) were culminating into a possible “final showdown” between law enforcement and protesters. By the end of the day, 141 people were arrested after a violent clash in which a protester fired a gun, law enforcement fired beanbags, and barricades burned. The protesters were on horseback; the police in riot gear. Despite the arrests, the protesters insisted they won’t back down.
And they haven’t. The protests have continued throughout the month of November, culminating in protester’s severe arm injury. The protests have grown increasingly militarized, as police show up in armored vehicles and riot gear to combat what they say are aggressive intrusions onto private land; Veterans of the U.S. military are now organizing to join the DAPL protest in early December to stand between the police and protesters.
More than 130,000 people had checked in on Facebook in one several day period this fall at the Standing Rock reservation after reports that law enforcement was using Facebook check-ins and geotargeting to figure out who was protesting.
A temporary truce was negotiated by a tribal elder, Miles Allard, of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, who persuaded protesters to walk away from one clash so they wouldn’t get killed, said The Seattle Times, which added that he said the Standing Rock people would win the issue with prayer instead of violence. However, the clashes have grown in intensity since that time.
Social media filled with dramatic photos, videos and eyewitness accounts of dogs being used against protesters on September 3, including reports of injuries and pepper spray being allegedly directed at protesters.
The tribal spokesman said multiple protesters were pepper-sprayed and bitten in September, including a child. The company’s spokeswoman told Heavy that “unwarranted violence occurred on private property under easement to Dakota Access Pipeline, resulting in injury to multiple members of our security personnel and several dogs” on September 3.
On October 27, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department wrote on Facebook, “Authorities have repeatedly told protesters they are ‘free to go,’ asking them to move to the south camp. Protesters have set tires on Highway 1806 on fire. Law enforcement are telling protesters to move so they can put the fire out. A Long Range Acoustic device which sends a high-pitch warning tone. It is used to control and disperse the crowd of protesters.”
The scene grew more intense as militarized vehicles showed up at the scene and protesters lit a barricade on fire. The crowd shouted, “hands up don’t shoot.” NBC said the 141 arrests came by midnight after protesters set barricades on fire, threw rocks and “improvised fire bombs” at officers, and one woman fired shots from a revolver but didn’t injure anyone. Officers used pepper spray and fired beanbags at protesters, said NBC.
The elder, Allard, told the Seattle Times: “I am a common man, a man of prayer. We live our lives in peace and nonviolence.” The newspaper said he persuaded the protesters known as “Water Protectors” to put rocks back in the river and take down barricades. He told the newspaper the tribe would try to win the argument with prayer, not violence.
However, the Water Protectors have claimed they were subjected to human rights abuses, including being placed in what they felt were shelters similar to dog kennels.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called on the Obama administration to intervene to protect the protesters.
Protesters have said ta female protester’s arm <a href=”https://heavy.com/news/2016/11/sophia-wilanski-north-dakota-access-pipeline-standing-rock-protest-concussion-grenade-police-woman-lose-arm-bomb-photos/”>was blown off</a>. In the latter incident, the Standing Rock Medic and Healing Council <a href=”https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sU15VLnlJlEdVB4H6SmLaQ2gQ25mtSjpFpVu4daGVTE/preview” target=”_blank”>released a statement </a>that said in part, “The Morton County Sheriff’s Department has stated that she was injured by a purported propane explosion that the Sheriff’s Department claimed the unarmed people created. These statements are refuted by Sophia’s testimony, by several eye-witnesses who watched police intentionally throw concussion grenades at unarmed people, by the lack of charring of flesh at the wound site and by the grenade pieces that have been removed from her arm in surgery and will be saved for legal proceedings.”
The veterans’ site says, on November 20, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department’s “forces attacked water protectors with water cannons in freezing temperatures and launched concussion grenades into a peaceful crowd. Several had to be treated for hypothermia and one protester who was hit directly with a grenade has reportedly had her arm amputated as a result.”
The Sheriff’s Department has posted a response on Facebook.
The Wall Street Journal reports the protests against the $3.8 billion pipeline have united “groups of Native Americans, landowners and environmentalists.”
Activist Winona LaDuke wrote on EcoWatch that the pipeline struggle represents “the future of a people. All of us. If I ask the question ‘What would Sitting Bull do?’ — the answer is pretty clear. He would remind me what he said 150 years ago: ‘Let us put our minds together to see what kind of future we can make for our children.'”
The September confrontation led to dramatic images of snarling dogs being used against protesters at the scene.
“As demonstrators came to stop the tractors, they had encountered private security armed with pepper spray, attack dogs, and zip ties. Warriors on the front line were attacked for protecting the land and water,” wrote one man on Facebook. “Pregnant women were maced, young children and horses were attacked by dogs … the water provides life for the animals, the crops, the land, and millions of people.”
The clashes have grown in intensity.
According to the Daily Mail, quoting the Associated Press, the Morton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said “four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured,” and the tribal spokesman said six protesters were bitten by dogs, including a child, and 30 people were pepper-sprayed.
People posted dramatic eyewitness accounts from the scene.
Some protesters claimed people were bit by dogs:
Numerous posts on social media as well as photographers at the scene claimed the dogs were used by private security.
Some protesters claimed one dog had blood on its mouth.
One photo shows an injury:
Heavy reached out to Energy Transfer’s spokeswoman, Vicki Granado, and asked whether it was true that private security hired by the company used dogs and mace against protesters, and, if so, why, and how many were injured. Granado provided this statement on September 3:
What has been represented over the past several weeks as a peaceful protest is simply not the case. We are greatly saddened and extremely bothered to confirm that today, unwarranted violence occurred on private property under easement to Dakota Access Pipeline, resulting in injury to multiple members of our security personnel and several dogs. It is unfortunate that what has been portrayed as a peaceful protest by the opponents of the pipeline has now turned to violence and intimidation by a group of criminals and activists. Assailants broke through a fence and attacked our workers. We are working with law enforcement to ensure that all offenders are arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We will not tolerate the assault and/or injury to our employees or contractors. The safety of all those associated with our project and those living in the area is our top priority. We are hopeful that state and federal law enforcement and the tribal leaders will do their part to maintain order and to ensure a peaceful protest.
People also posted videos of the scene on Facebook:
Videos were also posted on YouTube:
“The Morton County Sheriff’s Department says that their law enforcement officers did not use pepper spray or tear gas and did not have dogs,” said KFYR-TV. The Associated Press quoted the sheriff as saying, “individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles.”
It’s not the first intense clash at the site of the protest. On August 31, the Sheriff’s Department said eight protesters were arrested after protesters chained themselves to construction equipment.
You can see maps of the project route here.
2. The Native American Protesters Said They Are Prepared for a ‘Long Battle’ & Have Taken Their Case to Court
The Energy Transfer company says on its website that the company “is developing a new pipeline to provide crude oil transportation service from point(s) of origin in the Bakken/Three Forks play in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.” The site contains additional details about the pipeline, including safety.
The tribe has made its stand in federal court as well as at the construction site. However, a federal judge disagreed with the tribe in a ruling on September 9. You can read that decision in full here:
The Wall Street Journal says the tribe has sued in federal court seeking to stop construction of the pipeline with a decision expected in early September. “The tribe has argued that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers improperly granted permits for the project,” says the newspaper.
You can read the lawsuit here.
The tribe filed an emergency motion on September 4 for a temporary restraining order “to prevent further destruction of the tribe’s sacred sites by Dakota Access Pipeline,” said KCCI, quoting the tribal chairman as saying, “On Saturday, Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners brazenly used bulldozers to destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts. They did this on a holiday weekend, one day after we filed court papers identifying these sacred sites.”
In a September 5 filing posted by Indianz.com, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wrote that it does not oppose the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s motion for a temporary restraining order as to any additional construction work on the pipeline within 20 miles on either side of Lake Oahu in North Dakota until the court rules on the suit. The Corps wrote that the “public interest would be served by preserving peace near Lake Oahu until the court can render” its decision.
On September 6, U.S. District Judge Boasberg had said “work will temporarily stop between North Dakota’s State Highway 1806 and 20 miles east of Lake Oahe, but will continue west of the highway because he believes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lacks jurisdiction on private land,” ABC News said, but he lifted that order on the 9th. Also, in court, the tribe said the partial ruling could imperil sacred sites, and alleged that bulldozed areas had human remains; the sheriff said some protesters possessed knives and hatchets, according to ABC.
The Justice Department, in stepping in, said nationwide reform should be considered to better contemplate tribal views on infrastructure projects, says ABC News. The government is asking the pipeline company to voluntary stop construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe during the review, said ABC.
The Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior wrote in a joint press release after the judge’s decision that “important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain.”
The press release continued, “The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time.”
The government said it will “invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions: (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.”
The Standing Rock tribe lists many other Indian nations as well as other organizations and communities that have joined its cause. Read the list here.
The Bismarck Tribune says the company temporarily halted construction while the suit is pending.
North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley has called the protests “unlawful” and an increasingly dangerous situation as the camps grew to as many as 4,000 people.
3. A Texas Billionaire Is Behind the Pipeline Project
Energy Transfer is owned by Kelcy Warren, a Texas entrepreneur worth $4 billion, according to Forbes Magazine.
In 2015, Bloomberg wrote in an extensive profile of Warren, “pipeline billionaire Kelcy Warren is having fun in the oil bust.” The profile said Warren lives in a 23,000-square-foot home complete with “chip-and-putt green, a pole-vault pit, a four-lane bowling alley, and a 200-seat theater where the billionaire’s musician pals play private concerts.” Protests have also occurred outside the company’s Dallas building, reports The Dallas Morning News.
Native American protesters are living in camps on the Standing Rock reservation while they protest the pipeline’s construction, says BBC. A community has arisen as the tribe is joined by representatives of other Indian nations, environmentalists, and others who support the tribe’s cause.
The pipeline would be the first to “allow movement of crude oil from the Bakken shale, a vast oil formation in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast,” Reuters says.
The tribe has created a donation fund. You can access it here.
A petition against the pipeline on Change.org has more than 280,000 supporters.
Some believe the media are not giving enough coverage to the protests, which they see as a troubling repeat of the past, with protest movements and the Native American cause in general marginalized or stigmatized by the news media.
However, social media has allowed the Indian voices to be heard more widely than they would have been in, say, the 1960s.
Filming Cops, which describes itself as a movement for police accountability, wrote on Facebook, “MEDIA BLACKOUT: There are now HUNDREDS of tribes and THOUSANDS of Native American protesters and others TAKING A STAND against the Dakota Access pipeline! Help SPREAD THE WORD cause the #MainstreamMedia is REFUSING to cover this!”
The Standing Rock tribe, on its website, says, “The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a 1,168-mile long crude oil pipeline that will transport nearly 570,000 barrels of oil each day from North Dakota to Illinois. The Army Corps of Engineers green-lighted several sections of the process without fully satisfying the National Historic Preservation Act, various environmental statutes, and its trust responsibility to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”
However, the Sheriff’s Department has continued to insist that protesters are out of line. According to NPR, the Sheriff’s Department said of the September 3 protest, “Once protesters arrived at the construction area, they broke down a wire fence by stepping and jumping on it. According to numerous witnesses within five minutes the crowd of protesters, estimated to be a few hundred people became violent. They stampeded into the construction area with horses, dogs and vehicles.”
KCCI says the Sheriff’s Department also contends some private security members said knives were pulled on them.
4. Hollywood Celebrities Such as Susan Sarandon Have Joined the Protests, & Authorities Said Green Party Nominee Jill Stein Might Be Charged
Authorities said they “plan to pursue charges” of trespassing and vandalism against the Green Party’s nominee for president Jill Stein “for spray-painting construction equipment at a Dakota Access Pipeline protest,” according to ABC News. You can watch video of Stein spray painting here. Stein, in turn, shared a quote from Sitting Bull and questioned why others weren’t possibly facing charges.
Before the news that Stein could possibly face charges for spray painting a bulldozer blade, the presidential candidate tweeted her support for the protesters. Stein wrote on her campaign website that she believes the pipeline “would violate U.S. treaties by endangering the drinking water and sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.” Around the same time the news broke on potential charges, she tweeted a quote from Sitting Bull:
Stein questioned why she is the only person who might face charges:
Energy Transfer Partners declined comment on the Stein matter.
CNN says the pipeline’s proponents “tout its economic boost,” including millions of dollars in income and sales taxes and creation of thousands of jobs.
The project developer, Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Crude Oil, says the pipeline would help the United States become less dependent on foreign oil, and they claim the crude oil is moved in an environmentally responsible manner, says CNN.
Energy Transfer says on its website, “We need to close the gap between what we produce as a country and what we consume before we can be truly independent of foreign imports. While the U.S. produced 7.5 million barrels of crude oil per day in 2013, it still imported 7.7 million barrels per day in order to meet consumer demands.”
The company also says the project will create 8,000 to 12,000 local jobs during construction and adds that the pipeline “will translate into millions in state and local revenues during the construction phase and an estimated $129 million annually in property and income taxes.”
State utilities boards and commissions have granted approvals for the project, and the company has sought voluntary easement agreements from property owners, according to a press release on the company’s website.
You can read company fact sheets on each state affected here.
Others raise concern, among other things, about the possibility of leaks. The New York Times says the pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day to Illinois.
KCCI says 30 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, “have slammed the pipeline project, calling it ‘yet another example of an oil pipeline project being permitted without public engagement or sufficient environmental review.'”
The tribe wrote in its lawsuit that it is concerned “with impacts to the habitat of wildlife
species such as piping plovers, least tern, Dakota skipper, and pallid sturgeon, among others. The Tribe has a particular concern for bald eagles, which remain federally protected and play a significant role in the Tribe’s culture, and which would be adversely affected by the proposed pipeline. The Tribe is greatly concerned with the possibility of oil spills and leaks from the pipeline should it be constructed and operated, particularly into waters that are of considerable economic, religious, and cultural importance to the Tribe.”
Hollywood celebrities have joined the protests, including the actress Susan Sarandon. The New York Times says the protests have centered in the town of Cannon Ball, which is located in south central North Dakota.
Leonardo DiCaprio wrote on Facebook: “Stand with the Standing Rock Sioux in their opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline which threatens our climate.”
The New York Times says 20 people were arrested as of August 26 as heated confrontations also occurred as protesters focus on a site where preparatory work is being done; in addition, the Times says that the company has sued some protesters, alleging they are threatening and intimidating contractors.
5. The Standing Rock Tribe Is Concerned About the Impact on Water Quality for Millions
According to the Bismarck Tribune, the tribe, located in North Dakota, fears the project “will disturb sacred sites and impact drinking water for thousands of tribal members on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and millions further downstream.”
Reuters says the pipeline would be built outside, but near, the land owned by the tribe. The tribe is arguing that the pipeline would affect its water, as well as sites of spiritual significance, and says the government took the land away by reneging on past treaties.
“Our cause is just,” the newspaper quoted the tribe’s chairman, Dave Archambault II, as saying, adding that the tribe was staging the fight on behalf of future generations.
On EcoWatch, Winona LaDuke wrote a passionate column opposing the pipeline. It started, “My destination is the homeland of the Hunkpapa Oceti, Standing Rock Reservation…If you close your eyes, you can remember the 50 million buffalo—the single largest migratory herd in the world. The pounding of their hooves would vibrate the Earth, make the grass grow.”
She said the struggle is a continuation of a historical one. “There were once 250 species of grass,” she wrote. “Today the buffalo are gone… Many of the fields are now in a single GMO crop, full of so many pesticides that the monarch butterflies are dying off. But in my memory, the old world remains.”
In a press release, Archambault said, “This demolition is devastating. These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced.” He said that “construction crews removed topsoil across an area about 150 feet wide stretching for two miles, northwest of the confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri Rivers.”
“I surveyed this land and we confirmed multiple graves and specific prayer sites,” said Tim Mentz, the Standing Rock Sioux’s former tribal historic preservation officer, in the tribal press release. “Portions, and possibly complete sites, have been taken out entirely.”
The local sheriff said construction of the pipeline was temporarily halted “for safety reasons,” said NPR. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association is asking U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Thursday to send federal monitors to the protest, “alleging racial profiling and other transgressions are happening,” said ABC News.
According to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the tribe’s reservation is located in both North and South Dakota, and the people of Standing Rock are “members of the Dakota and Lakota nations,” terms that mean “friends” or “allies.”
“The people of these nations are often called ‘Sioux,'” a term that dates back to the seventeenth century “when the people were living in the Great Lakes area,” says the tribe.
According to the tribe’s website, “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal members are descendants of the Teton and Yankton Bands of the Lakota/Dakota Nations. The Reservation is thirty-four miles south of Mandan, North Dakota. The Cannon Ball River runs along the north side of the reservation and Ceder Creek in the northwest side.” The tribe says cattle ranching and farming are the biggest economic drivers on the reservation.
The lawsuit says the reservation established in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie “included extensive lands that would be crossed by the proposed pipeline. The Tribe has a strong historical and cultural connection to such land. Despite the promises made in the two Fort Laramie treaties, in 1877 and again in 1889, Congress betrayed the treaty parties by passing statutes that took major portions of this land away from the Sioux.”
The lawsuit continues, “In addition to specific archaeological sites that have been identified to date, there are numerous significant culturally important sites that have not been identified. The lands within the pipeline route are culturally and spiritually significant.”