By Alexis Lee, News Writer
This past weekend, approximately three hundred activists naming themselves as “water protectors” continued their two-month- long protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). On Saturday, October 22 the demonstration began at 5:20 a.m. and lasted for five hours. The event then carried over to Sunday. A few of the protest groups stated that it was merely a peaceful protest. However, some of the Morton County police had a different perspective on the event.
The Texas-based Energy Partners were granted approval for the 1,172 mile long Dakota Access Pipeline. The 3.8 billion dollar project will run from an oil-rich land called the “Bakken Formation” where Montana and North Dakota meet Canada, to southeast areas such as South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The thirty inch diameter pipe will shuttle 470,000 to 570,000 barrels of crude oil each day, according to Energy Access Partners, to markets and refineries in the Midwest, East Coast, and Gulf Coast.
Though this new construction is seemingly beneficial, it contains a controversial angle: the DAPL crosses under the Missouri River less than a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe‘s reservation. The tribe and additional activists are concerned about the access to water, along with the general environmental impact caused to the Missouri River by this construction. Not to mention, the right of way for the DAPL violates treaty rights by going through sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, thereby making destruction of these lands inevitable. Hundreds of activists, including “Divergent” actress Shailene Woodley, have stood by in support with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s allegations the past several weeks. The latest significant protest occurred this past weekend when the three hundred protestors set up camp within miles of the construction site for the pipeline, located just before the connection between the pipeline and the Missouri River. People placed obstacles and gathered holding signs reading “No DAPL” and “Defend the Sacred.” The protestors were acting to halt the construction on the “unceded territory” by initiating these blockades on Highway 1806, just south of Main Oceti Sakowin camp, causing a road closure for several hours. Another blockade was located on Country Road 134 to prevent police from accessing from the west. Joye Braun, organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, claimed:
“We never ceded this land. If DAPL can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland. We are here to protect the burial sites here.Highway 1806 has become the no surrender line.”
Several bound themselves to vehicles using items such as bike locks and makeshift handcuffs. Four attached themselves to an SUV parked on private property near construction equipment on site, two bound themselves to the exterior of a car, and one connected him or herself to the steering wheel of a vehicle. One activist even went as far as cutting a hole in a car door, placing his hand through the opening, and then setting his hand in a bucket of concrete and allowing it to harden. Meanwhile the DAPL was still digging, heading toward the new frontline camp. The blockades were removed after a short time, as police explained that they would all be held liable if emergency crews were blocked during the event. The demonstration continued to escalate over time, and law enforcement started to view the protest as “not peaceful or lawful.” As the riot became more aggressive, strip searches were asserted, and pepper spray was put in use. One protestor even removed the pepper spray from an officer and used it on the law enforcer, blinding him momentarily. In another case, a drone used to cover footage of the protest was used to steer toward a law enforcement helicopter “in a threatening manner.” The drone was immediately shot down. Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier stated: “It was obvious to our officers who responded that the protesters engaged in escalated unlawful tactics and behavior during this event. This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities.” The event resulted in over one hundred arrests on the charges of reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, engaging in a riot, resisting arrest, and assault on a peace officer. According to official figures, this totals to two hundred sixty-nine DAPL protest-related arrests since August 10.
The protest was viewed to get out of hand. However, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is continuing to gain support. On Sunday, at the same time as the continuing protest in North Dakota, more than eight hundred supporters gathered in Los Angeles to protest climate change and the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Several famous stars, such as Susan Sarandon and Mark Ruffalo, were participants of the event. Activists who attended carried signs with slogans such as “Water is life” and “Shut it all down now.” Sarandon explained: “Not only is it an environmental problem, but it’s a problem in terms of social justice. We can stop the pipeline. But really it’s only because of great numbers of people.” The protest will continue, for as supporters such as Steffany Urrea said: “I’d rather walk miles today to protest the building of the pipeline than have my children walk miles to get clean water in the future.”