Crackdown at Standing Rock follows ruling

October 17, 2016

Ragina Johnson explains the meaning of a court decision that went against opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline—and the escalating repression used against protectors.

A FEDERAL appeals court denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request for an emergency injunction to stop continued construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) that is planned to run through treaty-protected lands, sacred sites and burial grounds.

The decision, announced on the evening before Indigenous Peoples' Day on October 10, overturned a temporary injunction imposed by the appeals court that for more than a month had halted construction 20 miles east and west of the Missouri River, the tribe's main water source.

The temporary injunction was announced in the wake of a violent attack on water protectors by private security goons, using dogs and pepper spray, working for the pipeline project. The protectors were attacked after they discovered that construction crews were bulldozing burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts--locations that the Standing Rock tribe had just submitted to the courts as needing protection.

The pipeline builders' ugly disregard for civil and human rights was caught on video by Democracy Now! and watched by 14 million people around the world, creating even broader solidarity with the struggle against DAPL.

Activists march against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota
Activists march against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota

Over the weekend, Democracy Now! reported that a North Dakota prosecutor dropped criminal trespassing charges against Amy Goodman related to her September reporting--and sought charges against her for participating in a riot! This stunning assault on constitutional rights shows the intensity of the repression directed at protesters seeking to stop the pipeline.

IN ITS report, Indian Country Today emphasized that the appeals court justices wrote their ruling was "not the final word."

Construction permits allowing the pipeline to cross under the Missouri River still need federal approval. The justices also acknowledged that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe "alleges additional historic sites are at risk" if construction continues, which means further legal action is possible to prevent potential violations of the National Historic Preservation Act and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

So Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation behind the pipeline project, could still be stopped legally. That's no doubt why repression carried out by militarized police, backed by private security firms, has been dramatically ramped up against protesters at Standing Rock trying to protect the water, land and sacred sites--and stop another giant pipeline project that will only worsen climate change.

More than 320 Indigenous Nations have come out in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and many thousands of people around the country have shown their support for the protesters trying to stop DAPL and protect treaties and the planet. At least 123 people have been arrested since August.

At a prayer action at the site of DAPL construction on October 10--the day after the federal appeals court decision was announced--two protectors locked themselves to equipment to stop construction.

After security forces moved in, a further 28 people were arrested and charged with criminal trespass, engaging in a riot, resisting arrest, destruction of evidence and other accusations. The charges carry steep fines, some over $1,000. Protesters said they were arrested after they had peacefully dispersed when asked to do so by police.

Among those arrested were actress Shailene Woodley and Madison, Wisconsin, Alderwomen Rebecca Kemble. Kemble was in North Dakota to bring a Madison City Council solidarity resolution to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. While observing the prayer ceremony, she was arrested for "inciting a riot."

Days later, the new "rioting" charge was leveled at award-winning journalist Amy Goodman, just as she was preparing to go to North Dakota to turn herself in and fight the previous criminal trespassing charge.

The drastic charges against demonstrators and journalists alike for the "crime" of protesting are designed to portray the protectors as "violent." But on-the-ground reports from Democracy Now! and other independent media show that the opposite is the case--and that's made them a target.

Myron Dewey, who is Paiute from Nevada and does official filming of the camp's actions, says that on October 8, he was pulled over by a Morton County sheriff, who illegally confiscated thousands of dollars' worth of equipment, after neither presenting a warrant nor identifying himself.

DESPITE THE temporary injunction being in place since early September, construction of the pipeline continued anyway, according to the reports of the protectors.

So did the repression. In late September, a march and prayer ceremony at one construction site was confronted by militarized police sent in with armored vehicles like those deployed to a war zone, some with acoustic deterrent devices mounted on top, as helicopters flew overhead. The marchers were surrounded and had loaded guns pointed at them.

Since the appeals court decision was announced, Morton County sheriffs and local police have been protecting DAPL construction sites, reinforced by police from various counties and even out of state, who were brought in on the pretext of an "emergency."

As this article was being written, police in Dane County, Wisconsin, where Madison is located, announced that they would pull their deputies out of North Dakota because "a wide cross-section of the community who all share the opinion that our deputies should not be involved in this situation."

Native people report being increasingly profiled by police and harassed when driving on public roads to and from the Sacred Stone and Oceti Sakowin camps.

All this shows that there is a tremendous fight underway as fossil fuel corporations like Energy Transfer Partners try to get their oil to markets so it can be sold overseas. According to reports, most of the DAPL pipeline has been completed in North Dakota.

The fossil fuel giants want to see a return on their investments, no matter what cost to people or the planet. The Canadian and U.S. governments have shown themselves to be wholeheartedly in favor of a fossil-fuel boom that helped rebuild their economies after the Great Recession.

Energy Transfer Partners is rushing to get the pipeline built before another injunction gets in the way. Also, the weather is already getting colder at Standing Rock. The intense North Dakota winters will be a challenge for our side to keep the encampments going, but it will also cause complications for the pipeline project, with machinery and crews unable to work in temperatures that drop to 40 degrees below zero.

Meanwhile, actions continue to spread to other states where the pipeline is slated to run. In Iowa, parts of the project have been stopped by a coalition of activists, including farmers. More and more Nations are signing onto the fight against DAPL.

Most importantly, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe isn't giving up their struggle. In a statement issued after the appeals court lifted its temporary injunction, tribal chairman Dave Archambault II expressed his appreciation for the solidarity coming in from all over.

"We are guided by prayer," he said, "and we will continue to fight for our people. We will not rest until our lands, people, waters and sacred places are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline."

Further Reading

From the archives