Mass arrests at Standing Rock

October 27, 2016

How low will the authorities stoop to protect construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline against peaceful protest? Rene Rougeau reports on a new attack on the protectors.

WATER PROTECTORS fighting to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at Standing Rock faced the worst day of mass arrests on October 22 since founding their encampment in April.

In recent months, Natives and non-Natives have joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at the Sacred Stone camp in North Dakota to oppose the pipeline, which will run through treaty-protected lands and sacred sites, and threatens to pollute the water source.

A temporary injunction announced after protesters were attacked by company goons in September was lifted on October 9 after a federal appeal, opening the way for Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation behind the pipeline project, to resume construction. Last weekend, the company and local law enforcement showed how determined they are to keep opponents of the pipeline out of their way--with mass arrests.

On October 22, 200 people participating in a prayer walk on public land were corralled and picked off one by one by private security forces. Morton County Sheriff's Department officers in riot gear and the National Guard equipped with guns, armored vehicles and a low-flying helicopter.

North Dakota riot police move in to make mass arrests at Standing Rock
North Dakota riot police move in to make mass arrests at Standing Rock (Red Warrior Camp)

More than 30 people were pepper sprayed at point-blank range, and 83 were arrested, despite following orders to retreat. The protectors were charged with aggravated assault, inciting in a riot, participating in a riot and resisting arrest.

Several other individuals reported being profiled off-site after being seen at previous actions--they were arrested on minor infractions and false charges.

Morton County law enforcement and state officials have repeatedly targeted peaceful protesters by relying on false accusations about violent protesters using force, assaulting police, criminal trespass and instigating riots.

The charge of criminal trespass comes as a particularly absurd blow, as protectors have stated time and time again, the land is all protected treaty land under tribal jurisdiction, regardless of what oil company wants to claim it. And police have repeatedly showed that they are the ones committing the crime.


LAUREN HOWLAND, a 21-year-old member of the Youth Council, described her experience outside the Morton County jail in Mandan, North Dakota, in a video that appeared on Facebook:

They flanked us, they corralled us, and then they started taking us out...They gave us two options--either get arrested or leave peacefully and we were on our way out peacefully and they started macing us...and pushing us with their batons. They surrounded us.

Howland, her arm in a sling, recalled how attempts at negotiating with armed police to let a 10-year-old boy leave the area were met with violence:

When we tried escorting the boy away, an armed officer came and shoved all of us back very aggressively, several times. My hand got in the way of it, and it was almost fractured...We were peaceful, we were unarmed, we had our tobacco in our hand, we were praying, and they rounded us up like sheep and took us out one by one.

The Morton County Sheriff's Department posted a picture on its Facebook page soon after the arrests last weekend, clearly showing a water protector with their hands bound in plastic zip ties and a hood covering their face, left sitting in the mud beside a truck door.

The act, called "hooding," is considered an act of torture by international human rights and legal experts. The Morton County Sheriff's Department eventually took down the image, but not before boasting a 262 arrest count since August. The image went viral soon after.

Several journalists and legal defenders were also arrested over the weekend and had their media equipment confiscated. Jihan Hafiz reported in The Intercept that the scene inside the Morton County jail was humiliating, overcrowded and intrusive.

Two Native American men were thrown into solitary confinement. A number of women faced humiliating strip searches, which included spreading their body parts and jumping up and down while coughing. We were refused phone calls and received no food or water for eight hours after being arrested. Two women fainted from low blood sugar, and another had her medication taken away, causing her to shake and sweat profusely.

Local law enforcement is also trying to target supporters they call "outside agitators," releasing a U.S. map that tracks the states where arrestees are coming from. But what the map truly reveals is the amazing show of solidarity that is being demonstrated at Standing Rock, with more than 90 percent of arrestees coming from outside the area, according to the Morton County's Sheriff's Department.


WATER PROTECTORS established a new campsite on October 23 east of the 1809 highway, directly in the path of the pipeline easement and constructed temporary blockades made of cars, haystacks and debris.

The new camp is within walking distance of the site where private security forces unleashed dogs and pepper sprayed people opposing the bulldozing of burial grounds and ceremonial sites on September 3.

The Standing Rock Sioux are claiming eminent domain granted them under the Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868, which guaranteed the Lakota Nation "absolute and undisturbed use of the Great Sioux Reservation" land from the convergence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, down into the western plains of South Dakota, and into Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana.

Shortly after the 1868 treaty, the U.S. government went back on its agreement and opened up land for settlements and resource extraction. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills, a sacred site for the Lakota and Cheyenne, accelerated the process. Decades of battles and displacement that forced Nations into strained competition for land and resources followed.

The Laramie Treaties have been cited before in defense of Native Americans. After the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, the treaties were central to the defense of American Indian Movement activists Dennis Banks and Russell Means. They were used in the 1974 trial to call into question the legitimacy of U.S. jurisdiction on treaty land and demand that the case be left to tribal courts.

The defense was also able to use the treaties to draw on the U.S. government's long history of abuse against Native Americans, and put forward, as Means and Russell argued, "It's really the United States that's on trial, not us." After the more than eight-month-long trial, U.S. District Court Judge Fred Nichol dismissed all charges, citing federal and prosecutorial misconduct.

The potential to use the Laramie Treaties as an impasse to the legal prosecution at Standing Rock have immense implications for drawing out the demand of Indigenous Sovereignty and the United States' long trail of broken treaties.


THE RECENT days of action at Standing Rock have laid bare the depths to which the state of North Dakota and the Dakota Access Pipeline is willing to go to fast-track a dangerous and unwanted oil pipeline through vital water ways and treaty land. Some 380 sacred sites have already been destroyed by construction and several more are in the direct line of the pipeline.

Just this week, a gas pipeline owned by Sunoco, a subsidiary company that funds Dakota Access, burst after heavy rainfall and spilled 55,000 gallons of gasoline into an endangered Pennsylvanian creek.

In 2016 alone, we've already seen over 200 pipeline leaks causing irreparable damage to vital water sources and land for millions of people across the country. On October 24, 99 people were arrested in Ottawa, Canada, as they protested the Kinder Morgan Pipeline. Cameron Fenton of Climate 101 said the Kinder Morgan pipeline "would have the same climate impact as adding 32 million cars on Canada's roads, and at a time when we desperately need action on climate change"

As we come up to November, Native American Heritage Month, the proponents of capital and oil have armed themselves with an unhinged military police force willing to leave in its wake a slew of human rights violations and overflowing jails in an unfinished centuries-long assault against Native American people for a profit.

The fight for treaty rights is an opportunity to challenge the state on legal grounds, and advance the demand for Indigenous sovereignty. As the world exceeds the CO2 threshold, the growing movement for climate justice offers a chance to fight for solidarity on a global scale. These struggles come together in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and activists must take them both head on.

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