Rubber bullets against the protectors

November 7, 2016

Rene Rougeau reports on the latest in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

WATER PROTECTORS fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline faced another brutal standoff on the banks of Cantapeta Creek on November 2.

Under orders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, riot police destroyed a bridge built by protectors who were attempting to access burial grounds that were being desecrated by police. The police then formed a line along the banks of the creek and fired rubber bullets and clouds of pepper spray into a crowd of protectors standing in the freezing cold waters.

Live footage showed protectors defending themselves with a tarp and pleading with police as pepper spray hung over the water. Protectors on the opposite shore drummed and sang traditional songs, while several pointed to police reinforcements arriving by boat and an armed sniper perched on the burial mound.

The latest attack comes barely a week after the events of October 27, when over 300 militarized police crushed what had been named "Treaty" camp, using rubber bullets, concussion grenades, Tasers, armed military vehicles and more. One hundred and forty-one people were arrested--while they were detained, they were kept inoversized dog kennels.

Police crack down on peaceful water protectors with rubber bullets and pepper spray
Police crack down on peaceful water protectors with rubber bullets and pepper spray (Red Warrior Camp)

Several were charged with felonies, including Fawn Fallis, who was charged with attempted murder for allegedly shooting at police. She now faces 20 years in prison--despite the fact that Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier stated that he could not confirm water protectors fired any shots.

Meanwhile, Morton County sheriffs and local media have come out in defense of a DAPL security employee named Kyle Thompson, who drove recklessly into a crowd and then pointed an assault rifle at protectors. He is being referred to as a victim in local media and faces no charges.

BOTH PRESIDENT Obama and Hillary Clinton have issued non-statements about the need for both sides to hear one another out and come to an agreement. But what kind of agreement can be reached when one side is asking for clean water, armed with prayer and treaties, and the other is using tear gas, long-range acoustical devices, concussion grenades and rubber bullets?

After months of silence from both Trump and Clinton throughout the election period, a Native youth delegation disrupted Clinton's election headquarters, erecting a tipi in its main lobby to demand support for Standing Rock. Clinton responded with a painfully lukewarm response:

Now, all of the parties involved--including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes--need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest. As that happens, it's important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators' rights to protest peacefully, and workers' rights to do their jobs safely.

This statement flies in the face of promises made in Clinton's election platform on Native American rights. A Clinton policy document--"Growing Together: Hillary Clinton's Vision for Building a Brighter Future for Native Americans" --promises to promote tribal consultation, protect tribal assets and resources, and resolve long-standing disputes.

In what way is Clinton living up to her supposed "longtime advocacy for the Native American community"?

For his part, Barack Obama has promised to consider rerouting the pipeline, but not before his administration lets the conflict "play out for several more weeks," as he stated.

Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama saw firsthand the traditions of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST) when they visited Standing Rock in June 2014>. After being invited to participate in a powwow and shown the conditions of the reservation by SRST Chairman Dave Archambault, Obama promised to go back to his cabinet and work harder on behalf of Native American issues.

Two years later, and Standing Rock is at the center of a national crisis--yet Obama has nothing to say on the traditions of Native Americans that are being trampled, desecrated and literally thrown into piles by dump trucks by of the Army Corps of Engineers and the state of North Dakota.

THERE IS a clear reason for both Hillary Clinton's and Obama's lack of support for the rights of Native Americans--and in particular the Standing Rock Sioux's (Lakota's) struggle to stop DAPL using treaties and federal laws that are supposed to protect Native sacred sites and burial grounds.

Clinton and Obama are both wholeheartedly in favor of continued oil and gas extraction in the U.S. They have minimized the legacy of deadly pipeline leaks and explosions, poisoned water and lands, and the historical assault on Native rights. In a speech to Goldman Sachs recently leaked by WikiLeaks, Clinton calls fracking "a gift." Meawhile, Obama, the "hope and change" president, oversaw the largest expansion of fossil fuel extraction in U.S. history.

After Clinton won the Democratic presidential nomination and was no longer under the pressure of the Bernie Sanders campaign, she moved to the right, gaining political and financial support from the Republican-leaning oil and gas industry.

All of this goes to show that it will take a tremendous fight to pressure Clinton and Obama to intervene on the right side of history and stop DAPL completely.

The non-solution of rerouting the pipeline--which Obama has not yet offered--won't meet the demands of water protectors or the needs of the millions of people for whom they are fighting. It doesn't actually address the 200 waterways threatened by the pipeline, nor would it restore the 380 sacred sites that have already been destroyed.

The fight isn't over the logistics of a few miles of pipeline: It's a fight against the entire pipeline--and against all pipelines.

From the fracking that contaminates our water and causes earthquakes while pulling poisonous crude out of the ground; to the trucks that transport the oil; to the pipelines that carry and leak the product; the lives of those who live in and around pipelines--and those who work on them--are endangered at every step along the way.

Even as Standing Rock water protectors were being attacked and threatened, elsewhere in the U.S., two pipelines have burst, causing damage to the environment and local communities.

In Pennsylvania, a Sunoco pipeline (a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners) leaked 55,000 gallons of gasoline into the endangered Susquehanna River. And on October 31, a worker died and five others were hospitalized when a section of the Colonial Pipeline exploded in Shelby, Alabama. This follows after the same pipeline leaked 340,000 gallons of gasoline into central Alabama and caused six governors to declare states of emergency.

DESPITE THESE travesties, the steady march of state police, National Guard and private security firms continues to protect the profits of Big Oil against the people whose land it desecrates. Already, the state of North Dakota has spent $10 million on police forces repressing the #NoDAPL movement.

But the courageous actions of the water protectors at Standing Rock have inspired the support of millions across the country and globe. Water protectors at Standing Rock have continued to call for all those in solidarity not only to come to the frontlines, but also to take direct action in their own locales and target the financial institutions profiting from the Dakota Access pipeline, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.

This is a huge fight, but there is an opportunity to pressure Obama and Clinton on this issue, especially given the growing solidarity and history of our movements bringing together Natives and non-Natives alike to stop Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) last year.

Just a few of the recent displays of solidarity include an estimated 1 million people "signing in" on Facebook to say they were in Standing Rock; the Indigo Girls and other bands announcing a music benefit for the water protectors; and local rallies held in cities across the country.

In Minneapolis, one rally drew 1,000 activists to City Hall to protest the use of local police in the repression in North Dakota. On November 2, New York's Grand Central Station was shut down by NoDAPL supporters, who held a speak-out about Indigenous rights and climate justice before marching on banks supporting the pipeline. And in Salt Lake City, hundreds of protesters marched through downtown, targeting Wells Fargo Center, and chanting, "You can't drink oil! Keep it in the soil!" and "Water is life!"

Rolling actions are expected throughout the month of November, which is federally recognized as Native American Heritage Month, and many more supporters will be taking the trip to Standing Rock to stand arm in arm with water protectors.

A November 15 National Day of Action has been called by a coalition of climate justice groups, including Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), Honor the Earth and The action will target the Army Corps of Engineers and is expected to draw out thousands of people inspired to take up the demand for No DAPL.

The fight at Standing Rock is first and foremost a battle over Indigenous sovereignty--one that includes the demand that Indigenous people are the rightful protectors of their own lands, and that their history and culture should no longer be choked by the greed of the U.S. government and corporations.

The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is one that cannot be won without ordinary people around the country taking up the fight as their own--whether by driving to Standing Rock themselves, or by organizing meetings, rallies and speakouts that target the global powers profiting from the pipeline. The fight is growing by the day.

The brutality of the police and the power of capital stand in stark contrast to the activists fighting against the Dakota Access pipeline. But if we organize, we have the ability to stop DAPL--and end the assault on land, water and people.

Ragina Johnson contributed to this article.

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