Law enforcement marches toward activist’s line, quarter mile from main camp; Sioux tribal chairmans speak out against DAPL and Energy Transfer Partners
By C.S. Hagen
CANNON BALL – The battle for Backwater Bridge erupted hours after law enforcement cleared “Treaty Camp,” arresting 142 people and pushing activists back two miles making room for Dakota Access Pipeline construction. Two Dakota Access trucks and one vehicle were set on fire near the bridge; an electronic billboard sat charred between them making the road impassable.
“It was a very active and tense evening as law enforcement worked through the evening to clear protesters from the north camp,” Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported in a press release.
The conflict lasted all night Thursday and by mid-morning Friday tensions were high, activists reported. They were tired, hungry, frustrated, and feeling trapped as DAPL construction crews hurriedly plowed the earth toward the three-mile easement. Between the activists and the DAPL construction crews, at least 10 Humvees, two bearcats, and hundreds of police formed a roadblock.
“You’re on treaty land,” an activist said to the law enforcement line.
“You are not peaceful,” an officer said through a megaphone. “Look behind you at the DAPL truck.”
“You are not peaceful,” activists said back.
The conversation, yelled back and forth, became taunts.
“Why do you hide behind your bandanas?” the officer asked.
“Because of the pepper spray you use on us,” an activist said. “You aren’t tough. You are disobeying natural law.”
Smudging ceremonies began. Activists moved particleboard shields into a line north of the bridge. Law enforcement used DAPL workers to begin stringing razor wire across their cement barricade, but stopped, citing the situation was becoming dangerous.
“Drop your guns and come here and fight like men,” an activist said.
Law enforcement said they saw weapons; activists said it was an agitator. One white person was seen sitting in the back of a pickup truck holding a broken toy gun with batteries before the vehicle sped south.
“You must move south,” the officer said. “Everyone, you must understand your decision, if you continue to move forward we will be forced to move you back. Does everyone understand that?”
The activists whooped in response, and moved the line forward three steps. Hundreds of law enforcement took formation and began marching downward toward the bridge. Snipers protruding from Humvee tops pointed weapons at the activists. The officer on the megaphone issued a final warning.
And then, a Standing Rock elder, white hair, dressed in a running suit, pipe in hand, stepped between the activists and the police. His sudden appearance quieted both sides.
“We went to ceremony, the medicine people told us, the spirits told us the only way we can win this thing is through prayer and non-violence,” the elder, Miles Allard, owner of the Camp of the Sacred Stone land, said. “We have to be respectful to these people.”
“They need to be respectful to us,” an activist said.
“That’s true,” Allard said. “Listen, one heart, one mind, one spirit, is what they told us. You’re doing your job by standing here, be non-violent please. The spirits told us we will not win if we do this with violence. The violence comes from them; we have to be able to be brave enough and strong enough in prayer to resist that.
“I talk to you because I love you all, I love this water, that’s what we’re here for, the Mni Wiconi. We stand in solidarity. But we cannot create violence, if we do we’re going to lose.”
An eagle flew overhead and the activists cheered. Police beckoned Allard to their line to parley. He negotiated a deal where both sides could back away, personal property from the Treaty Camp returned to activists, and the county could clear the highway. Treaty Camp was built on land tribal council members reclaimed under their own eminent domain declaration, and on private land formerly owned by Cannon Ball Ranch and sold to Dakota Access LLC on September 23, according to Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
Although the activists were still effectively trapped at Backwater Bridge as they could not proceed to the DAPL construction pathway two miles north, Allard said the deal did not deter their determination to stop the “black snake.”
“It has no effect at all, we’re just opening up the highway, our determination, our drive, our prayers to save our river, our Missouri River,” Allard said. “I told them we will never back down from that because that’s life and death to us. Our water is very important to us, we cannot live, nothing can live, without water, let alone those that are in the water, the animals that go there, the insects, the land if it gets polluted. My major concern was nobody needed to get hurt here.
“I’ve never before stepped up, because I always pray in the background. That’s my job. I was concerned when I heard what was going on… so I came up here to talk to the people and that’s what I did.”
The decision disappointed some within the activist’s crowd, who had spent the night running, defending themselves and other activists. According to some who were present, activists at times counted coup with law enforcement. Counting coup is a winning prestige tradition against an enemy where the most prestigious acts included touching an enemy warrior with the hand and escaping unharmed.
One DAPL security employee armed with an automatic AR-15 was surrounded by activists and then arrested by the Bureau of Indian Affairs after he attempted to drive into the main camp, Dallas Goldtooth said. Goldtooth is a campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
He said he was pepper sprayed on Thursday. Tribal leaders from across the United States were arrested, he said. “They were rounded up and arrested. It was really, really chaotic… Dakota Access is still trying to move ahead with construction.”
Noah Morris, a front line medic, said more than 50 people were treated for pepper spray injuries on Thursday. Twelve people suffered blunt-force injuries from nightsticks and percussion grenades, and another activist had a Taser barb imbedded in his cheek.
Law enforcement also targeted medics on Thursday, Morris said.
“They arrested two of our medics, forcibly removed myself and my partner by hitting us from the back of our medical vehicle, and the driver was pulled out while the car was still in drive and arrested. So any reports of restraint on behalf of law enforcement from medics’ perspective were completely false and those folks came as instigators, those folks are the problem, they caused the problem.”
Law enforcement also used “stingballs,” he said, projectiles the size of tennis balls used mostly in prison uprisings, packed with hard rubber pellets. When detonated the projectiles release a “large bang” and send pellets in 360 degrees, hitting and stinging anyone nearby. “They were using their whole arsenal of “less-than-lethal” weapons, Morris said.
One woman fired multiple shots at police officers, and two officers received minor injuries after being hit by logs and debris, Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported. At least nine vehicles plus construction equipment were torched, sixty activists’ vehicles were impounded, and seven activists used sleeping dragons to attach themselves to DAPL equipment. Most activists arrested were charged with conspiracy to endanger by fire/explosion, engaging in a riot, and maintaining a public nuisance. Those arrested for using sleeping dragons were arrested for reckless endangerment. Since August 10, 411 people have been arrested with charges related to resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline, according to Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
The arrests included one elder was taken while praying in a sweat lodge, Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe said. He met with President Obama this week and said he “was a little disappointed” with the results.
“There are no weapons on our side,” Goldtooth said. “The only things we had were our bodies and prayer. At a moment that police were pushing us south, a herd of bison came running over the hills, stampeding, and everyone was ‘wooh,’ letting it out.” Several hundred bison stampeded behind the police line, creating panic, and spurred on by activists on horseback. Police helicopters swooped low, scaring the buffalo away, and the horsemen escaped, Goldtooth said.
The armed DAPL security employee was in his vehicle driving toward main camp when activists smashed his car off the road and tracked him into a nearby pond within sight of the main camp. The Bureau of Indian Affairs arrived and arrested the DAPL worker. The incident is under investigation by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
“This is just another part of 500 years of colonization and aggression that is predicated upon our oppression,” Goldtooth said. “The question I have to ask… is what’s it going to take for you to take accountability for your law enforcement officers? We’ve seen the lengths they’re willing to go support and back up a multi-billion dollar oil company in the face of peaceful protesters and protectors. We ask for prayers, we ask for thoughts, we ask for guided action from each and every one of you to help us stop this pipeline.”
“We request individuals here to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline to remain at the Seven Councils Fire Camp if they wish to continue lawful and peaceful activities,” Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a press release. “We thank also the Standing Rock tribal members and members of the Seven Council Fires Camp for assisting with de-escalating the situation at the Backwater Bridge.”
The north camp, or the Treaty Camp, was turned over to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
“There were things that were wrong,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II said.
“It seems that Energy Transfer Partners is getting protection. We’re standing up for water, and not just for us, we’re standing up for water for everybody. We have the state officials supporting oil protection, we have elected state officials accepting contributions from oil companies. We have police who are militarized… we have unions who are trying to say we’re trying to take jobs away from them.
“Look at Trump who has direct interest in Dakota Access. This is a powerful conglomerate. And what do we have? Who are we? All we have is support, all we have is unity, all we have is our prayers. And it’s strong. We still have a chance. Everyone can still benefit, and everyone can still be happy. It can be done, and everyone will be happy.”
Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access LLC run by oil tycoon Kelcy Warren, is being sued for illegally using dogs that attacked people, and for buying land [Cannon Ball Ranch] they should not have, Archambault said. Archambault also said that the individual arrested by the Bureau of Indian Affairs was an infiltrator, sent by Energy Transfer Partners, and that they have proof he was an employee of Energy Transfer Partners. “These agitators are put there for a reason, to make us look like villains… He had an assault rifle, and he fired it. We are not villains. This is the type of company everyone is protecting. What is driving this company is money and greed.”
Frazier added that he will be seeking charges of attempted murder against the infiltrator as there is video of the individual pointing a weapon at activists. Additionally, when asked for information about the individual he was told he would have to follow regular information protocol.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been to Standing Rock, and will assist in negotiation, according to Archambault. “But no matter how much we come together the company continues to construct… and everyone is protecting them. So they want us to sit down and talk while this company continues construction, and that’s difficult.
“This is not about protectors, not about state law enforcement, it’s about this company. It’s a bad company. Nobody should be protecting this company. We all should be focused on what we can do to protect water, and if we don’t do that, life is no more.”