Activists outside Standing Rock winterize, law enforcement puts more boots on the ground, and state politicians speak their minds
By C.S. Hagen
CANNON BALL – Snow fluttered across tipis and tents last weekend, tip-tapping like panicked field mice across canvas. It was not a gentle fat-flaked snow, rather ice, a bone-chilling wintry taste for the activists camped outside of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
As the sun crested Facebook Hill, flooding the prairie with much-needed warmth, a dog howled mournfully. An infant cried. Horses snorted the cold night’s air from their nostrils. Slowly, the camp stirred. A drum beat; an elder greeted the day with native song. Younger “water warriors” screeched like crows, and their cries seemingly echoed from both sides of the Cannon Ball River.
The camps have grown smaller. Some activists, like Dale “Happi” Americanhorse Jr., have traveled to Iowa to assist in what Americanhorse says is a losing battle against Dakota Access Pipeline. Other activists simply cannot handle the elements, for inside a thin canvas tent, deep in the night, cold bites the skin, and by day fierce winds and thinning shade can only toughen or shatter activists’ resolve.
For the thousands that do remain encamped and resolute against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the 17 international banks funding the 1,172-mile project, the politicians whom activists say are forcing agendas and filling pocketbooks, and the federal government’s broken treaty promises, they’re preparing for their own Valley Forge.
“We are fighting three battles right now,” a Facebook post published by the Red Warrior Camp stated. “We are protecting the sacred from the Dakota Access Pipeline, we are defending ourselves from the fascist state armed to harm, and we are reinforcing our camp to face the harsh weather that is arriving.”
On Sunday, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. dissolved a second emergency motion for an injunction filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt the pipeline project. For weeks, Dakota Access LLP, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, had been ordered to halt all work on the pipeline within 20 miles on either side of Lake Oahe along the Missouri River.
“But ours is not the final word,” U.S. Court of Appeals documents stated. “A necessary easement still awaits government approval – a decision Corps’ counsel predicts is likely weeks away; meanwhile Intervenor DAPL has rights of access to the limited portion of pipeline corridor not yet cleared – where the Tribe alleges additional historic sites are at risk.”
Despite the court ruling, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to give its permission for Dakota Access Pipeline to build on Corps lands bordering or under Lake Oahe, and once again recommended that DAPL “voluntarily pause all construction activity” on private lands, according to a press release made available by the U.S. Department of Justice.
DAPL, or the Dakota Access Pipeline, is now legally authorized to continue its project into parts of the no work zone.
Tipis and Mongolian-styled yurts are replacing flimsy North Face tents. Some activists are building wind-breaking fences around their designated spots. Wood stoves are providing warmth in a handful of larger military-styled tents. Massive trees have been brought in for log cabins, hay bales for windbreakers. More activists have moved to the nearby Cannon Ball River, a tributary of the Missouri River, for its wooded banks offer some shelter.
Those that do remain are not surrendering.
On October 8, more than 20 riders from Winona LaDuke’s Honor the Earth organization, and from the Wounded Knee Memorial Riders, the Dakota 38, the Big Foot riders, among others, set off on a four-day horse ride from Standing Rock to Tioga against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“This is our moment,” LaDuke said on the Honor the Earth website. In addition to being a longtime environmentalist LaDuke was also two-time vice presidential candidate for Ralph Nader’s Green Party. “Tribes and First Nations are standing up and standing together to demand an end to the desecration of our lands and the poisoning of our sacred waters.”
Minutes after the riders disappeared into the Dakota prairies an Aztec group performed ritual dances drawing nearly everyone to the Sacred Circle. Native Americans and supporters from around the country, including Fargo residents Cindy Gomez-Schempp of the People’s Press Project 88.1 FM radio, and Barry Nelson, of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, showed their enthusiasm for the ritual dancers, swirling in their emerald and citron feathers from the tropical quetzal and troupial. Air turned sweet with burning copal, or pine tree sap, southern native equivalent to sweetgrass, as the dancers pounded the earth, many in bare feet.
“I come here because I need to bear witness to what is happening,” Nelson said. Many national news agencies reporting of the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy are wrong, Nelson said, and the efforts of the Native Americans and others against big oil is “historically incredible,” he said.
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said he is troubled by the recent court’s decision, but civil disobedience at Standing Rock will not diminish.
“We will continue to support the tribe’s efforts to hold the US federal government accountable for rubber stamping this dirty oil project… This fight is far from over.”
Although law enforcement and DAPL security are watching and documenting camp activity, activists have digital scouts of their own. Myron Dewey, a filmmaker and drone operator, fought back by documenting pipeline activity with a drone, until the machine was confiscated by Morton County Sheriff’s Department after an unnamed DAPL worker filed an intimidation report. When Dewey attempted to clarify questions and gather facts, law enforcement officials refused to listen and forced him from the Morton County Sheriff Department premises.
Some officers have hidden their nametags, Dewey said, and the officer who “arrested” his drone only offered his badge number on the report. No warrant was issued for his arrest, because in order to do so the DAPL worker would have to be named, Dewey said.
“When our public officials no longer can become identified, they are no longer the public officials,” Dewey said.
Dewey documented DAPL activity with video, photographs, and GPS coordinates 24 miles and then on October 8 – a day before the U.S. District Court of Appeals decision – 16 miles from the Missouri River. Once past the 20-mile marker, Dakota Access LLP work on the pipeline became illegal.
DAPL private security personnel were mysteriously gone on Monday, which was Indigenous People’s Day, formerly known as Columbus Day. “It’s now police policing the pipeline, and they’re there, everywhere, all along the pipeline. This is where the tax dollars are going. You’re seeing militarization of a police force that is not trained in militarization. That’s today.
“It’s really sad. It’s women and children, they’re Native Americans, and people from all over the world.” Much of the assistance is coming from Bismarck, Dewey said, but those who are helping are afraid to give their names for fear of repercussions when they return home.
Dewey offered his views on why he and thousands of others will continue.
“We have a Dakota Access Pipeline entity that has lost its connection, its spirit, to the earth,” Dewey said. “Our goal is to help Dakota Access Pipeline, and all the workers and private security, and also the officers that are protecting that pipeline to get connected to the earth. And then you will understand why we are fighting to protect the water in a good way in prayer.”
On Indigenous People’s Day, Divergent series movie star Shailene Woodley was arrested along with 26 others by sheriff deputies. A deputy grabbed her jacket as she was walking with her mother toward their vehicle to return to Big Camp, and arrested her for criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor. Woodley asked officers why she was singled out for arrest.
“You were identified,” the arresting officer said.
“Alright, I’m being arrested.” Woodley smiled into the camera. Her mother was filming as the officer shackled her daughter’s wrists.
“So everybody knows, we were going to our vehicle, which they had all surrounded, and were waiting for me with giant guns and giant truck behind them, just so they could arrest me.” Woodley said. Law enforcement then led her away in handcuffs.
Woodley posted a USD 500 bond, and could face up to three months in prison and USD 3,000 in fines, according to Morton County Sheriff Department spokesman Rob Keller. Her court date is set for October 24. A total of 27 people were arrested Monday after approximately 300 people protested at two construction sites along the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“All 27 were arrested on the same charges, engaging in a riot and criminal trespass,” Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney, who currently serves as Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier’s operations chief in Morton County, said. “She [Woodley] was one of 27, she was no different than the others.” Laney said he hopes the activists return home now that their message has been heard across America and the U.S. Court of Appeals has denied Standing Rock’s petition for a second time.
More Boots on the Ground
As Dakota Access LLP’s pipeline nears its finish in Iowa, and is reportedly 68 percent completed across the country, the project is still behind schedule in North Dakota.
Since early August a total of 123 activists have been arrested on misdemeanor and felony charges including criminal trespass, reckless endangerment, and terrorizing law enforcement. Governor Jack Dalrymple declared an emergency state in August, has brought in the National Guard, has asked President Obama for further financial assistance, and has approved out-of-state support from the National Sheriffs’ Association.
“We have basically tapped the resources to a level that we’ve never seen here in North Dakota for one particular incident,” Kirchmeier said in a press conference.
“I’m sorry I have to be here today,” Wyoming’s Laramie County Sheriff Danny Glick and president of the 15-state Western Sheriffs’ Association, said in a press conference. “But my message is simple and direct. I’m here to pledge the support of the nation’s sheriffs to the people of Morton County and North Dakota.”
Kirchmeier believes the collaboration is a win, and 40 deputies from Wisconsin began taking 21-day shifts to assist Morton County law enforcement, but on Wednesday, the 10 from Dane County returned home, according to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.
“Throughout the week, Sheriff [Dave] Mahoney has engaged in conversations with a wide cross-section of our community, all of whom felt strongly that our deputies should not be involved in the events taking place in North Dakota,” a press release from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office reported.
Kirchmeier also plans to engage in a more proactive stance against anyone who breaks the law. So far, the North Dakota National Guard is still acting in a limited capacity, primarily working the roadblock on Highway 1806.
“Protesters have disdained the rule of law, and that has resulted in a heightened level of fear and concerns among the residents,” Kirchmeier said. “These fears are real.”
Laney said Monday’s protest was anything but peaceful. “While some would like to say this was a protest, this was not a protest – this was a riot. When you have that many people engage in that kind of behavior, inciting others to break the law, cheering others on as they do break the law, refusing to leave when they are asked to leave, that’s not a protest… Today, 27 arrests were made – not because we wanted that to happen, because those people on scene chose for that to happen.”
Recently, local residents have become the victims of terrorizing threats, intimidation, and criminal trespass, Kirchmeier said. Even Morton County’s new residents, those encamped outside of Cannon Ball, were victims recently when Bryce Ironhawk, from South Dakota, allegedly ploughed into Big Camp in a stolen Chevy Camaro late on October 6, knocking over flagpoles and partially destroying a tipi, Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported. Ironhawk’s blood-alcohol level was more than double the legal limit, and he was charged with driving under the influence and aggravated reckless driving.
Camp spokespeople said Ironhawk was not an activist living in the camp. Posted at Big Camp’s entrance are the rules: no weapons, no drugs, no alcohol.
“How many days are going to go by before someone gets hurt?” Dewey said. Native Americans and activists are targeted by police on the roads; law enforcement without proper identification are driving through camp, acting like predators, taking pictures of children in the makeshift school on camp premises, he said. DAPL security are dressing like activists and infiltrating the camp. “We’re being targeted now, and this is something that is not okay anymore. We are asking for the power of protection and prayer coming from all the four directions.”
Reports have been made to police about strange people and occurrences, including reports made by those attacked by dogs on September 3, Dewey said, but nothing is being done about their reports. “They did not do their job in protecting the people that were bit. I find that’s a violation of their protocols and what they’re supposed to do. They sat at the bottom of that hill.”
On October 4, nearly 20 activists appeared at Morton County Courthouse to plead not guilty at their arraignments. All requested court-appointed attorneys, some of whom met with camp attorney Angela Bibens and others behind closed doors.
Morton County State’s Attorney Brian Grosinger appeared on behalf of the state, and frequently seemed confused during the proceedings, at one point offering District Court Judge Bruce Haskell an apology. Grosinger asked for a higher bond against Mason Redwing, who turned himself in after being charged with reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, and terrorizing law enforcement after he allegedly charged armed law enforcement on horseback on September 28.
If proven guilty Redwing could face five years imprisonment and or a USD 10,000 fine.
“We’re prosecuting crimes,” Grosinger said after the first round or cases were arraigned. Too early, he said, to say if the state will be seeking maximum penalties against the dozens of activists arrested.
Americanhorse, who was represented by Steven Balaban, a Bismarck attorney, will begin court proceedings on December 23. He is charged with one felony and three misdemeanors stemming from August 31.
“We as water protectors are not intimidated by the trumped up charges they throw at us,” Americanhorse said. “We are not backing down and will continue to do exactly what we do. Protect.”
“The state is using excessive force normally used in war overseas on unarmed Indigenous People to protect DAPL,” a Red Warrior Camp press release reported. “This is tantamount to an act of war on the Indigenous People…”
To Be or Not To Be – a Governor
Dalrymple is currently serving his final term as the governor of North Dakota. Three men are vying to take his place.
Representative Marvin E. Nelson, D-N.D., from Rolla, said he fears the Dakota Access controversy will end in violence.
“First of all, clearly the process did not work properly at the state level,” Nelson said. “I would point to what happened that the pipeline did not get sited in the right place. As governor, we have a company engaged in legal activity and it’s trying to move ahead, and then there are protestors. It would be my responsibility to protect them… that is the thing as governor – you have to do what you are responsible to do.
“Everyone wants to roll the clock back… but you can’t always go back.”
Nelson expects DAPL is preparing for a quick build to Lake Oahe, protected by beefed-up police presence. The situation has become polarized between absolute support and absolute opposition. “I look too at the protestors and what they’re saying, and I really do fear that there will be violence here. It’s just frustrating. It’s what happens with ultimate positions.”
The governor is more of a spectator, charged with protecting human life, and outside of offering pardons to activists and DAPL workers charged with crimes, the governor has little authority in these situations.
“The company is going to shove it through there,” Nelson said. “The big question is whether the government will allow an easement. It is still possible the tribe will win. Their strongest case is on their water rights. It’s involving their water – and it doesn’t seem there was an engagement with the tribes pertaining to their water rights.”
Nelson added that the U.S. Corps of Engineers rarely investigates beyond river crossings, and that national building permits are not adequate; a full environmental impact study should be conducted.
“Really, the relationship between our tribes and our state could become better and more active,” Nelson said. “We do need to work together more.”
Marty Riske, the Libertarian candidate for North Dakota governor, said it is a very dangerous time for North Dakota.
“I know what I would have done, hindsight being twenty-twenty,” Riske said. “I would have brought a table to the site and invited the chiefs of the Native American tribes, the chiefs of the oil companies, and the governor himself. I would have been down there at a long table and a decision tree, and each of us would have espoused what we want, and the things that remained in the tree, the differences that weren’t being met, would have to be brought closer together to get everyone to agree.”
Now that the controversy is polarized, however, and low commodity prices are threatening North Dakotan prosperity, pension funds for teachers and state employees are sliding into arrears due to slipping oil prices, a pipeline is what the state needs, Riske said. Used correctly shipping oil via pipelines is half the cost of transportation by rail or truck. Energy Transfer Partners also has obtained the proper authority to complete the pipeline, the Public Service Commission did their work correctly, Riske said, but President Obama came up from behind and threw the project into chaos.
“If I were governor, I would say, ‘Obama, we are removing all our law enforcement by this date and we ask you to replace them all, or take over the bills, and then you work this deal out. Come here and get this deal done.’”
Oil and natural gas are necessities for North Dakota, and for the nation, Riske said, and although he plans to begin using solar panels on his own property, the technology for alternative energy is not ready to take over the fossil fuel industry.
“I know damn well you don’t want oil to go away,” Riske said. “This notion that we can end fossil fuels is uniformed.”
North Dakota has to get Bakken oil to market, or North Dakota will “suffer greatly,” Riske said.
“By doing what we’re doing, we’re putting the shivers into the whole pipeline program in North Dakota.”
Doug Burgum, the Republican candidate for governor of North Dakota, said free speech and the right to protest need to be respected, but that law and order must be maintained on federal lands.
“One of things that makes our country so special is the right of free speech and the right to peacefully protest,” Burgum said. “The state should continue to request that the federal government uphold their responsibility for maintaining peace and order on federal land. Going forward, we need to remember that disagreement can exist alongside mutual respect, listening, and dialogue as we work together towards a peaceful, constructive resolution.”