Standing Rock’s resolve is “stronger than ever,” more arrests in Bismarck, and a North Dakota sheriff is suspended

By C.S. Hagen
BISMARCK – Standing Rock and supporters have 10 days to move camps, or face possible mass arrests, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported Friday.

“This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander John W. Henderson stated.

“Any person found to be on the Corps lands north of the Cannonball River after December 5, 2016, will be considered trespassing and may be subject to prosecution under federal, state, and local laws… any person who chooses to stay on these Corps’ lands… does so at their own risk.”

A “free speech zone” south of Cannonball River on Army Corps lands will be authorized.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map of the area surrounding Oceti Sakowin

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map of the area surrounding Oceti Sakowin

“Our tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever,” Standing Rock reported in a statement. “The best way to protect people during the winter, and reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized police, is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing, and deny it now.”

Standing Rock further reported that the tribe’s stance on the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing the Missouri River at Lake Oahe less than a mile from the reservation was stated clearly in a meeting with DAPL representatives and the North Dakota Public Service Commission on September 30, 2014, more than two years ago.

North Dakota government agencies have reported frequently the tribe did not involve itself in hearings and discussions pertaining to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“It is both unfortunate and disrespectful that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving – a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe,” Standing Rock reported. “Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of mistreatment of our people.

“Although we have suffered much, we still have hope that the President will act on his commitment to close this chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children.”

Standing Rock is currently planning if and how an exodus from Oceti Sakowin, or the Seven Council Fires camp will occur, Standing Rock spokesperson Sue Evans said.

“The timing of this latest action by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is demoralizing and disrespectful for Native Americans and the millions of peaceful water protectors and supporters in America and across the globe who are standing with Standing Rock to protect the water and 17 million Americans downstream on the river,” Evans said.

Standing Rock is ready, however. Other camps exist in the area, and leadership is planning the tribe’s next steps.

The deadline brings back a similar deadline issued a century ago for attorney Chase Iron Eyes. On December 3, 1875, the US government issued a deadline for all Native Americans not on reservations to return to their areas of confinement, or else they would be considered hostile.

Turtle Hill, Cantapeta Creek, law enforcement has now stretched razor wire across the bank opposite Oceti Sakowin - photo provided by Digital Smoke Signals

Turtle Hill, Cantapeta Creek, law enforcement has now stretched razor wire across the bank opposite Oceti Sakowin – photo provided by Digital Smoke Signals

“We are tired of the protests too,” Iron Eyes, who ran for congress this year, said. “DAPL is backing us into a corner. This is about standing up to Trump fascism, and we’re going to be considered trespassers on Army Corps land. We’ve seen what Morton County is capable of… they tell lies, but by the time we disprove them they’ve already been able to manipulate the public narrative and push that out to the world as truth.”

For instance, Morton County reported its use of water cannons to put out fires on November 20, but turned the same high-powered hoses onto activists in sub freezing temperatures because they feared activists might push through multiple rows of razor wire, cement blocks, hidden hedgehogs, and fully-armed police.

Morton County also reported Sophia Wilansky, who nearly had her left arm blown off the same night, was not harmed by law enforcement’s less-than-lethal armaments, but by an explosion from the activists’ side, even after many eyewitnesses came forward saying that Wilansky was first struck with a rubber bullet, and then targeted by a compression grenade while she was on the ground.

Iron Eyes calls for those involved to keep prayer and peaceful civil disobedience at the center of all direct actions, but he refuses to be intimidated

“If it’s too risky for Bismarck, it’s too risky for us,” Iron Eyes said. “We have to stand up. If a law allows for water to be poisoned or put our children’s future at stake, then that law has no moral or spiritual authority, and we should be within rights to stand up to that law. We have to be very, very clear about this; these are risks that we choose to assume.

“It’s easy to be neutral when it’s not your family at risk,” Iron Eyes said. “We must always fight for the democracy we want.”

Additionally on Friday, Governor Jack Dalrymple granted McKenzie County Commissioners’ request to remove Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger from office after the state attorney general’s office investigated him, according to state news outlets.

“We are now witnessing the first action against local law enforcement tonight for their abuses to peaceful water protectors,” Evans said.

Pig head authorities report anti DAPL activists carried into Bismarck on Thanksgiving Day - photo provided by Morton County Sheriff's Department

Pig head authorities report anti DAPL activists carried into Bismarck on Thanksgiving Day – photo provided by Morton County Sheriff’s Department

In October, the McKenzie County Commissioners asked the governor to remove the sheriff from office, citing an alleged workplace culture of bullying and retaliation, according to press reports. Schwartzenberger will be allowed a hearing before the governor makes a decision to make the suspension permanent.

In 2015, two other deputies from McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department were allegedly involved in criminal activities, according to the Bismarck Tribune. Corporal Travis Batemen faces a felony charge of reckless endangerment, and Detective Michael Schmitz was charged with two counts of giving false information to law enforcement.

The day after Thanksgiving, 33 more arrests were made by Bismarck police at Bismarck’s Kirkwood Mall outside the Target entrance, according to Morton County Sheriff’s Department. The total number of activists arrested since early August is 561.

The McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department is one of the agencies involved against activists at Standing Rock. Nearly 1,300 people have assisted from 25 North Dakota counties, 20 cities, and nine states, according to Morton County Sheriff’s Department.