Clergy Arrested for Defending Standing Rock

One Native American picked from crowd for arrest, four clergy while in prayer handcuffed on Governor’s front lawn

By C.S. Hagen
BISMARCK – Nineteen clergy and activists were arrested Thursday evening in the Peace Garden State’s capital; 17 were sent to jail.

Activists said it was “just another day at Standing Rock.”

Fourteen clergy arrested at North Dakota Capitol, four more at Governor's Mansion - Facebook photograph

Fourteen clergy arrested at North Dakota Capitol, four more at Governor’s Mansion – Facebook photograph taken in Toronto TD Bank Building

The arrests occurred in Bismarck, 45 miles away from Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires camp near Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, at the Capitol Building, and at Governor Jack Dalrymple’s mansion.

Earlier in the day, more than 500 clergy from 20 denominations including Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews, gathered at Oceti Sakowin to support Standing Rock’s opposition to the 1,172-mile-lone Dakota Access Pipeline. By afternoon, clergy and activists traveled to the Capitol Building, where 14 members of the clergy locked themselves down after being notified the governor was not present.

“Fourteen protesters were arrested inside the North Dakota State Capitol Building,” North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson said. “A group of protesters gathered inside the judicial wing entrance, formed a circle, and protested inside the building. They were instructed multiple times to leave and after failing to obey, they were arrested for disorderly conduct and criminal trespass.”

Activist praying near Highway 1806 barricade - photo by C.S. Hagen

Activist praying near Highway 1806 barricade – photo by C.S. Hagen

More than 50 activists and clergy from around the nation then traveled to the governor’s mansion. Four clergy walked across the street, knelt in prayer, and were arrested within minutes, according to videos taken at the scene. One Native American male was pulled from the crowd in a tactical attempt to disperse the crowd.

“A large group of protesters formed near the governor’s residence on the west side of Fourth Street,” Iverson said. “Three protesters walked across the roadway and gathered on the governor’s residence and failed to leave after multiple warnings.”

Four people walked on to the governor’s yard, Iverson later said, and one individual did return to the opposite side of the street.

“It was obvious they were there to be arrested,” Iverson said during a press conference. He went on to say that some of those who exercised passive resistance were childish, and acting with “extreme disgrace.” 

Dalrymple made an appearance, activists reported in videos. Riot police and law enforcement surrounded those gathered, first telling them to stay on the sidewalk, then rescinding the order telling them to walk two blocks away.

A Catholic clergy asked the officer on video why out of a mostly Caucasian group standing opposite Dalrymple’s house, one Native American was singled out for arrest. The crowd began pleading with the officer to release the Native American arrested, and agreed to disperse if the individual was released.

“You guys assembled here,” said a law enforcement officer who did not give his badge number and was not wearing a visible nametag. “I want to protect your freedom of First Amendment, but I also got to protect everyone else’s freedom, but when people walked across the roadway and traffic had to be stopped, we have to do something about that.

“So I came over and I told you loudly, this is an unlawful assembly, and you have to disperse,” he said.

The officer in charge of the situation told clergy that he has been involved in protest actions for approximately 15 years. “I’m willing to compromise with you if you guys are going to compromise with me,” the officer said. “Sometimes to get people to disperse, the first person to get arrested, then the rest disperse, because they don’t want to get arrested…

“I’ll release him.”

At the Cantapeta Creek - photo by C.S. Hagen

At Cantapeta Creek – photo by C.S. Hagen

Earlier in the week oil was spilled on the Capitol Building’s front entrance, and a No DAPL sign was also left behind, according to Iverson.

Not including the arrests made Thursday, more than 416 people have been taken into custody since August 10 on resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline charges, Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported. More than USD 9 million of taxpayers money has been spent, and more than 1,245 law enforcement officials from four states, 24 counties, and 16 cities have assisted Morton County to defend the pipeline’s activities. In August, Dalrymple also called an emergency state, bringing in the North Dakota National Guard still active at checkpoints.

Clergy inside the Capitol Building rescinded the Doctrine of Discovery, and voiced apologies for hundreds of years of atrocities committed on behalf of organized religion, according to Native News Online. The Doctrine of Discovery, a claim to European legitimacy over indigenous lands, was a practice used by explorers and was a major influence in Manifest Destiny, a federal policy of taking land from Native Americans.

A rumor is circulating online that two law enforcement officers have turned in their badges after witnessing how prisoners were treated. This report remains to be verified.

Additionally, on Thursday, approximately 200 people gathered in Texas to demand the removal of Energy Transfer Partners CEO and oil tycoon Kelcy Warren from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission. No arrests were made. Warren was appointed commissioner for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission by Governor Greg Abbott in 2015. Warren recently contributed USD 455,000 to Abbott’s campaign, according to Vote Smart.

Texas demonstrators in Austin, Texas - photo provided by Texas Sierra Club November 3, 2016

Texas demonstrators in Austin, Texas – photo provided by Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club November 3, 2016

Warren has also supported North Dakota politicians, and on Thursday was accused in a Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission meeting of disrespecting Native Americans by putting profits ahead of people, according to the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, an a national environmental advocacy organization.

Warren stated during the meeting that he didn’t believe he was digging up sacred sites along the Dakota Access Pipeline route, and that if he was, it would be “bad,” but he also agreed to meet with representatives of the Society of Native Nations over the issue, according to the Sierra Club.

On Wednesday, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department placed blame on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the day’s events at Cantapeta Creek, when dozens of activists were pepper sprayed while in the frigid creek waters. Native Americans and one journalist were also hit by rubber bullets after law enforcement destroyed a bridge activists erected crossing the creek.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested the Morton County Sheriff’s Department to assist them in removing any trespassers who enter Corps land to the north of the main camp area,” Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported in a press release.

“As you are aware, this area is the location where the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project has proposed to pace the pipeline under the Missouri River via horizontal directional drilling,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Colonel John Henderson said in a letter to Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier.

“The Corps of Engineers has not provided any permits or permissions for anyone to access that area of the federal property that we manage. It is an area that has not been opened for use by the public for recreational or camping purposes. As such, the Corps of Engineers would consider these individual to be trespassers.”

In the meantime, President Obama has decided his administration will wait and see how the situation at Standing Rock unfolds, but made mention that the pipeline may have to reroute.


  1. Hi — just for the sake of accuracy — the top photo was taken in Toronto, at a solidarity action at the main TD Bank building. (I know this because it’s a photo of myself and a colleague). Clergy being arrested all over the place that day …

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