Chairman says law enforcement and locals are victims, hopes to influence nationwide veterans movement

By C.S. Hagen
– As thousands of US veterans prepare to converge on Standing Rock, North Dakota Veterans took a step back.

They’re remaining neutral. Their stance nationally is not popular, Chairman of the North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council Russel Stabler said during a press conference. And they’re adamantly opposed to any North Dakota veteran joining Veterans for Standing Rock movement set to arrive on December 4. The North Dakota Veterans organization also refuses to take a stance on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“The one thing we’ve fought for all our lives is the right for someone to have an opinion, and we do not want to step on anyone’s rights,” Stabler said. “We’re not standing in support of either side, everyone has the right to protest peacefully and not to attack law enforcement,”

Chairman of the North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council Russel Stabler during press conference - photo by C.S. Hagen

Chairman of the North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council Russel Stabler during press conference – photo by C.S. Hagen

Bolstered with a total membership of approximately 60,000, the North Dakota Veterans organization said DAPL protesters have cost the state USD 10 million, and wreaked millions of dollars in damages to vehicles, equipment, property, and livestock owned by private corporations, citizens, family farms, and government agencies.

“Slaughtering livestock, throwing Molotov cocktails, and assaulting law enforcement officers is not the military manner in which our veterans behave and not the kind of assembly and actions veterans should be a part of,” Stabler said.

North Dakota Stockmen’s Association Executive Vice President Julie Ellingson said several cases involving stolen cows and butchered buffalo are still under investigation, and the agency is still accepting tips, and offering a reward up to USD 14,000 for information that leads to arrest and conviction.

Attorney Chase Iron Eyes, who ran for Congress this year, said media and law enforcement agencies are misinforming many across the state. “They are trying to instill fear, confusion, and doubt,” Iron Eyes said. “We are the new Ghost Dancers, only this time others of all origins are in this vision with us.”

Since the beginning, tribal leaders have called for prayers and peace. More than 130 charges against the 561 arrested have already been dropped by Morton County, according to court records. Some charges have been combined and changed from misdemeanors to felonies; one case has gone federal.

“Natives are peaceful and passive right now because of a very deliberate process of de-arming us, destroying our economy, imposing poverty cultures and values to turn us into begging dependents, forcefully colonizing us via boarding school, spiritual invasion, emasculation, and capturing methods,” Iron Eyes said. “Our natural state as human being is to be liberated; it’s not to be passive. Peace requires action.”

Approximately 2,500 veterans plan to arrive at Standing Rock December 4, according to Michael A. Woods Jr., an organizer for Veterans for Standing Rock. They are coming to take a stand against what they call police militarized aggression. There are thousands more who want to come to Standing Rock, but finances, which have come in the form of donations now exceeding USD 250,000, will limit the numbers, Woods said. The organization’s goal is to reach USD 500,000 in donations.

“If the cops there want to be state sanctioned agents to brutally beat non-violent veterans that have served their country honorably, if they’re going to beat us, then that should be the signal to the rest of the world what our country is doing,” Woods said.

The North Dakota Veterans would prefer out-of-state veterans didn’t come at all, Stabler said.

“We don’t need that many coming, and as we said, putting disrespect on veterans, because as a veteran they have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, and to fight against all enemies foreign and domestic,” Stabler said. “I for one, and these gentlemen behind me, will not violate that oath.

“We’re hoping to influence them… and everything, and hope that if they do come they will be respectful. If not, we want it understood, these are not North Dakota veterans, and they do not represent the veterans of North Dakota, and we are encouraging all of our people not to go out there.

“Please don’t punish the North Dakota veteran for what someone from outside this state does.” 

The Veterans for Standing Rock organization is proud to be standing with Standing Rock. “We are a support mission,” Woods said. “We’re there to protect the water protectors and to get in front of them. We are veterans, we are trained, we have resources, and we will be guided by the locals that know exactly what they’re doing.”

The stand could become a “battle of attrition,” Woods said. As a former police officer, Woods said law enforcement do not want to be out in the cold, and a battle of “who wants it more” could ensue.

“And I think we want it a hell of a lot more than the cops do.”

Logistics for the endeavor are massive, Woods said, but necessary. He is constantly reminding veterans to be respectful toward local culture, native traditions, and to remember that many natives also are veterans. Police, he added, are not to be considered enemies, as the Veterans for Standing Rock should not be considered an enemy of the state. Officers are simply caught up in a system directed by an “oligarchy” that writes their paychecks, and they should understand the organization’s goals.

“Native American people in this country have served at a higher percentage in the United States military than any group in this entire country,” Woods said. “The Navajo saved us through code talking and being able to pass intelligence around. If there was one group in this country that adequately and thoroughly represents the military it is the Native American people.”

Oceti Sakowin - wintry wonderland - photo by Terry Wiklund

Oceti Sakowin – wintry wonderland – photo by Terry Wiklund

The Peace Garden State and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have recently begun a type of modern siege against the camps outside of Standing Rock by first issuing emergency evacuation orders, then announcing anyone supplying Standing Rock with goods or equipment could face up to USD 1,000 in fines. Highway 1806, the main road leading to the camps and Cannonball, has been closed for weeks, increasing trip duration from Mandan by at least 30 minutes.

Both Governor Jack Dalrymple and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District Colonel John Henderson later backtracked their statements, saying law enforcement will not be shutting down any additional roads, or hunting out-of-state activists, but anyone left on Army Corps lands after December 5 may still be subject to arrest.

More than 95 percent of the pipeline in North Dakota is finished, Dalrymple said. The only part that remains is the section under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, and which Energy Transfer Partners, Dakota Access Pipeline’s parent company, lacks the easements for. On behalf of Energy Transfer Partners, North Dakota politicians have been increasing the pressure on President Obama’s administration and on the Army Corps for weeks in attempts to obtain the necessary permission.

“National Guard is mobilized, the governor keeps posturing, first responders are filling up Bismarck,” Iron Eyes said. “If the Army Corps grants this easement to drill under the river, it’s going to be unpredictable. December 5th draws neigh. It’s scary as hell, not going to lie. What’s scarier is watching your children die because we didn’t stop this pipeline.”