Protests against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) near the Standing Rock, North Dakota have been raging for well over half a year now, but in the past two months, tensions between the self-proclaimed “water defenders” and law enforcement authorities have increased significantly. Clashes between the two have become more frequent and more violent recently, with hundreds arrested and dozens more injured in the confrontations. Despite pressure from advocacy groups, celebrities, and indigenous people world-wide, the companies in charge of the pipeline construction show absolutely no signs of letting up.
Just a few days ago, a police concussion grenade hit 21-year-old activist Sophia Wilansky in her arm, causing extensive damage to the point of near amputation. Though the Morton County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) has denied using any concussion grenades against protesters and claimed that Wilanksky probably injured herself making a crude bomb out of a propane tank, a surgeon that operated on Wilansky claimed to pull out shrapnel that’s undeniably from a police grenade out of her arm. According to her father, “The radius bone is significantly missing. All of the arteries are gone. The main nerve is missing. And most of the muscle, about 80% of the muscle on the forearm is gone.” Doctors are unsure whether Wilansky will be able to keep her arm.
The MCSD has also previously denied using water cannons on protesters, but they were caught doing just that this past Monday night. After citing concerns of an “ongoing riot” of “very aggressive” protesters, riot gear-clad police clamped down on a group of four hundred or so protesters trying to reach the planned construction site of the pipeline through a crude bridge. Security forces formed an impenetrable front and began advancing towards the protesters while pelting them with rubber bullets, tear gas, sound cannons, and water cannons despite near-freezing temperatures. Though MCSD justified their usage of water cannons by saying the protesters were creating fires, Dallas Goldtooth, one of the organizers at the cite, clarified that the only reason people started fires was to keep themselves war from the frigid winter weather. Close to twenty people have been hospitalized so far, many of them suffering from hypothermia.
— IndigenousEnviroNet (@IENearth) November 21, 2016
The use of “crowd control” methods like pepper spray, tasers, tear gas, attack dogs, water cannons, and psychological weapons on behalf of both the police and private security hired by Energy Transfer Partners is shameful and infuriating. Protesters arrested by police are reportedly being strip searched and left naked in the frigid weather. Those detained were sometimes marked with numbers on their skin and tossed into crowded dog kennel-like cages, often going days without bond or access to a lawyer. The harsh and abusive treatment of protesters at Standing Rock has prompted both Amnesty International and the United Nations to send officials to “investigate allegations of human rights violations”.
— Linda Black Elk (@lindablackelk) October 28, 2016
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStNYC) October 29, 2016
Maini Kiai, a reputed Kenyan human rights lawyer working as a special rapporteur for the UN, denounced the deplorable treatment of protesters at the hands of authorities as “inhuman and degrading”. Kiai has urged Energy Transfer Partners to halt construction of the pipeline “within 20 miles east and west of Lake Oahe”. Amnesty International recently condemned authorities for erecting barricades to prevent “journalists legal and human rights observers” from coming in and reporting on the atrocities committed against the protesters.
The water defenders will be receiving some much-needed support on December 4, when the event “Veterans Stand for Standing Rock” planned to take place. According to its GoFundMe page, the event is a call for combat vets to “to assemble as a peaceful, unarmed militia. . . . and defend the water protectors from assault and intimidation at the hands of the militarized police force and DAPL security”. The event is being organized by Wesley Clark Jr., a screenwriter, activist, and veteran, alongside retired Baltimore police officer, Marine, and police reform advocate Michael Wood Jr.
There have been talks by many people of simply rerouting the DAPL in order to appease the Sioux tribe, but that’s simply not the point. Energy Transfer Partners had originally planned for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River near North Dakota’s capital of Bismarck, but was rerouted because it failed to pass an environmental impact assessment. Authorities cited concerns that the pipeline could potentially adversely affect the drinking water of the residents of Bismarck–the same concerns the water defenders are using as the basis of their opposition to the pipeline. Why is it, then, that when the water defenders have the same grievances and concerns, those in charge of the pipeline’s construction simply brush them off?
The rest of the world is carefully observing our government’s response to the protests occurring in Standing Rock. We often criticize other governments for their brutal crackdowns of peaceful protests yet the situation isn’t much better here. In its decision to press forward with the construction of the DAPL, state, federal, and local authorities as well as the companies charged with its construction, these parties have blatantly violated the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie which seceded the land in question to the Sioux Nation, therefore violating their sovereignty.
Though the US government has consistently disregarded the treaties it has made with Native tribes, they are undoubtedly legally binding. According to Federalist Paper 64—written by America’s first Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Jay–, treaties made between the US government and Native tribes “are just as binding, and just as far beyond the lawful reach of legislative acts now, as they will be at any future period, or under any form of government”. Jay also wrote that the consent of both parties is required in order to “alter or cancel” a treaty.
However, the US government failed to properly convene with the Sioux Nation to get their approval for building the pipeline on their territory. Instead, the US Army Corps of Engineers shamelessly plowed ahead and rerouted the pipeline through sacred ancestral lands without much–if any–consideration for the Native folks that would be potentially affected by it.
This Thanksgiving, while many of us celebrate it inside warm homes surrounded by friends and loved ones, we must also remember the brave men and women that are in the front lines of this struggle against corporate greed and utter environmental disregard. Though the mainstream media has largely stayed mum on the DAPL protests, our country cannot continue to ignore the very real issues that run deep in our society. Now more than ever, we must stand in solidarity with our Native brothers and sisters against this oppression of their rights, encroachment of their land, and disregard of their way of life.