Lots of news from the water protectors at Standing Rock, so here’s a quick update on:
- police repression
- continuing encampment
- Army Corps of Engineers actions (okay, this is more of an educated guess – I doubt that the Corps itself knows what it’s doing)
- three calls you can make
Police consistently brutalize the water protectors. See Democracy Now’s coverage of security guards setting dogs on people during Labor Day weekend. The security guards were not licensed to use dogs at all in North Dakota – but nobody in the pipeline company cared. Then click on the video embedded above to see police using water cannons on people in sub-freezing temperatures, shooting them with tear gas and concussion grenades, and other “sublethal” weapons. A concussion grenade destroyed Sophia Wilansky’s arm and rubber bullets left welts on her body. A rubber bullet smashed Vanessa Dundon’s right eye: doctors are unsure whether she will regain any sight in the eye.
A class action lawsuit filed on November 28 asks for an injunction against police violence, including testimony from some of the hundreds injured on November 20 and the medics who treated them. An example, as reported in The Intercept:
“Mariah Marie Bruce, a 21-year-old from New Orleans, arrived to the police line at around the same time as Dundon. It wasn’t long before she was doused with water, her jacket and skirt freezing solid. As tear gas burned her eyes and nose, a flash bang grenade exploded against her genitals. Feeling little pain at first, she stayed in place until the tear gas became too much and she moved toward medics to treat her burning eyes. ‘As my body began to warmup, I started to feel the pain in my vagina and abdomen. The pain suddenly worsened and I began vomiting and the medics became very concerned,’ she stated in a declaration to the court. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
On the same day, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple ordered that no emergency services be provided in the area unless approved by police, “on a case by case basis.”
On Tuesday, November 22, the United States Civil Rights Commission condemned police violence in a formal statement on the pipeline:
“We are concerned with numerous reports and testimony regarding the use of military-style equipment and excessive force against protesters. Protesters have a constitutional right to peacefully assemble and lawfully express their concerns about the environmental and cultural impacts of the pipeline. Our concerns are compounded by the disproportionate police use of excessive force against Native Americans, who are more likely than any other racial group to be killed by police. We call upon federal, state, and local officials and law enforcement to work together to deescalate the situation and guarantee the safety of protesters to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Water protectors began camping near the present site on April 1, before construction of the 1,172 mile-long pipeline began. As Vogue magazine describes it,
“This small encampment would grow into an unprecedented gathering of native North American tribes and nations united in an effort to protect water and land. Together they would build a resistance movement rooted in nonviolence and community that, nearly eight months later, shows no signs of backing down, even in the face of mounting violence against it.”
“There are several camps. The Sacred Stones Camp is south of the Cannon Ball River on Standing Rock Nation land. Oceti Sakowin, the main camp, sits on federal land. Until recently the federal government had given the Water Protectors a permit to be there. The Main Camp includes other camps, such as the Red Warrior Camp.”
Opposition to the pipeline is not just about environmental and safety concerns, important as these are. In its statement on the pipeline, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights acknowledged the central issue of sovereignty:
“The issue of the pipeline is not just about the pipeline alone, but rather it is about the entire relationship between the United States and sovereign Indian Nations, their rights, traditions and religious beliefs. As we prepare our civil rights report on this relationship we call on Congress to make it a priority to address the problems in Indian country by holding its own hearings to hear from Native leaders about the unmet needs and unmet promises owed to Native Americans by the United States of America.”
With a North Dakota winter swirling snow around the tents, the water protectors say they are there to stay.
[For background on the underlying issues and history, see my previous blogs.]
The Army Corps of Engineers
First, they said that the water protectors were welcome to camp on federal land. Generous of the Corps, really, since this is already treaty land, under treaties dating back to 1851 and 1868, treaties broken soon after they were signed.
Then, on September 9, the Corps acknowledged problems with the pipeline approval process, and said construction on federal lands would be halted , inviting tribes to ” formal, government-to-government consultations.” The September 9 statement conclude:
“In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”
Last week, citing winter weather and “safety concerns” over police violence, the Corps told the water protectors to close their camps and move to a designated “Free Speech Zone” by December 5. Really? The problem is police violence, so you want their victims to move?
Confusion has been the word of the day since the Corps order to shut down the main camp:
- Organizers said they will not leave the camps.
- On November 27, the Corps said it will not force people to leave the camps.
- State and county officials said they will block supplies going to the camps.
- As a winter snowstorm hit, the sheriff said that crews will leave about a mile of the highway closest to the camp unplowed.
- North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple issued evacuation orders and said that “emergency services probably will not be available under current winter conditions.”
- North Dakota officials backed down from earlier threats to physically blockade the camps.
- U.S. military veterans are headed for the camps to serve as human shields for the water protectors.
You can call a lot of people, but I’d recommend starting at the top.
- President Obama – White House 202-456-1111
- North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple 701-328-2200
- Army Corps of Engineers 202-761-0011, Option #9 from the menu