Heavily-militarized police decked in riot gear and armed to the teeth, arrived by MRAP and other military-grade vehicles to a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site — not to crack down on a violent and destructive riot — but to break up … a peaceful prayer gathering.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other Native American Nations and their supporters had gathered to pray and sing songs at the construction site Wednesday, when Morton County, North Dakota, Sheriff’s Office deployed an insanely disproportionate response to break up the unarmed and otherwise wholly peaceful gathering.
— Our Revolución (@Latinos4Bernie) September 28, 2016
Witness and participant Thomas H. Joseph II broadcast the inexplicable law enforcement action using Facebook Live. In his post to the social media platform, noting women and children’s lives were threatened by the crackdown, he wrote:
“We gathered in prayer, un-armed, prayed, sang songs, and attempted to leave. No threats, No vandalism, No violence was taken on our part.”
At least 21 people were arrested in the needless clash — but divergent accounts from law enforcement and witnesses show continued misperceptions about the insidious pipeline which has drawn national attention despite a dearth of corporate media coverage.
Despite repeatedly proven claims from the over 7,000 water protectors — the term preferred over ‘protesters,’ since the pipeline slated to run beneath the Missouri River threatens to contaminate the tribal water supply and that of some 18 million people — that they are unarmed, both corporate and state response has treated them as terrorists.
A post to Facebook from Sacred Stone Camp — which, in April, became the first of a growing number of encampments intended to peacefully block pipeline construction crews — stated North Dakota law enforcement “deployed armed personnel with shotguns and assault rifles, military vehicles, and what looks like an aerial spray on peaceful Water Protectors gathered in prayer.”
“We had a really nice ceremony,” said a Sicangu Lakota grandmother in video footage from the scene. “Then we looked and over that way, there were a few police and the next thing we knew there were 40 police all in riot gear.”
Video indeed shows a number of armored vehicles blocking the road, as officers fit more for the streets of war-ravaged Aleppo advance on the gathering, and a helicopter hovers overhead.
Police swarmed the group — as water protectors and attendees stood calmly with hands clearly raised — and began indiscriminately accosting people while ordering everyone into their vehicles.
At least one officer pointed his weapon at an unarmed person, when, as the Morton County Sheriff’s Department alleged afterward in a statement, “a protester on horseback charged at an officer in what was viewed as an act of aggression.”
— Kathryn NicDhàna ✧ (@nicdhana) September 28, 2016
Video would seem to dispute this claim, as a number of people ride horses around the scene, but none appears to charge directly at any of the militarized cops.
Police admitted to the militarized deployment via a statement posted on social media, but clarified — amid doubts from those at the scene — the small plane was only a local crop duster spraying in the area.
Under the pretense the water protectors were trespassing on private property — and although those in attendance were only blocked and accosted once they began to disburse — the Morton County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged it sent armored vehicles, specialized equipment, and “less lethal ammunition using bean-bag rounds” to force people from the area.
However measured law enforcement’s official statements appeared, witnesses to the absurd and unnecessary action painted an entirely different picture of the incident.
As Red Warrior Camp alarmingly summarized in a statement on its Facebook page:
“Today Native ceremonies conducted along the Dakota Access Pipeline route were disrupted by militarized police. We have continued to declare ourselves to be non-violent and unarmed, the police, acting as private security and protectors of the corporations and their nefarious and destructive interests, responded in full force with armoured vehicles, shotguns, assault rifles, snipers, helicopters, tear gas, resulting in 21 confirmed arrests. There are also reports coming back that the police were snatching people’s phones and other recording devices, deleting pictures and video without permission and in direct violation of North Dakota laws. This response, these actions on the part of the police are clear evidence of the egregious and ongoing escalation of the violations of our Indigenous and Human Rights.”
Although corporate media has largely ignored the massive occupation and movement to halt Energy Transfer Partners’ construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, major outlets were forced to address the issue when, at the beginning of September, mercenaries hired by the company brutally attacked unarmed water protectors — including women and children — with vicious dogs, pepper spray, and tear gas.
As Native Americans and activists peacefully chanted “water is life,” a private security firm — linked to notorious international firm G4S, which once employed the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter — unleashed dogs indiscriminately into the crowd to maul and maim anyone in their path.
That attack took place after a Standing Rock Sioux historian, who had only recently been permitted onto private property outside the reservation to survey the land for culturally and historically significant sites, discovered construction crews in essence used court documentation as a guide to decimate those sites in area 20 miles removed from ongoing pipeline construction.
Outraged water protectors flocked to the scene in protest, but although they remained peaceful and brought no weapons, the private security firm’s henchmen initiated the brutal attack.
Now, it appears, North Dakota law enforcement has picked up where private security left off — acting in the interests of Big Oil against peoples native to the land.
The ongoing dispute — in pure number of Native and indigenous peoples from around the country and world, and in callous and brutal governmental response — has been deemed the largest standoff between Native Americans and the U.S. government in over 100 years, evidencing continued exploitation of and violence by the same forces who historically committed genocide in battles over the same land.
“We are constantly fed the narrative that the police are armed and active in the protection of the public,” Red Warrior Camp’s statement continued. “Are we not the public? Are the violations of our rights so easily and repeatedly acceptable? Are you paying attention? The United States of America is occupying Indigenous Land and when their occupation and ruination of our lands and waters is challenged they respond with unprecedented violence, with kidnapping our brothers and sisters protecting us and our territories. They are incarcerating our Warriors, our Women, our Youth. Today’s ceremony should never have been interrupted, no arrests should have been made and certainly the military machine should not have been called in in response to our prayers.”
Federal and state courts along Dakota Access Pipeline’s planned 1,172-mile route have halted construction in a number of locations and permitted Native Americans to continue camping, provided they assume responsibility for any resulting issues of liability.
Water protectors from around the world at the various camps have repeatedly pleaded with the Obama administration to issue a permanent stoppage of construction. Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II even appealed to the United Nations to intervene, telling reporters “just because something is legal, does not make it right.”
“The world needs to know what is happening to the Indigenous peoples of the United States,” he told the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva in mid-September.
“This pipeline violates our treaty rights and our human rights, and it violates the U.N.’s own Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I hope the U.N. will use its influence and international platform to protect the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”
Indeed the world — if not mainstream media, Big Oil, or the U.S. government — is watching, and sees how the State effectively dismisses the rights of Native Americans in favor of corporate profits. But the water protectors refuse to back down until the Dakota Access Pipeline project is forever tabled and can no longer threaten sacred sites and precious water supplies — no matter how violent the crackdowns on peaceful people become.
“We have no fear,” the Red Warrior Camp concluded its statement, “why should we when we speak and act the truth?”