Cannon Ball, ND — Last night, water protectors near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, attempted to clear Highway 1806 of burned-out military vehicles and wound up under an all-out assault by heavily militarized police, who used tear gas, mace, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and water cannons — in temperatures well below freezing — in an attempt to clear them from a bridge.
By midnight, at least 160 people reported suffering injuries, and medics on scene confirmed a 13-year-old girl had been shot in the face, according to Unicorn Riot, which did not say whether the shot was live ammunition or a rubber bullet.
A statement released by the head medic of the Oceti Sakowin camp shortly before midnight said 167 people, including three elders, had suffered injuries, and that seven people had to be hospitalized. Emergency medics performed CPR on an elder who went into cardiac arrest, and though they were able to resuscitate him at the scene, he remains in critical condition. Further, as the medic noted, police intentionally targeted the water protectors’ heads and legs during the attack.
— NativeNewsOnline (@Native_NewsNet) November 21, 2016
Emergency medics from both the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes attended to the injured, wet, and freezing water protectors at the Oceti Sakowin Camp and in the gymnasium, with hundreds suffering hypothermia, blunt trauma and open wounds from nonlethal projectiles, and contamination from CS gas — tear gas — deemed illegal under international law during war, but acceptable for use by police.
According to a joint statement by Indigenous Environmental Network, Honor the Earth, and Sacred Stone Camp on the incident:
“Hundreds of water protectors were injured at the Standing Rock encampments when law enforcement blasted them with water cannons in freezing temperatures Sunday evening. The attacks came as water protectors used a semi-truck to remove burnt military vehicles that police had chained to concrete barriers weeks ago, blocking traffic on Highway 1806. Water protectors’ efforts to clear the road and improve access to the camp for emergency services were met with tear gas, an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device), stinger grenades, rubber bullets, and indiscriminate use of a water cannon with an air temperature of 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Some flares shot by law enforcement started grass fires which were ignored by the water cannons and had to be extinguished by water protectors. Law enforcement also shot down three media drones and targeted journalists with less lethal rounds.
“National Lawyers Guild legal observers on the frontlines have confirmed that multiple people were unconscious and bleeding after being shot in the head with rubber bullets.”
Due to the sheer number of serious injuries, the local Cannon Ball community graciously opened its school gymnasium as a makeshift emergency medical facility.
Around 400 people were kettled — encircled by police from both sides — on the Backwater Bridge, as police seemed to use every nonlethal weapon at their disposal against the peaceful water protectors.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) November 21, 2016
Authorities cited ongoing rioting in the decision to launch the offensive, which came after an hours-long standoff with the water protectors. That bridge has been closed since October 27, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe worried its closure — and the burned vehicles blocking the road — would prevent emergency services from reaching the reservation and residents in the vicinity.
Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, explained water protectors were “done with the military-style barricades,” and thus decided to clear the burned vehicles from the road. On Sunday night, he wrote in a Facebook post, “It was to open up the road so in the daylight the world can see the face of militarized law enforcement and state oppression.”
Law enforcement has cited questions about the structural integrity of the bridge after the vehicles were burned on October 27, since officials from the Department of Transportation have not been able to inspect the structure due to ongoing protests.
Water protectors suspect the reason authorities haven’t cleared the roadway — and, in fact, have since reinforced the blockade with cement barriers and razor wire — is to prevent them from breaching Dakota Access Pipeline construction sites.
Aidoneus Bishop, a water protector who had attempted to clear the roadway and was shot in the head and back with rubber bullets, said, “The only thing that makes sense is that it’s blocked to keep us away from the pipe,” reported the Bismarck Tribune.
In a statement last night, Goldtooth explained the risks to life law enforcement was taking in its assault against the water protectors, saying:
“It is below freezing right now and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department is using a water cannon on our people, that is an excessive and potentially deadly use of force. Tribal EMS are stepping up and providing services that should be the responsibility of Morton County, this is ridiculous. Because of the police enforced road block, ambulances now have an extra 30 minutes to get to the hospital. Those are life and death numbers right there, and Morton County and the State of North Dakota will be responsible for the tally.”
Despite claims by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department that ‘protesters’ had turned violent and attempted to flank officers at the scene, live reports at the time dispute that account, with witnesses describing officers surrounding the bridge, preventing water protectors from escaping unless they trampled one another.
Morton County law enforcement claimed water protectors had “started a dozen fires near the bridge” — however, witnesses at the scene explained several fires had been controlled and used for necessary heat in the frigid conditions, while others were the result of tear gas canisters being kicked back at police. According to the sheriff, the water cannons were originally deployed to douse the fires.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) November 21, 2016
Whatever excuse the Morton County Sheriff and other law enforcement agencies at the bridge gave to initiate force against the water protectors, video clearly shows an all-out assault in freezing temperatures and completely unnecessary use of force. To wit, one officer was reportedly injured when someone threw an object at his head — and by contrast 167 unarmed people had to be treated for injuries.
Tara Houska, National Campaigns Director for Honor the Earth, stated:
“For weeks, the main highway to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has been cut off, with no movement by the state to address a public safety risk. Attempting to clear the road was met with police spraying people with water cannons in 26 degree weather — that’s deadly force, it’s freezing outside. They want to kill people for clearing a road? When will our cries be heard? Stop the Dakota Access pipeline. Respect the rights of indigenous people, of all peoples.”