More than 140 unarmed protesters were arrested as militarized police cleared a Native American resistance camp blocking the path of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).
“We have repeatedly seen a disproportionate response from law enforcement to water protectors’ nonviolent exercise of their constitutional rights,” said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in a statement late Thursday. “We need our state and federal governments to bring justice and peace to our lands, not the force of armored vehicles.”
The latest confrontation comes less than a week after more than 80 people were arrested in the months-long standoff over activists’ occupation of land that was recently purchased by the pipeline developer, but which tribal leaders claim is treaty land.
Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the project, began developing the $3.8 billion pipeline this spring to move domestically produced crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation to Illinois through four states. The company expects completion of the 1,172-mile pipeline by the end of the year.
The tribe filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July, alleging it was not properly consulted before the project was approved. A federal appeals court denied the request to halt construction earlier this month.
When construction renewed last week, protesters gathered again. This week they set up a blockade across Highway 1806 in North Dakota, about three-quarters of a mile from the construction site.
“We can not have protesters blocking county roads, blocking state highways, or trespassing on private property,” Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a statement on Wednesday after protesters refused to leave the site, known as Cannonball Ranch, after police asked them to vacate and retreat.
The operation to clear the tribal camp began around midday Thursday. In the hours that followed, protesters posted online videos and written accounts documenting police in riot gear descending on the camp with Humvees, sound cannons, a bulldozer, and helicopters.
Dallas Goldtooth, a campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network who said he was pepper sprayed during the altercation, posted several videos to Facebook describing how concussion grenades and bean bags were shot into the peaceful crowd, injuring protesters.
Goldtooth also described seeing a man brandishing an automatic rifle, before being removed by Bureau of Indian Affairs police officers. Insurance documents found in the man’s car indicated that he was an employee or a contractor with Dakota Access, according to Goldtooth.
“We don’t have any weapons. The only weapons we have are just our bodies and our prayer,” he said in a video at the site. “The fight’s not over. There’s still action happening, there’s still arrests being made.”
Cody Hall of Red Warrior Camp told Democracy Now that construction continues behind the line of police on sacred tribal burial ground, where on September 3, Dakota Access security guards unleashed dogs and pepper sprayed Native Americans.
About 200 people, including members of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, have been occupying land in the path of the pipeline since Sunday. More than 90 tribes have joined in solidarity. Many have faced police retaliation and arrests in the process.
The tribe and its allies have long opposed the proposed pipeline, which would run within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and transport almost 500,000 barrels of oil per day. Tribal activists fear it could adversely affect their drinking water and disturb sacred burial sites.
Prior to Thursday’s clash, more than 260 people had been arrested since larger demonstrations broke out in August, the Associated Post reported.
As tensions escalated Thursday at the frontline camp, Standing Rock youth traveled to the presidential campaign offices in New York to demand that the candidates take a stance.
“We made treaties and agreements. A violation of a native treaty is a violation of federal law. By refusing to stand against DAPL, Hillary is putting our environment, wildlife, culture, and land at risk,” said 16-year-old William Brownotter in a news release.
A late response from the Hillary Clinton campaign emphasized that the rights of protesters to rally peacefully and of workers to operate safely must be protected.
The young activists also visited Trump Tower, according to the release, but as of midnight there has been no response from the Donald Trump campaign. Campaign disclosure forms have indicated that Trump has money invested in Energy Transfer Partners, which owns Dakota Access, LLC., and has received campaign contributions from the company’s chief executive.
Native American tribes have also called on President Obama to overhaul the way the administration consults with them on fossil fuel export. The Obama administration asked Energy Transfers for the second time to stop construction, to no avail, the Seattle Times reported.
Earlier this week, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a temporary restriction of the airspace above the DAPL protest, preventing tribal leaders’ use of drones to monitor police activity. The restriction lasts until November 4.
“It’s crazy because what we saw [Thursday] is basically just another part of 500 years of colonization and aggression by a system that is predicated upon our oppression,” Goldtooth said. “We’ve seen what lengths they are willing to go to support and back up a multibillion-dollar oil company in the face of peaceful protesters and protectors. We ask for prayers and we ask for guided action from each and every one of you to help us stop this pipeline. Call the governor of North Dakota and tell him to call off his dogs, to acknowledge the valid rights and concerns of Standing Rock Sioux nation and other [Native American people].”