'All-out war' amid mass arrests as Dakota pipeline struggle escalates

October 29, 2016
Water protectors and police in a stand off at Cannonball in North Dakota.
Water protectors and police in a stand off at Cannonball in North Dakota.

Police arrested 141 people at Cannonball in North Dakota on October 27, moving in with pepper spray and armoured tanks on Native American water protectors and other activists who for months have waged resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Common Dreams said the next day.

Democracy Now! said that the police contingent included snipers.Tara Houska, an Ojibwe attorney and director of the rights group Honor the Earth, told Democracy Now! on Friday that the raid was an act of "all-out war...waged on Indigenous protectors."

Houska, who was reportedly shot in the face with a beanbag round during the onslaught, also said in a separate statement released on October 28 by a coalition of indigenous: "Yesterday was a shameful moment in American history. Law enforcement is supposed to serve and protect the people, not corporate interests. Police enacted violence on people who were armed only with prayer." 

The raid of the Cannon Ball site came amid months of Indigenous-led resistance to the US$3.8 billion pipeline, which opponents say violates Native Americans' treaty rights and threatens their access to safe water.

The militarised response also signals that recent escalation of police tactics, which reportedly include brutality and excessive criminal charges against protesters and journalists, may continue. Altogether, police have made about 260 arrests since the demonstrations began to pick up momentum and media coverage in August.

Rose Stiffarm, a Native American cinematographer, told The Guardian that the response on October 27 was unnecessarily harsh. "The government is attacking us for protesting, for protecting the water," she said Friday. "We are innocent people — women, children, and elders."

Video: "A Shameful Moment for This Country": Report Back on Militarized Police Raid of DAPL Resistance Camp - Democracy Now!

Below, Sara Rougeau looks at the resistance to the pipeline in a piece, abridged from Socialist Worker.

* * *

In recent months, Native Americans and non-Natives have joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at the Sacred Stone camp in North Dakota to oppose the pipeline, which will run through treaty-protected lands and sacred sites, and threatens to pollute the water source.

A temporary injunction announced after protesters were attacked by company goons in September was lifted on October 9 after a federal appeal, opening the way for Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation behind the pipeline project, to resume construction. The company and local law enforcement have since shown how determined they are to keep opponents of the pipeline out of their way — with mass arrests.

Morton County law enforcement and state officials have repeatedly targeted peaceful protesters by relying on false accusations about violent protesters using force, assaulting police, criminal trespass and instigating riots.

The charge of criminal trespass comes as a particularly absurd blow, as protectors have stated time and time again, the land is all protected treaty land under tribal jurisdiction, regardless of what the oil company wants to claim it. And police have repeatedly shown that they are the ones committing the crime.

The Standing Rock Sioux are claiming eminent domain granted them under the Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868. These treaties guaranteed the Lakota Nation “absolute and undisturbed use of the Great Sioux Reservation” land from the convergence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, down into the western plains of South Dakota, and into Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana.

Shortly after the 1868 treaty, the US government went back on its agreement and opened up land for settlements and resource extraction. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills, a sacred site for the Lakota and Cheyenne, accelerated this process.

Decades of battles and displacement forced Nations into strained competition for land and resources.

The Laramie Treaties have been cited before in defence of Native Americans. After the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement, the treaties were central to the defence of AIM activists Dennis Banks and Russell Means. They were used in the 1974 trial to call into question the legitimacy of US jurisdiction on treaty land and to demand the case be left to tribal courts.

The defence was also able to use the treaties to draw on the US government's long history of abuse against Native Americans, and put forward, as Means and Banks argued: “It’s really the United States that's on trial, not us.”

After the more than eight-month-long trial, US District Court Judge Fred Nichol dismissed all charges, citing federal and prosecutorial misconduct.

The potential to use the Laramie Treaties as an impasse to the legal prosecution at Standing Rock has immense implications for drawing out the demand of Indigenous Sovereignty and the United States’ long trail of broken treaties.

The recent events at Standing Rock have laid bare the depths to which the state of North Dakota and the Dakota Access Pipeline is willing to go to fast-track a dangerous and unwanted oil pipeline through vital waterways and treaty land. About 380 sacred sites have already been destroyed by construction and several more are in the direct line of the pipeline.

In recent days, a gas pipeline owned by Sunoco, a subsidiary company that funds Dakota Access, burst after heavy rainfall. It spilled 55,000 gallons of gasoline into an endangered Pennsylvanian creek.

This year alone, there have been more than 200 pipeline leaks causing irreparable damage to vital water sources and land for millions of people across the country. On October 24, 99 people were arrested in Ottawa, Canada, as they protested the Kinder Morgan Pipeline.

Cameron Fenton of Climate 101 said the Kinder Morgan pipeline “would have the same climate impact as adding 32 million cars on Canada's roads, and at a time when we desperately need action on climate change”.

As we come up to November, Native American Heritage Month, the proponents of capital and oil have armed themselves with an unhinged military police force willing to leave in its wake a slew of human rights violations and overflowing jails in an unfinished centuries-long assault against Native American people for a profit.

The fight for treaty rights is an opportunity to challenge the state on legal grounds, and advance the demand for Indigenous sovereignty. As the world exceeds the CO2 threshold, the growing movement for climate justice offers a chance to fight for solidarity on a global scale.

These struggles come together in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and activists must take them both head on.

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