Police and company armed guards have launched new attacks on peaceful protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
On October 27, police unleashed a wave of brutality on Native American “water protectors” seeking to block pipeline construction. About 300 highly militarised police with armoured vehicles and riot gear, joined by 80 North Dakota National Guards and 150 DAPL employees, attacked with pepper spray, Tasers, sound cannons, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets.
More than 40 protesters were injured and suffered welts and broken bones, most likely from bean bags. These are classified as “non-lethal” weapons, but are bags filled with pebble-like particles shot from guns that are known to inflict such injuries, and can potentially kill.
About 141 were arrested and charged with a list of alleged crimes, from inciting to riot to trespassing on private property. One water protector, Red Fawn Fallis, was charged with attempted murder for firing three shots at the police — a complete fabrication that even the racist local sheriff says didn’t happen.
What the police were up to was demonstrated by another incident that day, when a man with an assault rifle tried to infiltrate the protest. He was chased down by water protectors, and finally arrested by Bureau of Indian Affairs police. Documents he had on him and in his truck show that he was a DAPL employee.
Protesters said it was likely he was trying to enter the protests to fire shots, giving the police the pretext to escalate their attack.
Tara Houska, the national campaigns director for the Native group Honor the Earth, told Democracy Now!: “There were police walking around everywhere with assault rifles. Directly across from us there was a policeman with his rifle trained on us … There were police officers filming, laughing as human beings were being attacked. It was a nightmarish scene.”
In jail, the prisoners were subjected to further humiliation, including having numbers written on their arms, recalling the tattoos the Nazis put on their concentration camp inmates. Then they were strip-searched.
Ironically, on the same day, seven right-wing protesters who participated in a 41-day armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge were acquitted of firearms charges and conspiracy to impede federal workers. They took over the wildlife refuge to demand that it be disbanded and that the federal lands it was on be turned over to them for their commercial use.
Non-violent Native Americans protecting their native lands and water are attacked while armed right-wingers that stage an armed assault on government land are set free.
The “trespassing” charges stem from the ownership claims by the pipeline company to lands that were originally stolen from the Sioux. These lands near their reservation are held sacred by the Sioux, and include Native burial grounds, some of which have already been bulldozed.
The background for the attack on the protesters stemmed from a court overturning an earlier court decision blocking DAPL from construction 20 miles on each side of the Missouri River where an underground portion of the pipeline is scheduled to be constructed.
This first ruling came after the White House, seeking to diffuse the protests, ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers, which had originally approved the pipeline and its under-river portion, would review that decision. The administration also asked the company not to continue construction 20 miles on either side while that review was underway.
One court made that suggestion into law, but then another court overruled it. Rejecting Obama’s suggestion, the company started in on that land. That was where the protest occurred.
A few days after the October 27 attack, Obama said the review by the Army Corps of Engineers would include a possible rerouting of the pipeline. In addition, he promised that the concerns of Native Americans would be part of the review, and they would be consulted.
Rerouting the pipeline is dubious, to put it mildly. The pipeline would have to go under the river someplace.
It has already been rerouted once, from near Bismarck, North Dakota, the state capital, to its present projected route. Bismarck sits on the banks of the Missouri. The 92% white city objected. Their reason was that their water supply, which comes from the river, would be polluted by any oil spill.
So a new route was found. The solution was to let it go under the river next to a Native American reservation instead. That the river is the source of the reservation’s water supply was ignored.
But they did not count on the huge response as about 200 tribes from the US and Canada rose up to oppose it.
A few days after Obama’s statement, another demonstration was held. Police used pepper spray and tear gas against the non-violent protesters. At least two Native American water protectors were shot by “non-lethal” projectiles.
The US Army Corps of Engineers ordered the police to arrest the protesters and to destroy a bridge that they had constructed over a creek to protect a sacred burial ground being destroyed by pipeline construction.
And the Army Corps of Engineers are to be trusted with reviewing the pipeline?
Meanwhile, the Standing Rock encampment continues to gain much support. First of all, from the North American tribes.
Long-standing animosities between the Sioux and other Native Americans and Canadian First Nations have been overcome, A new solidarity has emerged, which bodes well for this and future struggles.
Many other groups have stood with Standing Rock, from Black Lives Matter, the major environmental groups, to Palestinian youth and many more — and the list keeps growing.
But conspicuously on the other side, opposing the protests and supporting the pipeline have been the misleaders of the major trade union federation, the AFL-CIO. They have taken direction from the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and Big Oil.
The NABTU president said of those who oppose the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, “There is no way to satisfy them … no way for them to recognize that if we don’t want to lose our place in the world as the economic superpower, then we have to have this infrastructure.”
Countering the AFL-CIO tops are a growing number of unions opposing the DAPL, although still a minority. Among them are the Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Service Employees International Union and the United Electrical Workers.
In addition, union locals have joined in. There are planned protests in solidarity with Standing Rock being organised by rank and file workers.
The AFL-CIO tops are leading the unions in exactly the wrong direction. If unions don’t stop thinking of their narrow and parochial interests and dues base, and join in with all who struggle against every form of oppression and exploitation engendered by capitalism, they are doomed.
Donald Trump, elected president on November 8, has never heard of a fossil fuel he does not want to see burned. His opponent, Hillary Clinton was silent. Only Jill Stein of the Green Party supported Standing Rock, not only verbally but by going to the protest and joining in.