The developments near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation have received scant coverage in the corporate news media since they began early last April. They were not spoken of at all by the two leading Presidential contenders throughout the race. This story now looks as if it’s about to jump into the forefront of the upcoming news cycles, as it’s getting more and more interesting by the hour.
There’s a growing movement of unarmed US military veterans who’ve been arriving in North Dakota, to peacefully support the “Water Protectors”. The latter are members of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, who set up camp in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), in protest of its construction. The $3.8 billion pipeline would cross the Missouri River, just upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The tribe says that the pipeline would interrupt sacred lands and could contaminate their only source of drinking water, if it ruptures.
The protesters have faced an excessive militarized police response, including:
- sound cannons
- sniper guns pointed at unarmed civilians
- journalists being shot with rubber bullets or arrested for covering the protests
- attack dogs unleashed on groups- including children
- elder Natives getting tased and violently arrested
- protesters marked with numbers and kept in dog kennels after arrest
The military veterans already there will soon be joined on December 4th by an organized contingent called Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, which includes high-profile progressive activists who have served in the military, including US Congressman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Baltimore police officer-turned police brutality whistleblower Michael A. Wood, Jr.
Two out-of-state police departments that have been helping to enforce the the agenda of of DAPL-Energy Transfer Partners are now refusing to continue participating in the crackdown, citing personal and public objections. Two officers have turned in their badges, in support of the protestors.
Police departments from the neighboring states of Minnesota and Wisconsin have been helping local law enforcement over the past months but now Minnesota’s Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department is calling police activities at Standing Rock “inappropriate”.
Sheriffs from Wisconsin’s Dane County have pulled out their forces and they’re refusing to return. According to the Bismarck Tribune, Sheriff Dave Mahoney made the decision after a “wide cross-section of the community” decried the deployment. Sources report Dane County wasn’t involved in recent arrests, including that of an alderwoman from Madison, Wisconsin.
Pro-pipeline critics are questioning why these out-of-state police departments were ever called in, to begin with and not North Dakota’s National Guard.
The military veterans already there and on their way see what’s happening as a Constitutional threat and they take their oath seriously, “to protect the American people from all enemies, foreign and domestic”. Clearly, the veterans see DAPL-Energy Transfer Partners as a “domestic enemy”.
Moreover, the threat to the water supply doesn’t only affect the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation but also millions of other people downstream. Last April, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed an injunction against the US Army Corps of Engineers to stop building the pipeline. That same month, three federal agencies; US Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Interior, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation gave orders to halt the construction of the pipeline until further environmental assessments were made.
In addition to the presence of many civilian supporters from all over the country, the protests have also drawn indigenous people from throughout North America, in the largest gathering of Native Tribes in the past 100 years. By late September, there were reports that over 300 federally recognized Native American tribes. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 pipeline resistance supporters were residing in the camp, with several thousands more who stay over the weekends.
The area was the scene of many historic clashes between indigenous Americans and the US Government, including the Battle of Little Bighorn, aka Custer’s Last Stand, where by all accounts, Custer’s forces were annihilated in less than hour by the Lakota, Sioux and Cheyenne forces, which outnumbered Custer’s by five times. Nevertheless, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the US Government repeatedly broke its treaties with the Lakotas and gradually encroached on tribal lands, which previously encompassed the Black Hills, considered sacred by the Lakota Sioux tribes.
The unprecedented twist today is that the Lakota Sioux are finally getting outside support like they’ve never received throughout their tortured history, since the onset of European colonialism. The support is coming from regional politicians, like North Dakota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith and Madison, Wisconsin Alderwoman, Rebecca Kemble; from international journalists, like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! (who, like Kemble was arrested); from the federal agencies and the regional law enforcement departments mentioned previously; from this growing rank of US military Veterans, as well as from civilians from all over North America. All are facing off together against a corporate enemy.
On September 3, 2016, in violation of the federal government agencies’ orders, DAPL-Energy Transfer Partners resumed construction of the pipeline, while also hiring a private security firm. Bulldozers excavated an area which contained possible Native graves and burial artifacts.
When unarmed protesters moved near the bulldozers last week, the private security guards, in conjunction with local law enforcement attacked the protestors with cannisters of pepper spray, rubber bullets, attack dogs and water cannons laced with pepper spray in below-freezing weather. At least 300 protesters were injured.
In a report from NPR, “…police threw a concussion grenade that hit 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky and caused her injury. Wilansky’s father told The Associated Press that there were multiple witnesses — “and my daughter, who was completely conscious, said they threw a grenade right at her.” Sophia is looking at over a dozen surgeries to hopefully save her shattered arm and hand.
It appears that Energy Transfer Partners is ready to pay any government fines and to defend against any personal injury lawsuits that arise from their brutal actions.
Wes Clark Jr., the event organizer for Veterans Stand for Standing Rock has instructed ex-military volunteers to “Bring Body armor, gas masks, earplugs AND shooting mufflers (we may be facing a sound cannon) but no drugs, alcohol or weapons.” Their GoFundMe page to “provide material and logistical support to all the veterans wanting to join the Standing Rock protest from around the country” was half-way to their goal of $100,000 in just 11 days.
This unlikely brew of indigenous Water Protectors, military veterans, activist politicians, journalists and concerned citizens appears to be coming together to shape an enormously transformative moment in US history. It feels as if maybe the prayers of the Lakota Sioux are finally being answered and that an element of humanity and respect, seldom seen in the Native American experience may now be attained.