“Panel at press conference confirms that camp will continue, will do so cautiously in wake of Corps letter. Exercising first amendment”
(Image via Lakota Law Project)
Harold Frazier, Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has released a letter to Col John W Henderson, US army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) dated, 25th November 2016 responding to threats to close areas at Standing Rock Native American Reservation. For several months now Sioux and other tribes have protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline, North Dakota, US. The correspondence draws attentions to concerns over the safety of protesters and asks the Army Corps and America to “reconsider their decision.”
The letter was posted on Twitter by Ruth Hopkins, award winning Dakota/Lakota Sioux writer for Indian Country Today. She stated,
“Obama apologists can go.My people are being beaten & bloodied under his watch, just for protecting water & grave sites.”
Referring to the letter she added,
“The ACOE letter is so one-sided. The violent confrontations they speak of were all perpetrated by DAPL & police. They also ignore treaty law.”
Background to Standing Rock protests
In April 2016, members of the Sioux tribe at the Standing Rock began to set up spiritual camps on the banks of the Missouri River to protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline also known as the Bakken pipeline.
There is mass opposition to this $3.7bn project, a 1,172-mile-long (1,886 km) development intended to carry oil underground. Protesters oppose construction with the route planned to cross under the Missouri river just north of Standing Rock. Energy Transfer Partners are in charge of the venture and activists have highlighted the threat of spills which could contaminate water sources and decimate sacred burial sites. Kelcy Warren, the chief executive of the company told Associated Press last week that they would not consider a different route.
Over recent months, the NO DAPL, “water protectors” who oppose the project have gained huge support from 300 Tribal nations and from the public, environmental groups and human rights activists around the world. They have sought to educate the world on the potentially disastrous consequences of building the pipeline through their land and have chosen a road of civil disobedience locking themselves themselves to heavy machinery in order to halt construction,
American Horse told Common Dreams,
“I am here to protect the water for the children and all of the unborn, and to protect our ways of life….I came here to let them know that what they’re doing is wrong. This is nonviolent civil disobedience—and this is what it comes down to, and I’m here.”
There have also been allegations of heavy handedness from police strip searching women and spraying protesters with mace. The Guardian reported, “more than 1 million people have checked in on Facebook to the Standing Rock Indian reservation in response to a viral post claiming that doing so would help protect activists in North Dakota protesting against an oil pipeline from police surveillance.”
See following link,
Water cannons fired on protesters in freezing temperatures putting them at risk of hypothermia
The situation came to a head recently resulting in escalating clashes between police and protesters. According to Democracy Now, “the state of North Dakota has approved $10 million to police the ongoing protest” and detailed the extent to which authorities are going to quell activists stating,
“Riot police with military-grade equipment have attacked the Native American protectors with pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds, rubber bullets and sound cannons called LRADs—that’s a long-range acoustic device. Water protectors also report near-constant surveillance from police planes and helicopters. Over 400 people have been arrested during the ongoing protests, and many report being subjected to strip searches while in the Morton County jail in North Dakota.”
For more on this story read,
“Standing Rock Special: Dallas Goldtooth on Police Violence & Repression of Movement Against DAPL”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that initially dismissed environmental concerns of protesters later indicated there would be “additional discussion and analysis” regarding the Dakota Access pipeline. However reports emerged that they plan to close the area where the protest camps are situated to “protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area,” see New York Times article,
Frazier, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has written to Col Henderson saying that his letter “dangerously and profoundly misunderstands the basic function and status of a tribal government and its elected leaders.” He draws attention to the US constitution respecting the rights of protesters “to peacefully assemble in prayerful protest against the cultural and environmental atrocity that is the Dakota Access pipeline whilst defending the rights of Indigenous people.”
Frazier states, “perhaps the most terrifying aspect of your letter is your acknowledgement of the stark reality that the confrontation between our peaceful water protectors and law enforcement could result in death or serious injury, a fact demonstrated by the brutal attack on Sophia Wilansky by North Dakota police last week.” See full content of letter below,
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman’s response to ACOE’s plan to evict No DAPL camps
Ruth Hopkins also tweeted,
The Water Protector Legal Collective goes on record condemning the ACOE Oceti Sakowin camp eviction letter.
Water Protector Legal Collective/NLG formerly Red Owl Collective Press Release
For Immediate release:
The Water Protector Legal Collective, a National Lawyers Guild-initiated group of volunteer lawyers and legal workers dedicated to defending the rights of the Water Protectors, condemns the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ November 25, 2016, letter announcing that it would be closing the portion of Army Corps land currently occupied by the Oceti Sakowin Camp. This letter demonstrates either a stunning ignorance of the current state of affairs in North Dakota or an extreme disregard for the health and safety of the general public, or both.
The “violent confrontations” between “protestors” and law enforcement officers to which the Commander refers are only “confrontations” or “violent” insofar as Water Protectors peacefully assembled in prayer have been repeatedly assaulted by those public safety officials charged with their protection. The events over the past weeks have not been clashes. They have been the unlawful use of excessive force and arrests without probable cause in a vain attempt by local law enforcement to quell Native resistance to the pipeline. As hours of live-streamed videos have shown, the violence over the past months has been perpetrated by law enforcement and DAPL security against unarmed Water Protectors in blatant violation of their constitutional rights and treaty rights. It is even more shameful that the location of all this law enforcement violence, and the area claimed in the Corps’ letter, is land that was recognized as Lakota territory in the 1851 and 1868 Treaties of Fort Laramie.
In support of his decision, the District Commander cites the need for adequate access to “necessary emergency, medical, and fire response services” as well as “sustainable facilities to protect people from these conditions on this property.” Access to emergency, medical, and fire response services has been limited from the time that these camps were founded, as Morton County has made it clear that it only serves its non-indigenous population through its repeated refusal to provide requested or necessary services to Water Protectors. And Morton County has entirely cut off the camps from any emergency services for the past month through its blockade of Highway 1806 at the Back Water Bridge.
In fact, the State’s commitment to depriving the camps of emergency services is so absolute that it committed numerous civil rights and human rights violations to prevent Water Protectors from opening Highway 1806 to traffic once again—including maiming one young Water Protector with an explosive teargas blast grenade; shooting dozens of others with so-called “less lethal” munitions (potentially lethal when misused as they were here); and soaking hundreds of peaceful Water Protectors with water in sub-zero conditions, subjecting them to hypothermia or worse.
Moving Oceti Sakowin roughly 100 yards south, across the Cannonball River, will hardly improve access to Morton County’s emergency response services. Nor will such a minimal relocation do anything to mitigate Morton County’s escalating violence. At most, the District Commander’s proposed action will marginally shift the location of peaceful prayers from the Back Water Bridge to the Cannonball Bridge—and therefore nominally move the location of Morton County’s unconscionable treatment of its indigenous citizens. As Morton County’s aggressive responses to peaceful demonstrators throughout its boundaries demonstrate, it is not the location of Water Protector’s prayers that controls the egregiousness of Morton County’s response.
Most puzzlingly, the Commander’s letter expresses concern over ensuring that the residents of Oceti Sakowin have “sufficient facilities” to weather North Dakota’s harsh winters. Water protectors at Oceti Sakowin have worked for months to adequately prepare for the winter, investing substantial time and expense in the ambitious feat of winterizing the camp. Forcing the many people camped at Oceti Sakowin to move and re-winterize at short notice—in December no less—will jeopardize the safety of thousands of Water Protectors who would be otherwise prepared for the challenging conditions ahead.
The District Commander is absolutely correct in one crucial respect: something must be done to halt the ongoing human rights abuses at Standing Rock. But the District Commander’s proposed action—to invite additional police involvement against the Water Protectors—is not it. If the District Commander is truly concerned about the safety of the Water Protectors, he will ensure that the Dakota Access Pipeline is not constructed. So long as the Dakota Access Pipeline is being constructed, Water Protectors will continue to pray and demonstrate and otherwise participate in protected First Amendment activity. And, as Morton County has made clear, so long as Water Protectors pray and demonstrate, it will continue to perpetrate violence on this community. Finally, if the Dakota Access Pipeline is completed, the health and safety of all residents of this area—including North Dakota’s non-indigenous population—will be put at risk.
We trust that the Army Corps will reevaluate this decision and act in a manner that truly protects the public interest in North Dakota by upholding the First Amendment right to pray, assemble, and protest that is at the heart of democracy, and by making a final decision to not allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River. Regardless of the Army Corps’ decision, the WPLC will continue to take all appropriate legal action to defend the Water Protectors’ civil and human rights.
Brandy Toelupe, President, on behalf of Water Protector Legal Collective
“Standing Rock protest: hundreds clash with police over Dakota Access Pipeline”
“Dakota Access oil pipeline developer won’t consider reroute”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.