In an unprecedented move thousands of activists from some 200 Native American nations are assembling in an isolated region of North Dakota, a mid-western state on the US-Canada border, to protest the construction of a huge new oil pipeline through the area. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a $3.8 billion project, is expected to carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Dakotas to Illinois and then onward by train to the energy-hungry cities of the eastern United States. Lobbyists on behalf of DAPL have suggested that the 1824 kilometre construction poses no serious environmental threat but the indigenous American communities of North Dakota have argued otherwise. They point out that the pipeline passes over the Missouri River a kilometre upstream from a “reservation” belonging to the Standing Rock Tribe. A leak there could threaten the area’s water supply. Moreover it crosses tribal lands that contain relics that have already been disturbed or damaged through ongoing work on the pipeline. On July the 27th the Standing Rock Tribe lodged a case against the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for the federal lands DAPL will cross. The suit alleges violations of the Clean Water Act, Rivers and Harbours Act, National Historic Preservation Act and inadequate consultation with local communities.
The last few days has witnessed dramatic video and still images of protesting Native Americans and others being assaulted by private security contractors working on behalf of the construction companies, some using attack-dogs. In other clashes the guards doused men, women and children with pepper spray and tear gas. Local police have called on reinforcements from neighbouring counties and a small army of private and public security agencies have moved into the vicinity of the main protest encampment, the self-styled Sacred Stone Camp. As Indian Country Today recounts the recent violence began with a peaceful march:
“On the afternoon of September 3, a procession of prayerful water defenders, consisting of men, women, and children, walked on foot up to the original protest site where the first demonstrations took place in early August.
Unbeknown to them, Dakota Access construction workers were fast at work, approximately a mile up the road, bulldozing the earth, destroying graves and sacred sites, while creating a path for pipe to be laid.
Marcus Frejo, Pawnee and Seminole, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was also among the first water defenders to arrive on the scene of construction.
“We made it to the top of the hill and saw several bulldozers and trucks, and we walked up to the fence,” Frejo told ICTMN. “There’s sacred sites up there, so one woman stepped through the fence, just feet in, telling them with her son at her side that this is sacred land. She yelled at them to stop.”
Construction workers jumped into their trucks, and Frejo says they started to use the vehicles like weapons, going through the crowd erratically and coming very close to hitting some.
“Within minutes, a lot more trucks showed up,” Yellow Bird said. “And then the dogs came.”
Approximately eight dog handlers, hired by Dakota Access, led the barking and snarling dogs right up to the front line.
“The women joined arms, and we started saying ‘Water is life!’ A dog came up and bit my leg, and right after that a man came up to us and maced the whole front line,” Young Bear said.
Young Bear and at least five others suffered injuries from dog bites, and approximately 30 others suffered temporary blindness after receiving a chemical spray to the face and eyes. A horse owned by a Native American water defender also suffered bite wounds from the dogs.
“They let one dog off his leash and ran loose into the crowd,” Frejo said. “That’s when people started protecting themselves against the dog. The guy that let his dog go came into the crowd to retrieve him and started swinging on everybody. He hit some young boys, and they defended themselves.”
Demonstrators said that one female dog handler, in particular, was lunging toward the crowd aggressively with her dog, going beyond the front line.”
Unsurprisingly a range of white nationalist and far right groups in the United States have come out in support of this attack on native sovereignty rights in the country. The propaganda organ of Donald J. Trump, Breitbart News, is chief among those misrepresenting events in North Dakota to satisfy the racist inclinations of it readership as, in its words, “Militant Native American Protesters Attack Pipeline Crew”.
The image below, from the recent assaults, will bring to mind for many people, other more infamous images of American power at work and tells a truer story of what has been happening in the border region than has been reported in the corporate media of the US.