FORT RICE, N.D. – With help arriving from other states, authorities say they hope to use communication to come to a peaceful resolution after a frontline “no surrender” camp was established to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Morton County Commission Chairman Cody Schulz called on Standing Rock Tribe Chairman David Archambault II to condemn the illegal actions of the protesters, which led to 127 arrests over the weekend in an increasingly tense situation.
The U.S. Department of Justice said Monday, Oct. 24, said it is closely monitoring the situation and has offered technical assistance and community policing resources, said Wyn Hornbuckle, the department’s deputy director of public affairs.
The department reiterated its call for Dakota Access to voluntarily stop construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizes construction on Corps land, Hornbuckle said.
Law enforcement from South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Indiana and Nebraska are now providing additional manpower as protesters have established a roadblock and a new camp on private property east of HIghway 1806 that grew in size Monday.
“We have made 1806 our no-surrender line,” said Joye Braun, a protest organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
During a press conference Monday, Schulz called on Archambault to “show leadership and exert his authority” to encourage the protest camp to move to reservation land the tribal council designated last week.
Schulz said local and state officials recognize that the “dangerous actions and illegal activity” are not being perpetrated by tribal members. Schulz said the county is trying to respect the rights of the protesters, but also needs to protect the rights of local residents.
“It’s disrupting the lives and injuring the economic well-being of everyone that lives in the area,” Schulz said.
Archambault said in a statement the tribe does not condone reports of illegal actions, but tribal leaders believe the militarization of local law enforcement and the enlistment of multiple agencies is “needlessly escalating violence and unlawful arrests.”
He wrote a letter Monday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch seeking a Department of Justice investigation into potential civil rights violations by state and local government, citing the militarization of police, arrests of journalists and other First Amendment infringements, constant surveillance and police checkpoints.
“Too often these kinds of investigations take place only after some event regarding excessive force by the police has led to a well-publicized tragedy,” Archambault wrote. “I hope and pray that you will see the wisdom of acting now in an effort to prevent such a tragedy here.”
Authorities arrested 126 people Saturday on charges including reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, engaging in a riot, assault on a peace officer and resisting arrest, bringing the total number of arrests to 269 since Aug. 10.
“The acts over the weekend were intentionally planned in an effort to incite fear and were anything but peaceful,” said Capt. Bryan Niewind of the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
Officers used pepper spray to protect themselves and control protesters who were trespassing on private property, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department said, though protesters pointed to video they said showed the use of pepper spray was unwarranted.
Two officers suffered minor injuries while responding over the weekend and a third was spit on while trying to free a protester who was attached to a vehicle, Niewind said.
One person was arrested Sunday as protesters erected teepees and tents as a “frontline camp” directly in the path of the oil pipeline on the historic Cannonball Ranch, which Dakota Access LLC recently purchased from local rancher David Meyer.
About 15 teepees, several campers, more than 50 tents and several military tents have been set up at the frontline camp, which is across from where Dakota Access security guards armed with dogs and pepper spray clashed with protesters on Sept. 3.
A statement from groups involved in the protest explained that the self-described “water protectors” took back unceded territory affirmed in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty between the federal government and Plains tribes, including the Lakota and Dakota.
“We will be occupying this land and staying here until this pipeline is permanently stopped,” said Mekasi Camp-Horinek, a coordinator of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the main protest camp about two miles south of the frontline camp.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said, “Individuals trespassing on private property can’t claim eminent domain to justify their criminal actions.”
Dakota Access LLC said in a statement Tuesday the company encourages people who are trespassing to “vacate the land immediately.”
“Alternatively and in coordination with local law enforcement and county/state officials, all trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and removed from the land,” the company said in a statement.
When asked about the possibility of law enforcement coming in to remove people, Braun reiterated that they are unarmed and said they’re protecting burial sites that are “in imminent danger.”
“We’re not moving. That’s up to them to decide,” Braun said.
In the ditch along the highway, protesters were stacking large logs and laying them to form an entrance to the camp.
Frank Archambault, a cousin of the tribal chairman, said the timbers may be used to form some sort of blockade to keep Dakota Access construction from crossing the highway.
About 1 mile south of Fort Rice, law enforcement and the North Dakota National Guard set up a staging area and checkpoint, where they were restricting traffic Monday to local residents.
On Monday, protesters reestablished the roadblock put up Sunday on Highway 1806, north of the camp.
“Even though DAPL bought that from the Meyer family, to us it’s an illegal sale because it is unceded territory,” said Red Warrior Camp spokesman Cody Hall.
If needed, protesters can move the roadblock to allow first responders through, Hall said.
Highway 1806 will be closed “indefinitely” due to unsafe and illegal protest activities, Niewind said.
On Sunday, a helicopter pilot and a law enforcement officer on board to monitor the protest “were in fear for the lives” Sunday when a drone repeatedly buzzed the helicopter, coming within 30 to 50 feet of the helicopter, Niewind said.
Officers used less than lethal ammunition to shoot at the drone away from the direction of any people, Niewind said.
The shooting at the drone, plus the large law enforcement presence, made protesters fear for their lives, Braun said.
Braun said she is hopeful the federal government will step in and stop construction.
“If the federal government isn’t going to protect 18 million people’s lives, then we as water protectors and water defenders will do everything we can peacefully to protect people’s lives,” Braun said.
Hall said more people were continuing to arrive to support the protest.
“They’re all bypassing the big camp and going to the front line camp,” Hall said.
Around mid-afternoon, there was a call throughout the camp to move north to fortify the roadblock because they said there were law enforcement and military forces coming to surround them, which turned out to be a false alarm.
Kristina Young Bear, 48, Tama, Iowa, showed up Sunday night after tracking the situation on social media. She and her sister, Mary Young Bear, 56, were recruited for cooking duty at the new camp and were preparing bison, boiled potatoes, vegetables and fry bread over a wood fire on Monday.
“Just disgusting what the law’s trying to do, using their pepper spray,” said Kristina, a member of Meskwaki in Iowa.
Mary said she’d visited the Red Warrior Camp before on a previous trip and said she’s “just going where they ask me to go. The people that make these decisions, I assume they know what they’re doing. I’m just a visitor, I’m here for support.”
Among the 126 arrested Saturday was Sara Lafleur-Vetter, a journalist working on an independent documentary production who was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing and engaging in a riot.
Meanwhile, Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, said in a letter to the North Dakota attorney general’s office Monday that it purchased the ranch land in and around the pipeline route in southern Morton County last month “to enhance the safety of its workers” and “to better manage ingress and egress to the right of way.”
The company had to explain how its purchase of more than 7,000 acres -- including most of the Cannonball Ranch -- complied with the state’s anti-corporate farming law, which prohibits non-family corporations from owning farm and ranch land, with some exceptions, including for industrial purposes.
“After construction of the pipeline is complete, DAPL will transfer ownership of the property or use the property for some other use in compliance” with state law, Bismarck attorney Lawrence Bender wrote for the company.
Archambault said the militarization of local law enforcement and enlistment of multiple law enforcement agencies from neighboring states is “needlessly escalating violence and unlawful arrests against peaceful protesters at Standing Rock.
“We do not condone reports of illegal actions, but believe the majority of peaceful protesters are reacting to strong-arm tactics and abuses by law enforcement,” he said.
Protesters set up a roadblock on Highway 1806 at about 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, stringing barbed wire and positioning vehicles across the highway and fortifying it with hay bales, rocks, tree stumps, logs and vehicles, the sheriff’s department said. They later removed the roadblock after speaking with law enforcement officials who warned them about the liability they could face if something happened at the camp and emergency vehicles couldn’t get through.
Opponents of the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline also set up roadblocks on Highway 1806 south of the main camp and on County Road 134, an access road to the pipeline construction sites. They said the frontline camp is on the final 3 miles of the pipeline route before it connects with the drill pad that will take the pipeline under Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River. Construction was about 2 miles west of the frontline camp as of Sunday, they said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently withholding the lake crossing easement for Dakota Access. In a Sept. 9 statement with the DOJ and Department of Interior, the Corps said it needed to determine whether it should reconsider its previous decisions about the lake crossing under the National Environmental Policy Act or other laws.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said last week he doesn’t expect a decision on the easement until after the Nov. 8 election.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is suing the Corps over permits issued for the four-state pipeline, which would carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Tribal members fear the pipeline would leak and contaminate their water supply, and they say construction will desecrate sacred sites on their ancestral lands.