By Jack Burns
Authorities in North Dakota may be feeling the heat from the international attention the Dakota Access Pipeline is getting. They’re now saying they lack the manpower to remove the encampment of protesters located on federal land near the controversial pipeline. The announcement may signal a softening of the treatment the protesters, up until now, have been receiving.
For months now, The Free Thought Project’s spotlight has been shining on the, some might say, dark and dirty deeds of law enforcement and their treatment of largely Native American peaceful protesters. Attack dogs were unleashed on the protesters in September, injuring six, and an additional 30 protesters, including children, were sprayed with pepper spray. In all, more than 260 people have reportedly been arrested since the protests began in Morton County — over 100 this weekend alone.
The sheriff’s office’s announcement comes just two days after The Free Thought Project encouraged readers to contact Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier’s office demanding him to allow for peaceful protest, even providing a link to a petition for his removal. Spokeswoman Donnell Preskey told The Associated Press the department doesn’t “have the manpower” to remove the more than 100 protesters from the property. “We can’t right now,” she said.
Preskey said the land belongs to a Texas-based firm, Energy Transfer Partners, and was purchased from a local rancher for an undisclosed price. According to the AP, the Native Americans claim the land is theirs by way of an, “1851 treaty and they won’t leave until the pipeline is stopped.” “We never ceded this land,” said protester Joye Braun.
“The $3.8 billion pipeline, most of which has been completed, crosses through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. Opponents worry about potential effects on drinking water on the Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation and farther downstream on the Missouri River, as well as destruction of cultural artifacts,” writes the AP.
The disputed ranch is more than 100 years old and was the first one to be inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. According to the AP, “It is within a half-mile of a larger encampment on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ land where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and hundreds of others have gathered in protest. Protesters do not have a federal permit to be on the Corps’ land, but the agency said it wouldn’t evict them due to free speech reasons. Authorities have criticized that decision, saying the site has been a launching point for protests at construction sites in the area.”
While the announcement by the Morton County Sheriff’s office may signal a change in tone and the potential for more relaxed police tactics, it remains to be seen. Late Monday, Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault II issued the following statement, calling on the Obama Administration’s U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the militant treatment of its peaceful protesters, and asked for an injunction to the pipeline’s construction. Archambault wrote:
The militarization of local law enforcement and enlistment of multiple law enforcements agencies from neighboring states is needlessly escalating violence and unlawful arrests against peaceful protestors at Standing Rock. We do not condone reports of illegal actions, but believe the majority of peaceful protestors are reacting to strong-arm tactics and abuses by law enforcement.
Thousands of water protectors have joined the Tribe in solidarity against DAPL, without incident or serious injury. Yet, North Dakota law enforcement have proceeded with a disproportionate response to their nonviolent exercise of their First Amendment rights, even going as far as labeling them rioters and calling their every action illegal.
We are disappointed to see that our state and congressional delegations and Gov. Jack Dalrymple have failed to ensure the safety and rights of the citizens engaged in peaceful protests who were arrested on Saturday. Their lack of leadership and commitment to creating a dialogue towards a peaceful solution reflects not only the unjust historical narrative against Native Americans, but a dangerous trend in law enforcement tactics across America.
For these reasons, we believe the situation at Standing Rock deserves the immediate and full attention of the U.S. Department of Justice. Furthermore, the DOJ should impose an injunction to all developments at the pipeline site to keep ALL citizens – law enforcement and protestors – safe. The DOJ should be enlisted and expected to investigate the overwhelming reports and videos demonstrating clear strong-arm tactics, abuses and unlawful arrests by law enforcement.
The chairman’s request seems to validate many of the reports coming from the field, that peaceful protesters are being labeled as rioters and are not being treated with the dignity they feel they deserve. As The Free Thought Project reported two days ago, many of the protesters are being thrown to the ground, squashed underfoot, strip-searched, and forced to remove sacred hair braids — all considered “strong-arm tactics, abuses, and unlawful,” by Archambault.