As protests over the in-progress Dakota Access Pipeline continue to grow near Standing Rock, North Dakota, demonstrators seek new ways to carry on a peaceful resistance in the face of brutal police force. Late on Sunday afternoon, self-proclaimed ‘water protectors’ attempted to remove the burned out cars police had previously used to barricade the bridge on Highway 1806, partly in an effort to gain visibility along the roadway. Morton County Sheriff’s Department, still supported by supplemental National Guard soldiers from other states, responded by firing rubber bullets into the crowd at close range, exploding tear gas bombs and concussion grenades, and shooting water cannons at the demonstrators despite the sub-freezing night air. The result was a chaotic scene where dozens of wounded protesters were left to ward off hypothermia after being soaked with icy water in 25F weather.
Mainstream media outlets are still failing to cover the event adequately (although some are sort of trying) and it appears there are no reporters from those outlets at the resistance camp at this time. Consequently, most of the information about the events at Standing Rock come from sources inside the resistance camp, which include live video feeds (here and here), drone footage of the scene as well as photos and firsthand accounts from the site. Over the course of the resistance, protesters have worked tirelessly to express their objections peacefully and keep violence to a minimum, even when faced with a heavily armed security contractor who attempted to infiltrate the camp earlier this month.
Dallas Goldtooth has become one of the most vocal sources on the action, filling his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds with updates on the demonstration, including the brutal attacks by police on the peaceful resistance camp. Last night, Goldtooth reported some 200 protesters were injured after last night’s attack by police, while hundreds more were left cold and wet. Medics in camp responded quickly to warm victims and treat wounds sustained after people were hit by tear gas canisters and rubber bullets, often in the face and head. The Sheriff’s Department reported that only one person was arrested. A legal representative from the Indigenous Environmental Network reported in a phone interview with Goldtooth that the police attack targeted the medic team at the front lines and shot so many chemicals into the crowd that many demonstrators lost bladder and bowel control, and one person sustained a heart attack and was successfully resuscitated by camp medics using CPR.
In its official statement, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department blames demonstrators for starting fires and claims the water cannons were being used to extinguish the flames. The video footage of the scene debunks that claim, as it shows the water cannons aimed squarely at the crowd of protesters. In a live video stream captured by eyewitness Kevin Gilbertt, a police projectile can be seen being shot into the crowd at one point (1:11:20) which sparks a fire on the ground. Demonstrators stamp out the fire while the police continue spraying people with water cannons in temperatures below freezing.
Despite continued concerns about human rights violations and militarized police presence, the ongoing protest movement may be gaining some ground in the matter. The pipeline is backed in part by bank funding, and Norway’s largest bank has withdrawn its assets from the project. According to a press release from Greenpeace on Friday, public pressure and a 120,000-signature petition convinced DMB to sell its assets and the bank is also considering canceling an additional loan for the project, which accounts for 10 percent of the total budget.
Meanwhile, the developer still refuses to budge, saying the pipeline will not be rerouted away from Standing Rock. This is curious news, given the much smaller public backlash that forced the developer to alter the pipeline’s original route, which would have endangered the water supply of the predominantly white town of Bismarck, ND. With indigenous people now citing the same concerns, many supporters of the movement are calling out the ongoing struggle as an example of ‘environmental racism’ made even worse by the relative lack of mainstream media coverage.