Ever since the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline began in the spring, the Native Americans occupying the land, along with non-indigenous people from around the world, have protested the destruction of sacred native land and the contamination of their water supply from the Missouri river. These strictly peaceful and nonviolent protests, initially started by the Standing Rock tribe and their creation of the spiritual Sacred Stone camp, have been met with extreme, often inhumane police force, including tear gassing, rubber bullets, being sprayed with water, untrained attack dogs, and more. The Native American people, who have already dealt with a long and dark history of being massacred and having their land stripped from them, are now at risk of having a sacred area and a crucial water supply taken right out from under them.
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), an Energy Transfer Partners project, is meant to carry crude oil from the Bakken oil field of North Dakota to a refinery in Patoka, Illinois. One of the main problems that tribal leaders have had is that they believe the decision to create the pipeline was made without consulting the tribal government, and that a full assessment of the effects of the pipeline was not carried out.
The protestors, or water protectors, urging the construction of the DAPL to end, are located in the Standing Rock camps, which are all within one hour of Bismarck, North Dakota. People have gathered from all corners of the world, including people of the last native tribes in England, to stand with Standing Rock. The protesters have emphasized their desire to remain peaceful, carrying out prayer circles and creating camps throughout Bismarck. However, the response to the protests have been not nearly as kind.
The Morton County Police Department, as well as other law enforcement agencies in the area, have created a highly militarized force against protesters and their attempt to halt construction. Although protesters have not been violent whatsoever, they have been met with excessive, and in some cases, questionably inhumane acts of force in an attempt to dislodge the protesters and their efforts to keep their sacred land and clean water.
Police claim to be using “non-lethal weapons” to control the protesters. Law enforcement brought in a water cannon and sprayed protesters on the Backwater Bridge during periods of below-freezing temperatures. Others were hit with rubber bullets and tear gas. On Sept. 3, police used attack dogs and pepper spray against protesters, leaving many injured. One particularly intense use of force came from a man driving through a prayer ceremony close to the entrance to a construction site, who pulled out a handgun and fired shots into the air, and ran over protester Vana Dee Worthy’s feet and slashed open her hand, requiring her to receive stitches.
According to police, many protesters—over 100—have been arrested on a number of charges, including conspiracy to endanger by fire or explosion and engaging in a public riot. An arrest that has managed to hit the news was the arrest of prominent actress, Shailene Woodley, who was arrested on Oct. 10 on Indigenous People’s Day. She has been very outspoken about the pipeline and has condemned people for only talking about it because her face graced the news. She has brought to attention the important problem which is America’s ignorance of reality. While people across the nation eagerly take pieces of Native American culture and use them to decorate their body at music festivals, use them as Halloween costumes, wear them down fashion runways, and bring them into their homes and lives, they are ignorant of the atrocities laced in Native American history, and, unfortunately, the present as well. The fight to keep sacred native land and culture alive, the culture that so many seem to love without knowing its roots, has never stopped. These people will never cease in their battle against the stripping of their native roots and destruction of vital resources, resources that all humans need, Native American or not.
UPDATE: On Dec. 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted the construction of the pipeline under President Obama’s administration. This is a huge victory, however protesters have remained on the scene because this ceasing of the pipeline can easily be changed under President-elect Trump’s new administration as he makes his way into office. Trump has direct links to and holds stock in Energy Transfer Partners, the builders of the pipeline, so it is easy to believe that he will not be in favor of the stoppage of the pipeline project. For many, especially the native people at Standing Rock, this isn’t the end of the fight. Although this is good news for now, the future remains greatly uncertain.