By: Savin Mattozzi ~Staff Writer~
CANNON BALL, N.D. – A drone buzzes over the heads of water protectors at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in Southern North Dakota. People stop what they are doing and look up at the sky. “Is that one of ours?” a man asks. “Yeah, I think so. It looks like it’s going to the media tent,” another man says. Their assumptions were confirmed when the drone descended by the area of the media tent, an activist controlled multimedia center.
Since April, Native Americans from across the Americas and other activists from across the country and world have descended on North Dakota to protest a pipeline that crosses into the federally protected land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics, the parent companies of Dakota Access, insist that they are taking the proper legal and environmental avenues to construct the pipeline. Activists contend that Dakota Access is using excessive and illegal means to build the pipeline through land that is protected under an 1868 treaty between the surrounding tribes and the United States government.
Cempoalli, a freelance artist from Los Angeles, has been at the camp for about a month. He has a soft, direct voice. His tattoos peak out from underneath his red scarf. “They just want to suck the life out of everything. Maximizing profit. That’s what they do… it’s a sickness.”
Although he is frustrated, his voice remains calm. “We don’t want to be living here. I have a family, I have an album to finish. That’s my life. But I had to come here, these are my people.”
Cempoalli, like many of the activists at the camp, has witnessed violence by Dakota Access (DAPL) as it is referred to locally. “The one that has touched me the most, mostly the desecration of a burial site. Burial sites to our people are sacred sites, sacred sites. That was one of those things that touched me mostly [sic] because… that’s just saying to the people ‘we don’t care about you.” Even though we know they never really cared about us, ever since they arrived here.”
The Natural History Museum, a member of the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Science and Technology Centers, authored a letter to President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice, Department of the Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers to condemn the Sept. 3 incident where DAPL bulldozed land that contained Native American burial grounds, grave markers and artifacts such as “ancient cairns and stone prayer rings.”
The letter was signed by more than 1,500 heads of museums, anthropologists and academics from various countries and institutions across the world including Belgium, Singapore, Canada, Cyprus, Argentina, Italy, Norway and Brazil and was also signed by members of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and the World Bank.
In a statement released more than a week after the Sept. 3 incident, Energy Transfer Partners Chairman and CEO Kelcy Warren stated that “multiple archeological studies conducted with state historic preservation offices found no sacred items along the route… If any potentially sacred objects were to be found, archaeologists, environmental inspectors or trained construction staff are on site throughout construction to ensure their proper care and that proper notifications are made.”
Warren insisted that “concerns about the pipeline’s impact on the local water supply are unfounded. Multiple pipelines, railways, and highways cross the Missouri River today, carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil.” He stressed that Dakota Access pipelines are designed to exceed “all safety and environmental regulations.”
Despite this statement, Sunoco Logistics, the other parent company of the DAPL, spills crude oil more frequently than any of its competitors and has had more than 200 leaks since 2010, according to a Sept. 23 article by Reuters. The most recent spill occurred on its newly constructed Permian Express II in Texas that leaked 800 barrels of oil in September.
Sunoco could face a $1.3 million fine from regulators for poor welding on that line.
Elders JR American Horse and Verdelia American Horse sit in a dimly lit trailer donated to them in the middle of camp. JR American Horse sits clad in veteran paraphernalia, holding highlighted treaties, pointing to the parts that DAPL and the government is breaking. He explains they received a letter from DAPL on March 28 stating that construction of the pipeline would begin in 48 hours. He describes the scramble of tribal leaders to assemble and organize a resolution to protect the land. He alleges that DAPL put poison in the holes of prairie dogs that were then eaten by eagles, who also became ill. The surrounding grass was eaten by buffalo, and he estimates that 17 buffalo were killed.
The specific treaty the Standing Rock Sioux allege DAPL and the authorities to be breaking is titled “Treaty with the Sioux- Brule, Ogalala, Miniconjou, Yanktonai, Hunkpapa, Blackfeet, Cuthead, Two Kettle, Sans Arcs, and Santee-and Arapaho, 1868.”
The treaty states broadly that if any harm is done to the property or persons of the “Indians,” the United States will cause the offender to be “arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States” and reimburse the affected person(s) for the loss sustained. JR American Horse finishes reading the section of the treaty and looks up. “They’re breaking their own laws.”
Law enforcement and private security have faced criticism across the country on the tactics they have used against peaceful protestors. Rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, tear gas, pepper spray and contested crowd dispersal technology like the L-RAD sound cannons have been used.
L-RAD, which stands for Long Range Acoustic Device, was first introduced by the U.S. Navy to warn off approaching small crafts. It was then used by American ground forces in Iraq to disperse crowds, according to a 2014 Popular Mechanics article. It was first used in the U.S. to disperse G20 protesters in Pittsburg. The ACLU settled a case with the city of Pittsburg after a bystander suffered permanent hearing damage. King Downing, director of mass defense for the National Lawyers Guild, explains that NLG believes that the way L-RADs have been used and are being used is unconstitutional. He continues that it does not appear that the harm that they cause is justified by what they have been used against.
In addition to direct tactics on the ground by private security and local law enforcement, people have come forward alleging that larger federal agencies are targeting them. Chief Matthew Black Eagleman started a crowd funding campaign online for the Oceti Sakowin Camp.
Paypal was not able to deposit the money into his bank account and notified him of the issue.
When Eagleman went to his bank for assistance, they told him that his assets were frozen under the Patriot Act, and none of his money was accessible. The Newswire was unable to independently confirm this with the bank.
“This land, this fight for the water, affects everybody,” Vlo, 28, from Chicago, explains while sitting in a car on the side of Highway 1806. “Everybody needs to keep paying attention and not be distracted by whatever media is going on. I understand. I went back the other day to the casino and finally had some data, and I saw everybody going on about clowns instead of this. That hurts me, that people can be so easily distracted while their water is going to be poisoned.”
Tala Ali and Dr. Yusuf Khan contributed to the reporting in this article.