By: Savin Mattozzi ~Staff Writer~
Confrontation between Native American activists and authorities reached new heights over Thanksgiving weekend in North Dakota. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades at activists, as well as doused them with a water cannon in sub-freezing temperatures.
The Nov. 21 clashes caused an estimated 300 injuries, mostly from hypothermia. Twenty-six people had to be transported to local hospitals for more serious injuries from rubber bullets. One 21-year-old activist, Sophia Wilansky from New York, suffered a severe arm injury from a concussion grenade.
In a statement to The Los Angeles Times, the Morton County Sheriff ’s Department denied using concussion grenades and instead claimed that the injury was caused by an explosive device that they alleged protesters were using.
According to activist medics, several witnesses saw concussion grenades being thrown at unarmed activists, and alleged that fragments of the device were removed from Wilansky and will be analyzed.
Akhil Kavuri, a junior biology major, expressed frustration with the police.
“That’s an extreme decision. I feel like the protesters weren’t acting out violently,” Kavuri said. “That’s extreme.”
“The fact that we have never attempted to integrate our history and the violence of colonization can only have set us up for the violence that we are seeing now,” Peri Drury, a senior sociology and gender and diversity studies double major, said.
Native Americans and other activists have been stationed at the Oceti Sakowin camp near Cannon Ball, N.D., since early spring 2016 to protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The 1,172 mile, $3.8 billion pipeline crosses the Missouri River, which is a major source of water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The pipeline was originally planned to be routed north of Bismarek, N.D. After local residents expressed fear of potential water pollution and disapproval of the pipeline, the pipe was rerouted to its current path that crosses through Native American burial grounds less than one mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Dallas Goldtooth an activist and member of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told Democracy Now! that “our enemy is not the police. It is the corporations that are hell-bent on poisoning Mother Earth and disconnecting ourselves even further from the sacred integrity of the land and the water.”