Oil pipeline builders didn’t await court verdict before bulldozing on Labor Day weekend
(Part I of two parts. See also How Standing Rock 2016 echoes Birmingham 1963.)
FORT YATES, North Dakota––1,130 linear miles, almost the 1,168-mile length of the projected Dakota Access pipeline route from the Bakken oil shale fields of North Dakota to Illinois, and 53 years, four months, separate the dog attacks on Standing Rock Sioux reservation on September 3, 2016 from those in Birmingham, Alabama on May 3, 1963.
Shaky close-up cell phone images of non-uniformed private security officers using dogs to menace demonstrators against the Dakota Access pipeline nonetheless echo the stark black-and-white photos now etched into history of lame duck Birmingham sheriff “Bull” Connor’s deputies setting German shepherds on desegregation marchers led by the clergymen Fred Shuttleworth and Martin Luther King Jr.
Five to eight dogs
Among the dogs used on the Standing Rock reservation, the cell phone images appeared to show at least one Malinois, a cane corso, a pit bull, a German shepherd, a boxer, and a Rottweiler. Eyewitnesses said eight dogs were used in all, but the most appearing in any one cell phone clip looked to be five.
One Native American protester at the scene held a harnessed pit bull.
Whether the longterm political and cultural influence of the Standing Rock dog attacks will be comparable to those in Birmingham remains to be seen. But the snarling dogs lunging at unarmed and mostly female protesters wearing light summer clothes did overnight elevate Native American opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline to national media prominence.
Ursula Young Bear, an Oglala Lakota from Porcupine, South Dakota, and at least five others “suffered injuries from dog bites,” reported Sarah Sunshine Manning of Indian County Today. “Young Bear and approximately 30 others [also] suffered temporary blindness after receiving a chemical spray to the face and eyes. A horse owned by a Native American water defender suffered bite wounds from the dogs,” Manning wrote.
“They let one dog off his leash who ran loose into the crowd,” said Marcus Frejo, of Pawnee and Seminole heritage, who came from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to join the protests.
“That’s when people started protecting themselves against the dog,” Frejo told Manning. “The guy that let his dog go came into the crowd to retrieve him and started swinging on everybody. He hit some young boys, and they defended themselves.”
“Felt like a set-up”
“Demonstrators said that one female dog handler in particular was lunging toward the crowd aggressively with her dog, going beyond the front line,” Manning wrote.
The dog was said by witnesses to have a bloody muzzle from biting protesters.
Said Young Bear, “It felt like a set up.”
Continued Frejo, “Then they [the security guards] came by with bigger cans of tear gas and shot it from their trucks. The cops watched the whole thing from up on the hills. It felt like they were trying to provoke us into being violent when we were peaceful.”
“The moment grew so intense,” Manning recounted, “that the dogs soon started to turn on their handlers.
“The Dakota Access guards and dog handlers then left the scene, and more protestors flooded in. Construction indefinitely halted.”
Standing Rock Sioux tribal spokesperson Steve Sitting Bear confirmed that six protesters said they had suffered dog bites, “including a young child,” reported Associated Press.
But a photo widely circulated on Facebook, purporting to show the child victim, actually showed Tatiana Anderson, a three-year-old girl who was bitten on June 26, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas.
The use of dogs had resonance for many protesters. Jayla Rodriguez, 8, was in November 2014 fatally mauled by dogs while sledding near her home on the Pine Ridge Reservation, just an hour’s drive southeast of the September 3, 2016 confrontation.
About two hours to the south, Julia Charging Whirlwind, 49, was in March 2015 fatally mauled by dogs on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, also in South Dakota.
Sheriff disputes other accounts
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department denied having anything to do with the September 3, 2016 dog attacks or with the use of pepper spray or tear gas by the security guards, all shown on multiple cell phone videos.
Denying that any Morton County Sheriff’s Office personnel were present during the incident, Morton County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Donnell Preskey said four private security guards and two of their dogs were injured. One security guard was taken to a Bismarck hospital for undisclosed injuries, Preskey told media, while the two guard dogs were taken to a Bismarck veterinary clinic.
“More like a riot”
Alleged Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeir, who if Preskey’s media statements were accurate was not an eyewitness, “This was more like a riot than a protest. Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles. The aggression and violence displayed here today is unlawful and should not be repeated,” Kirchmeir said.
“While no arrests were made at the scene,” Kirchmeir added, “we are actively investigating the incident and individuals who organized and participated in this unlawful event.”
But the organized protest against the Dakota Access pipeline planned for September 3, 2016 was held more than a mile away, according to all accounts from Native Americans, other protesters, and independent media.
Only after the protest began did the demonstrators become aware of bulldozers working beyond low rolling hills and rushed to the scene, some on foot, some on horseback, some in cars and pickup trucks, taking a longer route by road.
“Construction crews removed topsoil across an area about 150 feet wide stretching for two miles, northwest of the confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri Rivers,” said a Standing Rock Sioux Tribe media release issued on September 4, 2016.”
Said Standing Rock Sioux tribal chair David Archambault II, 45, “Sacred places containing ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were destroyed,” only 24 hours after the tribe “filed court documents identifying the area as home to significant Native artifacts and sacred sites.”
Said former Standing Rock Sioux tribal historic preservation officer Tim Mentz, “I surveyed this land, and we confirmed multiple graves and specific prayer sites. Portions, and possibly complete sites, have been taken out entirely.”
The Standing Rock Sioux had already filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to stop the Dakota Access pipeline construction.
The Standing Rock Sioux argue that they were not properly consulted before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fast-tracked construction approval, and that the pipeline will jeopardize the health of the entire southeastward-flowing Missouri River as it passes beneath the northern reaches of the river near the Standing Rock reservation.
The Dakota Access company, a subsidiary of Phillips 66, and a Texas company called Energy Transfer are trying to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, also called the Bakken Oil Pipeline, to move crude oil through the Dakotas and Iowa to Illinois refineries.
7.4 billion barrels of oil
The U.S. portion of the Bakken Formation, which extends north into Canada, is believed to hold an estimated 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered oil, according to the US Geological Survey. The $3.8 billion pipeline would carry about 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
More than 100 tribes in the U.S. and Canada, however, have actively supported the Standing Rock Sioux in opposing the Dakota Access pipeline, including the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation, whose land produces about 20% percent of total North Dakota daily oil output, and would benefit from completion of the pipeline.
“We want oil production but we want it done responsibly and respectfully,” Three Affiliated Tribes chair Mark Fox told media. “Our basic position is to figure another way around the Missouri River and the Standing Rock reservation. There are other ways.”
The Standing Rock Sioux have also been backed by many environmental and human rights organizations. A busload of Black Lives Matter members had visited the Standing Rock protest encampment to show solidarity with the Sioux, and had returned to Minneapolis only a day before the September 3, 2016 confrontation.
“We have laws that require federal agencies to consider environmental risks and protection of Indian historic and sacred sites,” said Archambault. “But the Army Corps of Engineers has ignored all those laws and fast-tracked this massive project just to meet the pipeline’s aggressive construction schedule.”
Recourse to the courts
Countered North Dakota U.S. Senator John Hoeven, a Republican, to CNN affiliate KFYR-TV in Bismarck, North Dakota, “If there is some way for the Corps to work to meet the concerns of the tribe, they should certainly do that. But (there) has been a consultation process. If the tribe doesn’t feel that that has been sufficient, again, they can protest as long as they do it peacefully and safely, but ultimately their recourse is to the courts.”
But that was and remains the crux of the issue: the Dakota Access pipeline builders appeared to be trying to jumpstart construction, changing the “facts on the ground,” ahead of a verdict on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit expected to be released by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on September 9, 2016.
Things fall apart
Meanwhile, Archambault has been arrested at least once for anti-Dakota Access pipeline protest activities.
“Archambault and others also have been sued by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners for interfering with the pipeline,” wrote James MacPherson of Associated Press. “Former North Dakota U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon, who is representing Archambault and other tribal leaders in that suit, told Associated Press that it’s nothing more than an attempt to silence the tribal leader.
“Anything that is man-made is going to come apart,” Archambault told MacPherson, citing a 2013 spill in northwestern North Dakota.
The 2013 spill, among the largest inland oil spills that ever occurred in North America, “was discovered,” MacPherson wrote, “only after a farmer got his tractor stuck in the muck while harvesting wheat. It’s only half cleaned up, despite crews working around the clock since it happened, state health officials say.”
The Standing Rock Sioux, other Native Americans, and their allies are scarcely the only opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline.
Protests & arsons in Iowa
“The $3.8 billion pipeline has created eminent domain tensions and protests all across its path,” observed the Sioux City Journal, of Sioux City, Iowa, on September 4, 2016.
Many demonstrations against the pipeline have been held in Iowa, normally a politically and cultural conservative state. Arson fires set at three Iowa construction sites along the pipeline route on the night of August 1, 2016 cumulatively did more than $1 million in damage.
“Protest groups in the state denied responsibility,” the Sioux City Journal said.
(Part I of two parts. See also How Standing Rock 2016 echoes Birmingham 1963.)