Early Friday afternoon, all eyes and ears from around the world seemed to focus on Washington D.C. for the inauguration of America’s 45th president, Donald J. Trump. The political pundits and social media armchair activists were ranting and raving about what exactly “Make America Great Again” is going to mean for Americans. Meanwhile, violence broke out in the streets of D.C. as anti-Trump protesters clashed with Trump supporters and law enforcement. But while the nation is distracted by the selection of the latest puppet-in-chief, violence has returned to North Dakota in the ongoing fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
After a relatively quiet December and early January, tensions are running high at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline near Cannonball, North Dakota. Over the weekend, water protectors with the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies once again clashed with the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and the National Guard.
On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, social media accounts connected to the fight against the DAPL and in support of the Sioux posted several videos showing law enforcement using tear gas and rubber bullets on water protectors who attempted to set up a tipi on Backwater bridge off highway 1806. Social media reports state law enforcement grabbed an “unknown amount of water protectors.” Backwater Bridge was the site of conflictthroughout the months of October and November.
The Morton County Sheriff’s announced 21 arrests on Wednesday night via their Facebook page. The following is an account of the protests as reported by the Sheriff’s office:
“Protesters began assembling on the Backwater Bridge around 6:45pm on Wednesday, January 18. By 8:30pm, the crowd of protesters had grown to approximately 150. During the following four hours, protesters started three tire fires on the bridge and two fires on each side of the bridge as well as erecting two tipis further blocking the bridge. Protestors [sic] flanked the law enforcement line several times, attempting to get behind them. After protesters failed to comply to multiple orders from law enforcement to return to the south side of the bridge and go back to camp, law enforcement deployed less-than-lethal munitions.”
Video posted on the Morton County Sheriff’s Facebook page on Tuesday also shows water protectors using tools to cut down fences and standing toe to toe, shoving police who are carrying riot shields. Morton County reported 14 arrests on Monday night and Tuesday morning.
On Monday night, the water protectors held rallies and marches to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. According to the Sacred Stone Camp:
As Anti-Media recently reported, the Morton County Sheriff’s office has also deployed an Avenger Air Defense System in Cannonball. The Avenger is a humvee-mounted, low altitude surface-to-air missile system.
In the background of the ongoing violence, legal battles over the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline continue to be fought. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Boesberg denied DAPL attorneys’ attempt to stop the Army Corp of Engineers from conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Lake Oahe crossing. Following Boesberg’s decision, the Army Corps of Engineers officially published a notice of intent in the federal register to prepare a partial EIS. The legal process now moves into the formal comment period, which lasts until February 20. The EIS was ordered after the Corps denied a permit for Energy Transfer Partners, DAPL’s parent company, to build the final easement under Lake Oahe.
Despite the call for an EIS, the Standing Rock Sioux say the Corps is neglecting to do a full environmental study. “The proposed scoping fails to include the entire length of the pipeline or downstream impacts of other tribes of the Great Sioux Nation,” the Sioux write.
Another court decision issued on Wednesday officially ended the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s efforts to fight the pipeline via the legal system. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Sioux had no standing in their arguments against construction. The Sioux were attempting to get the court to issue a preliminary injunction to stop construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline based on threats to sacred and cultural sites. In early October, more than 100 scientists from universities across the United States issued an open letter, stating that they “support halting any construction of the DAPL until revised environmental and cultural assessments are carried out as requested by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”
For the time being, it seems the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline will continue in the fields of North Dakota rather than the courts. The incoming fossil fuel-friendly Trump administration is likely to move on the project soon. Water protectors are preparing to put their bodies on the line to stop a project that threatens the environment, their culture, and the health of future generations.