Last Thursday, as we all gathered around the table with our families to tentatively talk Trump and grub out for Thanksgiving—a holiday that marks the first shared autumn feast between Plymouth colonists and Native Americans—some of you may have realized the sad irony of the annual celebration in contrast with the ongoing battle taking place near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
For the last month or so, your social media has likely been buzzing about the Dakota Access Pipeline, a nearly completed 1,134-mile pipeline that would carry around 500,000 gallons of crude oil per day from the Dakotas to Illinois. The pipeline was redirected through land that is sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, leading to protests that have grown over the past few months.
A lot has happened since Facebook was flooded with Standing Rock check-ins earlier this month. It’s easy to get lost in the Trump tornado that dominates the news cycle, but as the president-elect continues to put together his goon squad, a battle for clean water and sacred land rages on. As we all move on from Thanksgiving, it’s important that we continue to be thankful, but also thoughtful toward the Native American and environmentalist “water protectors,” as they’re known, who are on the frontline of the DAPL protests confronting oppression and the greater value placed on corporate interests than human interests. Lest we forget the struggle, here is what’s been going down in North Dakota while turkey, Trump, Black Friday, and the upcoming holiday season have been occupying minds.
Police Attack DAPL Protesters Trapped on Bridge
During the week leading up to Thanksgiving, anti-DAPL demonstrators claimed that they were trapped on the closed-down Backwater Bridge and attacked by police. The clash took place after protesters attempted to remove a truck that blocked passage over the bridge. Activists at the scene tweeted that police were using tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and also spraying protesters with water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures. Representatives from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other DAPL opponents said that hundreds of people had to undergo treatment for exposure to tear gas, hypothermia, and injuries from rubber bullets.
According to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, the use of tear gas was in response to demonstrators attempting to “attack” law enforcement barricades. The police denied the use of water cannons, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades on protesters. Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rob Keller also accused the “agitators” of throwing rocks and burning logs at police, which is what caused them to retaliate with “less than lethal force.”
Although both sides have leveled accusations of aggression against the other, the fact remains that 300 protesters were injured during the standoff, 26 of whom were taken to the hospital.
This is America. Not Russia. Not China. America. Against unarmed protesters pic.twitter.com/5EDxlnlyoX— Grace Lidia Suárez (@gracels) November 21, 2016
Protester Almost Loses Arm, Becomes Focal Point of Demonstration
During the recent standoff at Backwater Bridge, a 21-year-old woman named Sophia Wilansky was severely injured after, according to Wilansky and two witnesses, police allegedly fired a concussion grenade that struck her in the arm. Police have strongly denied responsibility for injury, suggesting that it was inflicted by “improvised explosives” that the protestors have been using.
Initial reports claimed that Wilansky’s arm might have to be amputated as a result of the explosion, which reportedly blew the bone out of the young demonstrator’s arm. Her father, Wayne Wilansky, says that is no longer necessary, but repairing the arm could require as many as 20 surgeries. He told the New York Times that “even though she’s lying there with her arm pretty much blown off,” his daughter has remained focused on what we’re doing to native people and our own environment. The family has since launched a GoFundMe to help pay for the hefty medical expenses.
Demonstrations Continue Across the Country
Not only have the protests raged on at Standing Rock, but activists throughout the country have voiced their concerns with the pipeline. From New York City to San Francisco and many places in between, protesters have marched in solidarity with the “water protectors.” The national movement has been headed by the outspoken and beloved progressive Bernie Sanders, and even Kristen Wiig used her return to Saturday Night Live to draw attention to the issue.
Veterans Come to the Aid of DAPL Protesters
As anti-DAPL protesters face off with militarized police forces, they may have found a worthy ally in United States veterans. On Dec. 4, hundreds of vets will “deploy” to Standing Rock Indian Reservation to join the steadfast group of Native Americans and environmentalists on the frontline of the protest. The event, “Veterans Stand for Standing Rock,” is calling for military veterans throughout the country to “assemble as a peaceful, unarmed militia” to “defend the water protectors” from the increasingly harsh tactics used against them by police.
The movement was spearheaded by veterans Wesley Clark Jr and Michael Wood Jr., the latter of whom is also a retired Baltimore police officer. The self-organized Facebook event is recommending that participating vets bring body armor and gas masks, but has strongly denounced the use of weapons. According to the New York Times, these veterans plan to act as a “human shield” for protesters.
“If we don't stand up for the oppressed, that’s the snowball that starts that leads to everyone else’s oppression,” Wood said to CNN. “It doesn't matter if you are a libertarian, a conservative, or a progressive, this is everyone’s fight.”
Trump May Have Vested Interest in DAPL
Although the movement against the pipeline is still going strong, it’s hard to remain optimistic about the outcome for a handful of reasons. For starters, it’s been revealed that President-Elect Donald Trump may have a vested interest in the completion of the pipeline. It was recently revealed on Trump’s 2016 federal disclosure forms that he owned between $15,000 and $50,000 of stock in Energy Transfer Partners, as well as $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66, which has a one-quarter share of the pipeline. Considering the fact that this tense demonstration arose during the Obama presidency, it’s tough to be positive about where it will head once Trump takes the White House.
Energy Transfer Partners Has No Plans to Reroute
CEO of Energy Transfer Partners Kelcy Warren has strongly denied the possibility of rerouting the pipeline. Warren has defended the continuation of construction by claiming that the pipeline is north of Native grounds on private land, and that they’ve taken preemptive methods to prevent leaks from impacting the water supply. Still, his defense has a tinge of irony considering that the construction company was forced to reroute the pipeline earlier this year due to the water supply concerns from a more affluent town in Bismarck, N.D.
Plans to Drive Demonstrators Out Continue
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently announced that it would be closing access to the main pipeline protest camp on Dec. 5 for “safety reasons.” A letter penned to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe by Col. John Henderson claimed that the decision to disband the camp “is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions.”
To push evacuation efforts further, on Nov. 28, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple ordered an “emergency evacuation” of all demonstrators due to the impending winter season. However, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe dismissed his reasoning as an “action meant to cause fear.” On top of that, it was recently revealed that North Dakota law enforcement would begin blocking all supplies from demonstrators to help drive them out of the construction zone.
As the harsh North Dakota winter settles in and tensions continue to flare, things aren’t likely to calm down anytime soon. It might be difficult to focus on the DAPL protests with all the issues affected by the looming Trump presidency, but the words of Martin Luther King Jr. remind us why we should care about what is happening at Standing Rock: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”