On the Barricades at Standing Rock
by Will Parrish, November 30, 2016
North Dakota police officers wounded more than 150 people with concussion grenades and rubber bullets, and drenched hundreds more with high-powered hoses amid freezing temperatures, as part of a demonstration related to the Dakota Access Pipeline on November 20th.
Mendocino County residents were among those who stood off at the razor-wire barricade the police had established. Many tasted the pungent smell of tear gas, wielded plywood and galvanized aluminum roofing shields to protect themselves and their comrades from the rubber bullets, and sang their culture’s traditional songs as expressions of prayerful defiance as part of a chaotic action lasting more than six hours.
More than 1,000 people participated in the chaotic demonstration, which called attention to a police barricade that has prevented emergency services vehicles and other traffic from accessing the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s northern access route since late-October.
Loren Lincoln, a member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, stood off against the police for most of the night. He made it through mostly unscathed, he says – but he was lucky. He expects to encounter further danger as the historic Great Plains stand-off regarding indigenous sovereignty, water rights, and climate change continues in the weeks to come.
“I’m here for my kids; I’m here for the people back home who can’t be out here right now,” Lincoln told the AVA. “My experience of growing up on the reservation has given me the instinct to come fight for all indigenous people who are part of this struggle.”
The November 20th altercation elicited international outrage, particularly after police fired a concussion grenade that severely wounded 22-year-old Sophia Wilansky, whose arm may need to be amputated. But it is only one of numerous cases where riot lines of police or private security guards have inflicted violence on water protectors since early-September, however.
Earlier in the week, a police officer used live ammunition to shoot into the back of a vehicle as it departed from a particular tense action that had blockaded work vehicles in the nearby town of Mandan, ND, several witnesses say. We will have more on this incident, as well as other first-hand regarding the stand-off at Standing Rock, and additional info on local people’s involvement, in next week’s issue.
The Dakota Access Pipeline originates in the Bakken oil patch and traverses North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, and ends in Illinois, linking to transmission routes to the East Coast and Gulf Coast. For several months, indigenous people, environmentalists and Great Plains residents have protested the project because it threatens water quality and myriad sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux. It would also contribute to the global climate crisis.
The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is a community of 8,500 along the Missouri River in North and South Dakota.
Dallas, TX-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) was the parent company of Dakota Access, LLC, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, until an organizational restructuring last week whereby Sunoco Logistics took over ETP (to add another layer of complication, ETP and Sunoco are each subsidiaries of Energy Transfer Equity). Phillips 66 and Marathon Petroleum are also invested in the pipeline, and they are slated to ship oil to it. Oasis Petroleum of Houston, a large-scale Bakken shale producer in which Marin-based hedge fund SPO Partners owns a controlling interest, is also slated to ship oil to the pipeline.
In September, the Obama administration bowed to public pressure by denying Dakota Access, LLC an easement to drill under Lake Oahe, the Standing Rock reservation’s water supply, even as construction has proceeded across the remainder of the route. The company has a massive drilling rig in position and ready to drill, but the Army Corps continues to hold out on the permit.
The Standing Rock encampments swelled with hundreds of new arrivals during the week of Thanksgiving. Roughly 5,000 people, including many from other nations, took part in ceremonies and protests on Thanksgiving Day.
Indigenous people have been at the forefront of the Standing Rock fight. A visually stunning column of more than 200 indigenous nations’ flags lines the main road leading through the Oceti Sakowin encampment that lines the Cannonball River.
Chris Avelino, a member of the Pinoleville Rancheria, arrived at Standing Rock November 23rd. The very next morning – Thanskgiving – he was facing down a line of riot cops. He attributes his passion for the Standing Rock struggle to the influence of his grandmother, Margene McGee, who was involved in environmental issues in Mendocino County.
“These things – the water, the air, the fish, the forests -- were put on the earth for us to survive,” Avelino said while standing in a location known colloquially as Facebook Hill, which overlooks Oceti Sakowin . “My grams taught me always to stand up for them.”
Oceti Sakowin is located on land over which the Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction. On November 25th, the Army Corps issued an eviction notice to the encampment asking people to vacate by December 5th. I spoke to roughly a dozen people at Standing Rock following the announcement, nearly all of whom indicated that they plan to stay.
Contact Will Parrish at willparrish2016[at]gmail.com