At least 17 protesters were taken to hospitals; one person was arrested, and a police officer suffered a head injury as a result of the latest confrontation over the Dakota Access oil pipeline last night.
About 400 demonstrators tried to remove burned vehicles authorities had used to block the Backwater Bridge north of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, in order to prevent future fires set by the allegedly violent protesters, who wanted to restore access to their Standing Rock Sioux encampments.
Environmentalists and Native American activists have been determined to protest against the $3.7 billion Dakota Access project since the summer. The most affected are those from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe given that their lands happen to be adjacent to the pipeline. They argue the project poses a threat to their sacred tribal lands and water resources, as reported by Reuters.
On the other hand, supporters of the oil pipeline said the project offers a safe and direct route for taking shale oil from North Dakota to Gulf Coast refineries compared to road or rail transportation, according to Reuters. The Army Corps of Engineers declared last week they had respected all legal procedures required for permitting but acknowledged that they would need more consultations with Native American tribes.
In September, the Corps decided to delay the completion of the pipeline in order to have more time to re-examine permits that would allow construction near to tribe’s lands under the Missouri River. Energy Transfer Partners LP, the main company in charge of the project, is building the completion set to run 1,172 miles from North Dakota to Illinois.
Vehicles were burned Oct. 27, and the North Dakota Department of Transportation closed the bridge following the incident. Additionally, the Morton County law enforcement was requested to prevent demonstrators from trespassing federal land, according to the Reuters report.
A violent confrontation
When the protesters tried to remove the vehicles to cross the bridge, police fired volleys of tear gas, as well as rubber bullets. Officers also fired a water cannon at the demonstrators in temperatures that reached 18 Fahrenheit (minus 8 Celsius) overnight.
The Morton County Sherriff’s Department told reporters that officers involved in the confrontation said protesters had been “very aggressive” and led them to use those instruments, according to Reuters.
The sheriff’s department added that the protesters stroke one officer while hurling rocks and burning logs. They reportedly tried to set fires to outflank and attack barricades set by law enforcement.
In contrast, Dallas Goldtooth, who represents the Indigenous Environmental Network, claimed the use of a water cannon was an excess.
“It is below freezing right now and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department is using a water cannon on our people – that is an excessive and potentially deadly use of force,” said Goldtooth, as quoted by Reuters.
Demonstrators who were hit with tear gas or were freezing were received at a gym in Cannon Ball, which opened to aid injured protesters, as reported by The Daily Mail.
Similarly, Dave Archambault, head of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, declared law enforcement did use lethal weapons given the weather conditions during the confrontation. He added that concussion grenades with tear gas had been potentially lethal.