Editors note: the following is a press release from National Lawyers Guild attorneys at the scene.
135A, Morton County, North Dakota – Lawyers and others at the Standing Rock encampments share a growing concern about the increasingly intimidating practices of the State Police and the local Sheriffs in coordination with Dakota Access Pipeline’s own security force (including their continued use of canines). Of particular concern are exaggerations and misstatements by authorities that challenge the protesters’ commitment to non-violence. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier told the press that “some [were] carrying hatchets and knives.” This statement was patently false and an attempt to discredit the peaceful actions of the dedicated people who have come from all over the country and the world to support the righteous struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux and other ally nations to protect the waters and their sacred sites.
Authorities have also set-up roadblocks and conducted numerous warrantless searches and seizures in the area of the Sacred Stone camp, delaying the delivery of needed camp supplies, and violating individuals’ Fourth Amendment right to remain free from warrantless searches and seizures. On Tuesday, a small group of protesters – five Native American men, and three women–including a legal observing attorney–who were standing on the road near the site of the tractors that were stopped from continuing work, were confronted by a battalion of approximately 40 police with shields in riot gear.
These practices all appear intended to chill the public’s lawful First and Fourth Amendment right to protest the destruction of the Standing Rock Sioux land and water by the pipeline. We call on President Obama to intervene and de-escalate the situation, shield the Water Protectors from harassment, and order his administration to withdraw the permit for the pipeline.
“The false statements by the Sheriff regarding alleged possession of weapons have unnecessarily created an atmosphere of fear and lead to the overreaction by local law enforcement. Further, the roadblocks and random searches and seizures – have delayed and harassed teachers, schoolchildren, farmers, and people arriving at camp. There is no justification for violating people’s First and Fourth Amendment rights,” stated Jeffrey Haas, Attorney, National Lawyers Guild.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through their historic land and are suing the Army Corps of Engineers and the corporation building the pipeline for threatened contamination of their water source and destruction of their sacred sites. The Tribe has also submitted a petition for relief to the United Nations requesting orders to cease construction of the pipeline, which will desecrate the Tribe’s sacred lands, endanger and likely pollute their water supply–the Missouri River–and prevent them from fulfilling their duty to preserve their land for future generations.
Despite repeated Tribal objections to the Pipeline’s route based on violations of the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Army Corps of Engineers approved the construction of a $3.8 billion, 1,100-mile pipeline with a capacity of 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day, above the mouth of the Cannonball River and the Missouri River, on the Standing Rock Sioux homelands. The Corps’ approval of the permit allows the oil company to dig the pipeline under the Missouri River just upstream of the reservation and the Tribe’s drinking water supply. An oil spill at this site would constitute an existential threat to the Tribe’s culture and way of life, as well as 28 million other people who rely on the Missouri River for their water needs.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg is expected to rule on the request for an injunction on Friday, September 9, 2016, challenging the Army Corps of Engineers granting of the permit to construct the pipeline without prior consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in violation of federal law. The tribe wants the federal judge to halt construction of the pipeline to prevent the destruction of sacred and culturally significant sites and has announced that it will pursue all legal channels to halt the pipeline. The request came after private security for the Dakota Access Pipeline sprayed mace and used dogs on unarmed water protectors, on Saturday, September 3rd. Six persons, including a pregnant woman, were bitten by the canines released into the crowd.
Tensions have been growing since August 10, 2016, when Dakota Pipeline Access employees, accompanied by armed private security guards, began arriving with construction equipment at the Missouri River crossing site just upstream from the water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. On August 12, eighteen tribal members and supporters, including Standing Rock Tribal Chairman, David Archambault II, were arrested for blocking an access point for the corporation. A total of 36 protesters have been arrested thus far. The number of people arriving and rallying in solidarity with the Tribe has grown daily and today the camp population is estimated at 5,000.