ST. ANTHONY — A Sioux Falls, S.D., man spent more than six hours attached to a digger at an active Dakota Access Pipeline worksite along Highway 6 on Wednesday.
Dale "Happy" American Horse Jr. was one of eight arrested at the protest, which drew about 50 people and at least as many law enforcement officers.
During the past several weeks, people have traveled from all over the country to rally against the oil pipeline that's intended to cross below the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which many worry could contaminate the community's water supply. Protests were staged in mid-August at a different worksite near the river, where construction has been temporarily halted.
Highway 6 was closed at the junctions of Morton County Road 138A and Highway 21 for several hours because of Wednesday's events. Highway 1806 was briefly reopened as an alternative route for the first time in nearly two weeks.
A long process
American Horse stood on the digger with his arms secured in a curved PVC pipe contraption known as a lock box, which encircled the equipment. Wearing a red bandanna, he was silent at times, then chanted "Mni wiconi," meaning "water is life."
Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier later said at a news conference that the pipe was secured with tar, grease and chicken wire.
Officers spent hours removing the protester. First, they secured him with a harness and tried to take apart the equipment. When that didn't work, they steadied him on a ladder and sawed the pipe off his hands.
During the process, officers gave him drinks of water and a person identified by highway patrol as a family member was permitted to climb up the ladder and visit.
"All this for clean water," American Horse said as he was arrested and escorted to the transport van. "Why does it have to come down to this?"
A protest organizer, Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said today's act by members of the Red Warrior Camp to attach themselves to company equipment fits with the theme of protest by nonviolent action.
“This was well-thought-out and fully planned. The whole purpose is to delay construction and stop the pipeline. We are committed to nonviolent direction action, and that’s what we have been using with our demonstration on the bridge and our marches," he said.
Goldtooth said the Red Warrior Camp is made up of Dakota and Lakota people residing within the original Sacred Stone Spirit Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Kirchmeier said a second man — a 25-year-old from Cannon Ball — attached himself to the frame of a dirt truck. Officers had an easier time removing him, because he was on the ground. A 47-year-old Missouri woman also was arrested for standing on equipment.
Protesters stand by
Early in the day, supporters -- many with scarves or sweatshirts over their faces -- stood directly by the equipment and watched as deputies tried to secure American Horse. Many people, including law enforcement, held up cellphone cameras to document the scene.
Around 11:15 a.m., officers toting zip-ties ordered the protesters to move away from the site or they would be arrested. At least two were taken into custody.
"Let's move or you're going to jail," one officer said to the crowd.
"No worries, our legal team is all over this," a protester called back.
The group moved several hundred feet away after a few of their fellow protesters called on them to retreat.
Kirchmeier said protesters were asked to move from private property where the equipment stood “because they were hindering legal work at that point, and any law enforcement efforts.”
Holding signs that said "#NODAPL" and "For all generations," demonstrators cheered, sang and beat drums just a few feet from a line of officers.
Protesters threw taunts and called officers names, but there was no violence. Kirchmeier said no weapons were seen.
After American Horse was removed, the protesters began to disperse. One of them, Warrior Wanbli Wicasa, said he thought the protest was a success.
"We cost them money; we cost the state money," he said.
Though he believed officers should have allowed protesters to stay near the construction site, he said they had been "cooperative" overall and "just doing their job."
Officers from the Morton County Sheriff's Department, Burleigh County Sheriff's Department, Mandan Police, Bismarck Police, North Dakota Highway Patrol, Parole and Probation, State Parks, Mercer County Sheriff's Department and Beulah Police were on scene at the protest.
Since mid-August, 37 people have been arrested in connection with the pipeline protests.
Highway 6 was reopened after Wednesday's protest and Highway 1806 was closed again, though Kirchmeier said he is in talks with tribal leaders to remove the blockade on that road.
Tribune reporters Lauren Donovan and Blair Emerson contributed to this story.
Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at firstname.lastname@example.org