Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the increasingly tense situation unfolding between law enforcement and protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline after 127 people were arrested over the weekend.
Archambault said in a statement late Sunday, Oct. 23, that the situation “deserves the immediate and full attention” of the Justice Department.
“Furthermore, the DOJ should impose an injunction to all developments at the pipeline site to keep ALL citizens – law enforcement and protesters – safe,” Archambault said. “The DOJ should be enlisted and expected to investigate the overwhelming reports and videos demonstrating clear strong-arm tactics, abuses and unlawful arrests by law enforcement.”
Authorities arrested 126 people Saturday on charges including reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, engaging in a riot, assault on a peace officer and resisting arrest, bringing the total number of arrests to 269 since Aug. 10. Officers used pepper spray to protect themselves and control protesters who were trespassing on private property, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department said, though protesters pointed to video they said showed the use of pepper spray was unwarranted.
One person was arrested Sunday as protesters erected teepees and tents as a “frontline camp” directly in the path of the oil pipeline on the historic Cannonball Ranch, which Dakota Access LLC recently purchased from local rancher David Meyer.
The frontline camp is on the east side of Highway 1806, across from where Dakota Access security guards armed with dogs and pepper spray clashed with protesters on Sept. 3.
A statement from groups involved in the protest explained that the self-described “water protectors” took back unceded territory affirmed in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty between the federal government and Plains tribes, including the Lakota and Dakota.
“Today, the Oceti Sakowin has enacted eminent domain on DAPL lands, claiming 1851 treaty rights. This is unceded land. … We will be occupying this land and staying here until this pipeline is permanently stopped,” said Mekasi Camp-Horinek, a coordinator of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the main protest camp about two miles south of the frontline camp.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said, “Individuals trespassing on private property can’t claim eminent domain to justify their criminal actions.”
Meanwhile, Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, said in a letter to the North Dakota attorney general’s office Monday that it purchased the ranch land in and around the pipeline route in southern Morton County last month “to enhance the safety of its workers” and “to better manage ingress and egress to the right of way.”
The company had to explain how its purchase of more than 7,000 acres -- including most of the Cannonball Ranch -- complied with the state’s anti-corporate farming law, which prohibits non-family corporations from owning farm and ranch land, with some exceptions, including for industrial purposes.
“After construction of the pipeline is complete, DAPL will transfer ownership of the property or use the property for some other use in compliance” with state law, Bismarck attorney Lawrence Bender wrote for the company.
Archambault said the militarization of local law enforcement and enlistment of multiple law enforcement agencies from neighboring states is “needlessly escalating violence and unlawful arrests against peaceful protesters at Standing Rock.
“We do not condone reports of illegal actions, but believe the majority of peaceful protesters are reacting to strong-arm tactics and abuses by law enforcement,” he said.
Protesters set up a roadblock on Highway 1806 at about 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, stringing barbed wire and positioning vehicles across the highway and fortifying it with hay bales, rocks, tree stumps, logs and vehicles, the sheriff’s department said. They later removed the roadblock after speaking with law enforcement officials who warned them about the liability they could face if something happened at the camp and emergency vehicles couldn’t get through.
Opponents of the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline also set up roadblocks on Highway 1806 south of the main camp and on County Road 134, an access road to the pipeline construction sites. They said the frontline camp is on the final 3 miles of the pipeline route before it connects with the drill pad that will take the pipeline under Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River. Construction was about 2 miles west of the frontline camp as of Sunday, they said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently withholding the lake crossing easement for Dakota Access. In a Sept. 9 statement with the DOJ and Department of Interior, the Corps said it needed to determine whether it should reconsider its previous decisions about the lake crossing under the National Environmental Policy Act or other laws.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said last week he doesn’t expect a decision on the easement until after the Nov. 8 election.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is suing the Corps over permits issued for the four-state pipeline, which would carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Tribal members fear the pipeline would leak and contaminate their water supply, and they say construction will desecrate sacred sites on their ancestral lands.