Cannon Ball, North Dakota—For five straight days, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Hunkpapa Oyate) have led a protest to block an access point for construction crews that are attempting to conduct preliminary field survey work for the $3.8 billion Dakota Access, LLC pipeline.
On Thursday August 11, ten tribal citizens were arrested for blocking the approach to the site where pipeline workers were off-loading heavy equipment. Six more people were arrested the next day. Among those arrested were Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II and Standing Rock Tribal Council Representative Dana Yellow Fat.
Tensions became heated when pipeline workers abruptly left the work site and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s (SRST) Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and the North Dakota state archaeologist were called in to assess an area that the construction crew had worked on.
At one point, protestors overtook the approach to the site, tearing down two steel panel gates to access the land. No arrests were made, and the protestors left the site peacefully.
The Army Corps permit area is on private land known as the Historic Cannon Ball Ranch, and the site of the protest area has been designated as “PCN4” by Dakota Access.
As John Eagle Sr., tribal historic preservation officer for the SRST, explained, the nation received a call from Dakota Access on August 8 to give 48-hour notice that they would begin construction on an access corridor on Wednesday August 10. The corridor will serve as a staging area where pipes and other equipment will be stored for construction.
“However, they don’t presently have a physical copy of the permit,” said Eagle, Sr. “So they can only do construction work from highway to the banks of the river.”
He expressed optimism about the outcome.
“We feel confident that we will win the legal battle,” he explained. “We have worked for two years to block this access based on Section 106 of the Federal Historical Preservation Act that states tribes can attach cultural and religious significance to a site. Army Corps of Engineers is in direct violation of this law. ACOE did not conduct public hearings. They did not include any Tribes that may have cultural ties to the area to join the consultation.
“Just south of this site, there is a long-standing eagle nesting ground,” Eagle continued. “Also, the pipeline is going underneath a known Mandan village. Mandan people are known to bury their dead within their earth lodges, so I believe that this construction will disturb those graves. The ACOE did not consult with Tribes to produce the Area of Potential Effect (A.P.E.). They ignored this consultation and declared that there were no ‘adverse effects’ to the property. It is our contention that their archeologists do not have the knowledge and cultural sensitivity to make this determination. These are our ancestral homelands, and this is what the Tribe is taking issue with.”
While nation leadership mounts its legal case, tribal members continue their peaceful protest. Morton County, North Dakota Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, the commanding officer at the pipeline protest site, has been on the scene off and on as well.
“We received calls on Thursday morning that access to the permitted site was being blocked by protestors,” explained Kirchmeier. “This is a narrow highway, and we want to keep everyone safe. We made 12 arrests yesterday, 10 for disorderly conduct and two for criminal trespass. Friday, seven arrests were made. We had thirty-four officers on hand on Friday, including county and ND State Highway Patrol.”
Monday morning had a similar contigent.
Kirchmeier confirmed that Dakota Access has hired a private security firm, but is unsure of how many they have on staff.
“This is a drain on our resources,” he said. “As we move forward, we will have to look at what our options are down the road.”
Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle, a pediatrician who resides in Ft. Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation, was one of the many arrested on Thursday when she intentionally blocked the access entrance.
“I have lived in North Dakota since 2008, and I have seen the gradual encroachment of oil and fracking operations in our region,” she said. “I am concerned about what contaminants are in the water that my children are drinking. City and state officials tend to regurgitate the rhetoric that is put out my mining companies, that the pipelines are safe. We know that in other areas of the country where spills and leaks have occurred, the long-term health effects are in question. Some of the chemicals used in this mining process are known to affect the neuroendocrine system and affect our ability to reproduce. We have a huge amount of resources that are being wasted, like the wind and the sun. We have to look towards the future. I have a voice and I will use it. If people are afraid to do what they feel is right, then nothing will happen. “
“I’m here to protest this pipeline and protect the water that we all drink,” said fellow protestor Mike Swallow, Chief Judge of the SRST and a judge on the Sioux Supreme Court. “As guardians of the Earth and the water, it’s our duty to protect them.”
Tribal members and non-native allies have maintained the Sacred Stone Spiritual Camp on Standing Rock tribal member LaDonna Allard’s scenic land along the banks of the Missouri River near Cannon Ball since April.
“I never imagined that we would have this kind of support to protect our land and water. I cannot begin to express my gratitude,” said Allard. “We grew up here along this water. We will continue to pray and protect it.”
The encampment numbers are expected to grow over the next few days. Oglala Sioux Tribal President John Yellow Bird Steele announced on Friday August 12 that the tribe is supplying buses to transport members to Cannon Ball to support the protest. Additionally, he is granting administrative leave to tribal employees who wish to join the caravan.
On Thursday August 11, Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Chairman Brandon Sazue issued a statement on Facebook regarding the protest.
“On behalf of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Council and Tribe, I Brandon J. Sazue Sr., Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman, am on my way to the Standing rock Sioux Tribe to offer our support in the opposition to Dakota Access Pipeline” he wrote. “We will stand with you my relatives. Whether we are Native, White, African American, etc. Our water is our most precious resource along with our children. We must all stand together in this most urgent of times. This is not about race, but about the human race! What we do today will make a difference tomorrow! If there was ever a time to stand United, that time is now!”