The months-long resistance to the US$3.78 billion Dakota Access pipeline took a terrifying turn Sunday night on North Dakota Highway 1806, north of the main Oceti Sakowin Camp, when hundreds of protesters faced repeated barrages of less-lethal munitions and water cannons for several hours in sub-freezing temperatures.
The police crackdown came in response to attempts by the water protectors – Native Americans and allied opponents of the oil pipeline – to remove barricades established by police on Oct. 27 to block the northbound lanes of Highway 1806, according to Indigenous environmental organizer Dallas Goldtooth. The water protectors have long maintained that the barricades block emergency services from reaching the camps, which have been virtually besieged by militarized law enforcement bodies and North Dakota National Guard personnel.
In addition to the water cannons, peaceful protesters also faced flash bangs that caused brush fires, jets of pepper spray, flash bang grenades, rubber bullets, Long-Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) and tear gas. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department justified the repression, citing the fires – some of which were caused by police munitions and some which were started to warm those sprayed with water – and claiming that the protesters were "very aggressive" and were engaged in an "ongoing riot." Medics and journalists on the scene have claimed that police targeted the demonstrators' heads and legs.
In an urgent statement released at the time, physicians and tribal healers at the Standing Rock Medic and Healer council decried the wanton use of water cannons in 28 degree Fahrenheit conditions – a potentially deadly combination that could result in hypothermia due to the lack of facilities and equipment necessary for rewarming.
According to the Oceti Sakowin Medic team, by 1:30 a.m. local time nearly 200 people were injured, one elder went into cardiac arrest at the scene of the crackdown and 12 people were hospitalized for head injuries.
Denouncing the attack on peaceful protesters, the Indigenous Environmental Network stated: "The Morton County Sheriff’s Department, the North Dakota State Patrol, and the Governor of North Dakota are committing crimes against humanity. They are accomplices with the Dakota Access Pipeline LLC and its parent company Energy Transfer Partners in a conspiracy to protect the corporation’s illegal activities."
Continuing, the network noted: "Anyone investing and bankrolling these companies are accomplices. If President Obama does nothing to stop this inhumane treatment of this country’s original inhabitants, he will become an accomplice. And there is no doubt that President-elect Donald Trump is already an accomplice as he is invested in DAPL.”
teleSUR takes a look at the latest round of attacks on the water protectors who have placed their bodies on the line in defense of their land and the bodies of water endangered along the pipeline's path.