By Kavin Carter
While students enjoyed their holiday break and families sat around the dinner table enjoying Thanksgiving, the Native American tribes that reside in Standing Rock Sioux Reservation fought for their human right to clean water and respect.
The building of an oil pipeline through four states has generated much controversy over the past few months in North Dakota. Activists, worried about the pipeline’s environmental effects, have been standing up against the construction of its river crossing near the Standing Rock Reservation. There have been several big protests over potential water contamination which would affect the local Native American population and damage sacred tribal sites.
The river, which the pipeline plans to be built under, is the primary source of fresh drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribes. The reservation, home to a population of 8,250 people, if contaminated would have horrible, long-term effects on the community.
The pipeline also passes through Sioux territory, which was assured to the tribe in the 1851 with the Treaty of Fort Laramie. This was later taken from them.
A group of protesters waded into the freezing river with officers stationed on the opposite bank. They wished to hold a peaceful prayer circle on a Native American burial mound that stood on that side of the river. The sacred land, that belonged to the native people pre-1851 treaty of Fort Laramie, is where officers fired rubber bullets and used pepper spray to ward the protesters away. Law enforcement stated that the area belongs to the Army Corps of Engineer (federal government land).
The protest escalated when hundreds of protectors from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribes confronted a wave of brutality and violence by Morton County Sheriff’s department and Dakota Access’ private security forces. On Sunday, November 20th, 21-year-old volunteer Sophia Wilansky, who was delivering water to the front lines of the protest, where her arm was blown off by a law enforcement concussion grenade.
A statement from the North Dakota highway was released, giving a different view of the story, recounting the way the event transpired. Lt. Tom Iverson stated that officers spotted three protesters standing behind a burned vehicle. Officers saw someone roll metal cylinders to the protesters and then heard an explosion.
Militarized police also opened fire with rubber bullets on a group of people, who had traveled from around the world, that came to support the protest effort at Standing Rock. Police resorted to the use of high-powered water cannons in sub-freezing, night temperatures. Medics on location documented 167 individuals suffering from induced hypothermia. At one point, rumors of a police raid on the protesters’ camp prompted members to prepare to evacuate all the women and children in the area to safety for fear of being fired upon with real bullets.
On November 24 (Thanksgiving Day) hundreds of protesters, near the construction site where
demonstrators have camped out for months, attempted to build a wooden bridge to reach the tribal burial sites to pray once more. Environmentalists and human rights groups such as Black Lives Matter and Code Pink have also stepped in to help stop the pipeline line from being constructed and bulldozing what the Natives hold to be sacred sites.
What comes next only time will tell but hopefully justice will prevail on the side of the Native Americans. Our thoughts are prayers go out to those individuals, standing in solidarity, in the freezing cold of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.