After police used fire hoses and tear gas on protesters in North Dakota, more than two dozen Washington tribes have written President Obama, urging that he stop construction and reroute the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Twenty-eight tribal leaders in Washington state have written President Obama insisting he stop and reroute the Dakota Access Pipeline after a night of violence in North Dakota in which police used fire hoses, rubber bullets and tear gas against pipeline protesters.
Declaring their solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the tribal chairs wrote, “We support their call to deny the easement of the Dakota Access Pipeline and to reroute the pipeline away from tribal lands, waters and sacred places.”
Tribal leaders also said they were outraged at the tactics used by police against demonstrators, especially fire hoses used to soak demonstrators in subfreezing weather.
“Industry and their goons and their so-called peacekeepers are taking it to the next level,” said Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. “I have seen in the last two days some very serious, almost crimes against humanity against citizens. They are going a step too far in enforcing the law.”
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In a report issued Monday, medical personnel at Standing Rock said 300 people were injured during the violence, including 26 people with more severe injuries taken to three area hospitals. The injuries included blunt-force trauma, eye injuries, internal bleeding and lacerations from rubber bullets and concussion grenades; hypothermia; loss of consciousness; grand mal seizures, and fractures, according to the medics.
Law-enforcement officials defended their tactics Monday.
“We can use whatever force necessary to maintain peace,” said Mandan Police Chief Jason Ziegler in a prepared statement issued Monday afternoon by the Morton County Sheriff’s office. “When they’re throwing rocks and burning logs, and shooting slingshots with projectiles at our officers, the use of water to combat that is considered less-than-lethal.”
Kyle Kirchmeier, sheriff for Morton County, said he had no doubt some protesters were peaceful but that the tribe has been “hijacked” by “evil agitators.” The department made one arrest overnight, and 16 more Monday in Mandan, outside the Sheriff’s Office. Police have arrested a total of 528 people since last August.
Protest against the $3.8 billion oil pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois began in April. The Standing Rock Sioux say the risk of a pipeline spill threatens their drinking-water source and those of many others downstream on the Missouri River. They also say pipeline construction threatens the tribe’s sacred sites.
Yakama tribal member Marshall Lee, a 38-year-old father of two, has been at the Standing Rock camp since last August. Washington tribes have rallied to the cause of that Standing Rock even as they fight their own fossil fuel battles back home.
Lee recorded the violence that unfolded Sunday night and posted live on Facebook for hours as demonstrators sought to open a blockaded bridge while police used tear gas and fires hoses to force them back.
“It was heartbreaking,” Lee told The Seattle Times on Monday.
“I went down there to make sure people were OK. There were a lot of people getting hurt. I saw people standing together in prayer, getting sprayed by the water cannon. I saw people getting carried out on ATVs to medics. I saw concussion grenades going off, things flying through the air, tear gas everywhere.”
Washington state tribal letters wrote in their letter that as violence escalates and winter bears down on protesters camped near the Missouri River, it is time for Obama to step in.
“Native people … have been disenfranchised and repeatedly shoved aside for profit,” tribal leaders wrote. “Enough is enough … We want to send a strong message that what happens in Standing Rock sets a precedent for how the United States Government will work with tribes in the future.”
In their letter, Washington state tribal leaders said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should deny the last easement needed by Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas to complete the more than 1,110 mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline.
The Corps told the company last week it needs more time to study concerns raised by the Standing Rock Sioux before deciding whether or not to grant the easement.
Dakota Access quickly sued in federal court, seeking a court order to declare that it already has the access it needs to finish the pipeline. That suit, and a suit by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to stop the pipeline, are both pending.
In a blog post Monday, tribal elders from Standing Rock and other nations said the actions that began Sunday night were taken by the so-called “water protectors” to clear a blockade from the highway that provides the main north-south route between Bismarck and the reservation, in part to improve access for emergency services to the camps where many of the protesters are staying.
The highway has been closed since an outburst of violence on a bridge on the highway in October. It has remained closed because of damage to the bridge, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s office.
Washington tribes signing the letter to Obama were the Lummi Nation, Nooksack Tribe; Sauk Suiattle Tribe; Upper Skagit Tribe; Tulalip Tribes; Stillaguamish Tribe; Puyallup Tribe; Nisqually Tribe; Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe; Suquamish Tribe; Squaxin Island Tribe; Chehalis Tribe; Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe; Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe; Makah Tribe; Hoh Tribe; Quileute Tribe; Quinault Tribe; Snoqualmie Tribe; Cowlitz Tribe; Shoalwater Bay Tribe; Yakama Nation; Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; Spokane Tribe of Indians; Kalispell Tribe; Samish Nation, and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.