Law enforcement using pepper spray and concussion grenades forced protesters off private land on the Dakota Access Pipeline route Thursday. At least 141 people were arrested.
CANNON BALL, N.D. — Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline grew significantly more volatile Thursday, as law enforcement using pepper spray and concussion grenades forced protesters off private land on the pipeline route.
At least 141 people were arrested, and as night wore into early morning Friday, protesters were still in a standoff with police.
On Thursday, one demonstrator fired three shots from a .38 revolver at a sheriff’s deputy, narrowly missing the officer, according to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. No shots were returned by law enforcement, and the woman, who was not identified, was taken into custody.
A second incident involved someone not part of the protest who was run off the road by demonstrators, according to the Office of Emergency Services. The driver was shot in the hand and is being treated for injuries. An investigation is under way into that incident, which did not involve law enforcement, the department reported in a news release.
- Background stories: Here's a primer on the pipeline project, including the key players on all sides, a brief history of broken treaty promises and a closer look at the courtroom battle. And here's what we're reading related to the controversy.
- March 28: What the completed Dakota Access pipeline means for key players.
- Feb. 23: Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp closed; 46 holdouts arrested.
- Feb. 22: Preparing to leave, Standing Rock protesters ceremonially burn camp.
- Feb. 13: Judge rejects tribes’ bid to halt Dakota Access Pipeline; feds plan to shut down protest camp.
- Feb. 1: Hundreds rally as the Seattle City Council considers divesting from Wells Fargo because of its role as a Dakota Access Pipeline lender.
- Jan. 24, 2017: Donald Trump signs executive orders advancing the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it will push back.
- Dec. 4, 2016: Tribes celebrate as Corps rejects Dakota Access pipeline easement
- Nov. 21: Washington tribes urge that Obama stop, reroute Dakota Access Pipeline
- Nov. 12: Hundreds rally in Tacoma against Dakota Access Pipeline
- Live updates from from Seattle Times journalists on the scene Oct. 26, 27 and 28.
- Oct. 25: Tribes in Washington state call on President Obama to improve federal consultations over infrastructure projects
- Oct. 24: Citing treaty claim, protesters occupy land a rancher recently sold to pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners.
- See photos from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
No major injuries were reported.
The Standing Rock Sioux are fighting the $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline crossing under the Missouri River just upstream from their reservation’s drinking-water supply. As the tribe has pushed back, supporters from hundreds of tribes around the country, including Washington state, began gathering at a camp here. Supporters from all walks of life and celebrities have also joined in, in brief but high-profile visits.
The conflict began midmorning Thursday, as law-enforcement officers moved on an encampment protesters set up last weekend on private land purchased by Energy Transfer Partners for construction of the pipeline.
The encampment grew to at least 100 tents and teepees, as demonstrators against the pipeline vowed to stay. Law enforcement recruited from surrounding states moved in with armored personnel carriers, all-terrain vehicles and a show of force on foot.
“Law enforcement was forced to go in at this time,” Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said. “Morton County has entrusted me to uphold the law and that is exactly what I intend to do. We have patrolled the county because our number one priority is public safety.”
Kirchmeier said the camp had been cleared by nightfall, although police were still dealing with protesters on the perimeter. He said police would stay for now.
A number of tribal members and their allies reported being pepper-sprayed, hit with billy clubs and stunned by concussion grenades throughout the day. More demonstrators kept arriving at the front line to support them.
Alfred Kills His Horse, 27, of the Lakota Nation, said he was shot with a beanbag shotgun where he stood on the front line.
“We live here, the water is everything to us, and I don’t understand why this chaos is coming to us,” he said, as he walked toward the camp. “We all drink water. You get sad. We don’t want the violence. We have been fighting the U.S. government for hundreds of years.”
Law enforcement gradually encircled the demonstrators. At one point, officers used an all-terrain vehicle and a helicopter to pursue some trying to flee on horseback.
Demonstrators at a second location on a county road were also pushed back by police using pepper spray. Plumes of black smoke rose into the sky as demonstrators lit tires in makeshift barricades they had set up on the main north-south highway.
Police kept up a steady pressure, moving people south down the highway toward a second camp on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, where the protesters are allowed to remain.
“Please keep walking south, go to the camp,” a law-enforcement officer kept repeating on a bullhorn.
Dana Yellow Fat, a Standing Rock Sioux tribal-council member, stood trying to catch his breath, shirtless, his skin mottled from pepper spray as protesters held their ground at the camp.
He said he was pepper-sprayed by the police on the front line of the standoff at the encampment.
For many tribal members here, who call themselves the Water Protectors, the conflict with law enforcement was long expected.
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The conflict on the Great Plains had an eerie historic resonance, as demonstrators wearing gas masks raced to the front line or fled police on horseback.
At one point, hundreds of supporters watching from the highway cheered as buffalo suddenly came into view, pouring across the prairie. The large herd ran swiftly past into the distant hills beyond the protesters’ camp.
Yellow Fat, the Standing Rock Tribal Council member, said he had been trying to keep people on the front line under control when he was pepper sprayed. “It is getting crazy. I am trying to keep our people levelheaded. But they are using tactics to bait our people into a fight. It is getting bad.
“We don’t want to fight these people. We want clean water for everyone, everyone along the Missouri River.”
The tribe contends routing the pipeline under the Missouri, as the company intends, endangers not only their water, but that of millions of people downstream.
Three federal agencies have agreed permits issued so far by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have not adequately considered the risks, and that a more extensive review is needed.
Yellow Fat said demonstrators had been trying to remain peaceful but the heavy law-enforcement response had started a fight.
Kirchmeier, the sheriff, disagreed, saying the demonstrators had used dangerous tactics, including setting fires and using horses.
In a statement issued late in the afternoon, Kirchmeier said he resented “outsiders,” including celebrities such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, supporting the protesters. “This is not about those who wish to legally protest,” he said. “This is about the rule of law.”
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II issued a statement Thursday night calling for intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice to prevent further violence.
“The Department of Justice must send overseers immediately to ensure protection of First Amendment rights and the safety of thousands here at Standing Rock. DOJ can no longer ignore our requests. If harm comes to anyone who comes here to stand in solidarity with us, it is on their watch.”
He also put out a call to the more than 1,000 people encamped here to protest the pipeline to “remain in peace and prayer. Any act of violence hurts our cause and is not welcome here.”